NLP Liverpool

Coaching Tips

The Keys To Effective Coaching.

Part 5 - Pattern Interrupts

“What’s your favourite breakfast wine?
Rob Webb (Liverpool)

A Picture of a purple Dinosaur Unicorn and a fairytale Prince and Princess on William Brown Street, Liverpool
Confused Dinosaur Unicorn

Have you ever lost your train of thought? What is it like when you are focused on something and get interrupted? How easily can you get back into your “stride” once you are interrupted?

We’ve all had the experience of concentrating on a piece of work when something interrupts us. It may be a work colleague, a phone call or that Monday morning fire alarm test etc. Most people can get back to it without too much difficulty, whilst others may struggle a little.

Top Tip - Next time the fire alarm is tested, see who takes the opportunity for a coffee break. These may be the people who are easily distracted and need to “reset” before getting back on task.

The more frequent the interruptions, the more difficulty people will have in returning to the task at hand. That “task at hand” may be a daily work task, a conversation with a friend, or it could be a client’s unwanted behaviour.

In the context of a client telling us about their difficulty or unwanted behaviour, this is where interruptions go from being a nuisance to being a tool to help our clients achieve their goals.

As we ask a client to help us understand their problem, or “How” specifically they do it, they will often get caught up in the moment and begin to descend into the problematic state. Once in that state, they can become entrenched and find it difficult to come out of it or may even go deeper.

You’ve probably experienced this with a friend who wants to tell you about something that’s happened to them. Once they get into their stride, it seems there’s no stopping them. This is also true for personal change work. Let the client get going and there’s no stopping them.

So, what is the benefit of the pattern interrupt? Well, interrupting the usual pattern of behaviour (the unwanted behaviour), before it becomes entrenched, makes it easier to move the client forward in the direction they want.

The more the unconscious mind gets used to the change of direction, the more the change of direction will become the norm.

It is like when you go to your regular supermarket and they’ve moved the location of the things you normally buy. You know where they used to be, so you go there and something else is in its place. You might come across items you hadn’t noticed before and want to try them instead. This is how supermarkets extend the range of goods you buy, it’s also how a great coach or agent of change will get a client to subtly experience new behaviours.

Finding subtle ways of interrupting our client as they are describing, in detail, how they “do” their problematic or unwanted behaviour, helps start the process of change.

It is rather like a bar of soap. Before it is wet, it is easy to keep hold of. After the first introduction of water, it becomes a little bit slippy, yet we can still hold it. Keep creating a lather and it becomes increasingly difficult to hold tightly. When you squeeze the soap, it pops out of your hands.

In his session with Susan, in “The Marshall University Tapes”, Richard Bandler subtly interrupts her over 25 times before applying the intervention (a swish pattern). These interrupts range from a conversational-style question (“I mean, can you do this now?”) to repeating her words back to her in a different tonality or speed (“Pictures… of whoever it is, that isn’t there!” in a very sinister tonality).

By repeatedly interrupting the client as they enter the undesired state/behaviour, unconsciously you are setting a pattern to change that process.

The “new items” (new behaviours) on the “supermarket shelves” are tried and tested again and again. The unconscious begins to adopt the new and incorporates them.

This, in turn, makes it easier to achieve the desired change when you work with your client.

Pattern interrupts come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from a quick observation – “Oooh, look, there’s a squirrel!”, a simple relevant question – “Cool, how do you do that?”, a comment on the behaviour – “I can see how that would work!”, to a physical interruption – “Let’s take a walk, and you can tell me more”.

One of my all-time favourites came from a student of mine, we’ll call him “Rob”, because … that is his name! The instruction was simple, “Ask a question to interrupt the pattern of thought or behaviour”.
To much hilarity in the room, he asked – “Tell me … what’s your favourite breakfast wine?”

This question was asked of him early one morning, by a fellow guest from her holiday sun-lounger!

Today, where appropriate, experiment with pattern interrupts.

For change work with a client, ask a question, comment on a behaviour, or point something out.

As they get caught up in their problem and descend into “state”, interrupt it. Then, as they get back on track and start the process again, interrupt again. Remember, it is these frequent interruptions that make it more and more difficult to keep the train of thought (and the old behaviours) going.

It is a bit like the rumble strips as you approach a junction from a high-speed road. They start reasonably far apart, then get progressively closer and closer as you approach the junction, then disappear as you reach the junction.

Bonus Tips for Using Pattern Interrupts

1. Never underestimate the power of interpretive dance!

As a pattern interrupt, it may seem a little extreme, yet it can have a profound effect.

A client explained how her husband and teenage daughter were rowing about something irrelevant. She simply danced into the room doing her best interpretive dance. Immediately the row stopped and both looked on with incredulity as she continued to dance around them. When she danced out of the room, the interaction became a discussion, rather than a row.

Another client, a senior partner in a legal firm, would regularly interpretive dance back to her office after a particularly difficult client had left the building. This, she said, helped her reset for the next client meeting. The rest of the partners tried it and found it helped them also.

So, when a bright young student solicitor joined the practice, she was somewhat taken aback at the bizarre behaviour of the partners. Our client explained to her the rationale behind the behaviour, she was still unconvinced, until one day, after escorting a client back to reception, she went “On Point” and ballet danced her way back to her desk. She sat down elegantly, began typing up her notes and turning to the colleague next to her, said …. “Now I understand!”

2. Spark creativity in a meeting with an interrupt.

Ask the question “If anything was possible, what would we like the system to do?” (Or some variant on this.)

In 2001, while developing the spec for a global CRM system for a Top-10 Pharma Company, we asked this question.

The answers –

Be able to access all the customer records instantly.
Be as useable as a sheet of paper or notebook.
Share the data with our colleagues.
Instantly link our location to the customer’s address and provide all relevant information on the device.
Be able to video call face-to-face with Medical Information Colleagues.
We want it to connect to the internet. etc. etc.

What we had done in 2001 was effectively create the spec for the iPad, which of course, was not launched until 2010.

3. Create an engaging customer experience.

Those familiar with the work of David Byrne and Talking Heads may recall their 1980s live concert film “Stop Making Sense”. The film was shot during 3 live performances at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in December 1983.

Imagine you are in the audience – you’ve got your ticket, you arrive at the theatre, you take your seat in the auditorium, the safety curtain is up and the stage is almost completely empty. The only things on stage are two aluminium towers at the very back and a single microphone and stand at the front. You can see the loading bay doors too, so there is no other “dressing of the stage”.

You know you are in the right place. The ticket says so. As you walked up to the Theatre, “Talking Heads” were on the Bill Board above the entrance. So what is going on? Is this what you expect of a concert? Probably not!

Then, on walks, David Byne, with his guitar, carrying a cassette player, which he places down in front of him. He speaks into the microphone, saying “Hi! I’ve got a tape I want to play!” Bends down, presses the “Play” button on the cassette player and starts to play a fabulous rendition of the band’s signature debut hit “Psycho Killer” alone on stage.

After each song, David is joined by a member of the band, firstly Tina Weymouth, then Chris Franz, Jerry Harrison etc., until, by the tenth song, the band is complete and the back curtain comes down and the “normal” concert experience is resumed.

This is a wonderfully creative pattern interrupt, creating a memorable concert experience. If you want to see the film in its proper setting, then it will be back in cinemas, digitally remastered in January 2024. If you get the chance, do go and see it.

Why have I included this trip down memory lane into “Dad Music” … because the best definition of a pattern interrupt is something that stops you in your tracks and makes your brain go “WHAT?!?!”

The Talking Heads did something that




© NLP Liverpool Limited 2023

A picture of old keys -The Keys to effective coaching
The Keys to effective coaching