An Exercise To Train Objective Observation

NLP Exercises for Trainers
The Trainer’s Pack of NLP Exercises

Here’s an exercise that I got from my colleague Elar Killumets’ ‘Clear Leadership’ course, modified slightly to introduce NLP distinctions. It would work extremely well early in an NLP Practitioner course or in an NLP practice group.

Timing: 10 minutes altogether (can be longer, depending on the examples that come up and how you choose to deal with them in the clear-up).


  • Students become more aware of how much of what they see is assumptions and mind-reads, rather than objective observation
  • Students learn distinctions in different kinds of projections they make when they think they are observing; mind-reads, assumptions, presuppositions, etc


Tell the students “OK, I’m going to act now. Watch.”

Sit on a stool in front of the group and pretend to leaf through the course manual (or similar), occasionally stopping to ‘read’ something. Do this for 30 seconds.

Stop and ask the group: “What was I doing?”

Write the answers you get on a flipchart. When you have at least half a sheet of answers, stop.

Clear up

For each answer, ask the group: “Is this an objective description, that anyone watching would agree on? Or is it something you were only assuming I was doing?”

For each “assumption” answer, you could classify the type of assumption it is; e.g. “You were bored” or “You were looking for something” would be a mind-read. “You were reading” is perhaps a ‘complex equivalence’ that the action of looking at a book and turning the pages, occasionally pausing at a page, means or is equivalent to reading – when in fact you could have been just acting, or staring blankly at a page and not taking the words in.

If the entire group agrees on something being an objective answer, while you believe it’s an assumption, ask them what a robot would see, or how you would describe what you saw to a Martian with no understanding of human society and customs (e.g. if they thought you were reading, but there’s no concept of reading on Mars).

If they continue to describe what they saw in terms of reading, ask them (in character as the Martian or robot) what reading means, and how did they know that was what you were doing.

Use this exercise for:

  • Introduction to NLP
  • As a refresher if you notice mind-reads etc still cropping up some way into an NLP Practitioner course
NLP Exercises for Trainers
If you found this exercise useful, there are 128 more exercises for NLP Trainers presented in a similar format, with FAQs and handouts where necessary, in the Trainer’s Pack of NLP Exercises (in printable PDF format, 360pp). Download it here

Plus there are more resources for trainers at the Coaching Leaders / Practical NLP Podcast webstore

© 2019 – 2023, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.


  1. Philip Atkinson

    I like it.. Love your books and have read most of them. Good luck in the future

    1. Andy Smith

      Thanks Philip! Plenty more where this came from in the Positive Change Methods group on Facebook – and I’d also value your opinion as to whether it’s worth starting a similar group on LinkedIn?

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