Book Review: The NLP Activist by Richard Bolstad

The NLP ActivistVery occasionally an NLP book is published that it’s possible to get really excited about – this is one of them (the last one that caught my imagination in this way was Andrew Austin’s The Rainbow Machine, published a whole 10 years ago).

I can imagine three audiences who will benefit from reading this book:

  • Social and political activists who will find a huge amount of useful tools and techniques for staying optimistic and balanced no matter how hard their struggle, for keeping their movements united and on track, and for choosing actions that will help achieve their aims and persuade their opponents, rather than being counterproductive or provoking reaction.
  • NLP practitioners, even those uninterested in changing society, who will find refinements that may be new to them in NLP processes they already know about, lots of persuasive research evidence for the effectiveness of NLP techniques, and also some compatible models from outside NLP (such as Gordon’s ‘Problem Ownership’ model, and Gottman’s research on the behaviours that make for successful relationships) that will make them more effective therapists, coaches and facilitators.
  • Individuals new to NLP, who will find this an accessible introduction to many of the key ideas of NLP, illustrated by examples of successful change both well-known (Gandhi, the Polish Solidarity movement, and the Northern Ireland peace process) and less well-known, (hookworm eradication in Nigeria, HIV/AIDS prevention in Tanzania by means of a radio soap opera, Sam LaBudde’s inspiring successes with minimal resources in making dolphin-friendly tuna a thing, and getting destructive driftnet fishing banned).

Like Bolstad’s earlier Transforming Communication, the book is a refreshing change from the individualist focus of most books and training about NLP. It doesn’t pretend to be a complete presentation of the whole of NLP, but focuses on five key tools that will be most useful to activists: goal-setting, rapport, reframing, anchoring, and cooperation.

Each of these areas is described clearly and accessibly, and even the experienced NLP practitioner will probably get some useful refinements or helpful reminders from the step-by-step descriptions of techniques (I certainly did from the ‘collapsing anchors’ process, for example). Some of the models will almost certainly be new to you (Andrew Austin’s ‘Patterns of Chronicity’ that get in the way of recovery from trauma were new to me, but I could immediately see their usefulness).

As usual with Richard Bolstad’s work, his depth of learning that went into writing this book is demonstrated by the very full research citations supporting each model. The bibliography at the end of the book runs to fifteen pages!

To sum up, this is a great manual for activists looking for ways to make their campaigns more successful and less draining; a fine introduction to NLP for the newbie; and a very useful reference for the NLP practitioner looking to improve the elegance of their interventions, and the trainer wanting accessible ways of explaining and teaching NLP techniques and principles.