One of the key tasks for any leader is supporting other people as they experience change. This is a complex process because of the many layers of human experience which are at play – our emotions, behaviours, patterns, fears and sense of self. Robert Dilts’ Logical Levels model (also known as the Neurological levels) is an excellent way of understanding how people are processing the world and, more importantly, provides a framework that leaders and coaches can use to help people be more effective in making lasting change.
Dilts’ Logical Levels model is always organised into a pyramid structure in order to represent how the aspects at the base of the model are the most concrete and easy to explore. The aspects towards the top of the pyramid become more abstract and often more unconscious as they tap into the depths of what it means to be human:
The logical levels model has a number of practical applications which can help you to support people (or yourself) through periods of change.
We each like to process the world in different ways. This model may help to raise our awareness about how we are interpreting our current circumstances. Are you the sort of person who focuses on what is happening (behaviour), what other people are doing (environment) or perhaps what things mean to you (beliefs & values)? Noticing your style of processing may help you to recognise when that is effective and when shifting to another logical level would be beneficial.
Many periods of change are sparked by either the need or desire to solve a problem. One guiding principle of the logical levels model is that it is often more effective to solve a problem by implementing a solution at the level above. For example, if you are trying to solve the problem of setting healthy boundaries with colleagues (a behaviour) it may be a challenge to just implement that behaviour. Instead, you may recognise that certain skills or capabilities are needed such as models of boundary setting and assertive language. Or you may go a level higher than that and explore whether you have a limiting belief about letting people cross your boundaries / use up your time in order to be seen as a ‘good’ team member. Making changes at these levels of the model will ultimately lead to behaviour change which solves the problem.
All of the levels interact with each other in some ways. When we change our environment (work outdoors instead of in our home office) this can have an impact on our behaviour (better concentration or more distractions?). However, Dilts notes that the upper levels of the pyramid have more power to change the bottom layers than the bottom layers do to change the top.
Take for example weight loss. A person seeking to lose weight may change their environment by not going to fast food restaurants. They may stop buying snacks and start jogging more as concrete behaviours to help them work towards their weight loss goal. This may lead to the development of skills and some small change in personal beliefs such as ‘I can do this’ or ‘I enjoy making healthier choices’.
However, if we work from the top down then the ripple effects are more profound. Beginning with people’s sense of purpose and identity can act as a strong motivator for any change that follows. If someone shifts to believe that they want to be a healthy person (identity) in order to be a role model to their children (purpose) this may lead to a set of stronger held beliefs about the benefits of weight loss, healthy lifestyle and creating good habits. This means that skills and knowledge may be learned more enthusiastically and that behaviours are implemented with more commitment.
If you really want to see long lasting behaviour change then making sure that all of the logical levels are addressed and aligned to the same goal increases the chances of success.
Coaching is a conversational process where the coach uses questioning and active listening to help someone work through a thought process, goal or action plan. You can read more about coaching here. The Logical Levels model feeds into coaching nicely as it gives the coach a whole framework of avenues to explore when working with an individual.
A coaching session normally begins with an individual bringing forward a surface level problem such as ‘I’d like to get a new job’. This is presented at the behavioural level of the model and may be motivated by a change of environment / work culture. Some coaches may choose to stay at the ‘performance coaching’ level of exploration – working with the client on the actions they will need to take in order to find the new job and perhaps working on skills and behaviours needed to make that happen.
Other coaches who specialise in transformation or identity may use the Logical Levels model to help individuals gradually dig deeper into their values and beliefs about a good workplace, their sense of self in relation to work and their purpose in life. This deeper level of exploration allows the individual to have a greater awareness of their underlying drivers and barriers which can ultimately lead to new insights and solutions for how to tackle the challenge.
Digging deeper may lead to transformational insights and then the coach can encourage the individual to apply these new insights back down the layers of the Logical Levels Pyramid to ensure that any changes they wish to make are in alignment with their new sense of self or belief systems.
As coaching is underpinned by effective questioning, the Logical Levels model serves as a container for a range of effective coaching questions which can be applied to the clients ‘change goal’.
People are tricky creatures – we often find it hard to articulate the deeper feelings or motives we have, or we may even be unaware of our underlying drivers. The Logical Levels model is an excellent way of raising awareness and ensuring that any action plans we make to implement change have been fully thought out, taking into account the full range of human experience. If you are leading individuals or teams through change then experiment with the Logical Levels Questions to see if you can broaden people’s perspective through change.
Want support in facilitating change in others? The Self Leadership Initiative provides development training and coaching to help you unlock your potential as a leader and change catalyst. Book a consultation here.