In the popular crime drama Lie to Me, Tim Roth's character determines what other people are thinking and feeling by reading their facial expressions and body language.

The show was based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist who has studied people's emotional expressions in-depth.

Identifying what is subconsciously going on inside people is obviously helpful in the real world of law enforcement, but having this skill aids in many other areas of life such as sales. This ability is also a key focus of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is system of understanding human behavior that was invented in the 1970s by two men named John Grinder and Richard Bandler.

NLP is based on the belief that all of us have preconceived ideas that shape how we approach our lives. Knowing what our individual assumptions are and how they're limiting us can help us overcome negative or unhelpful behaviors and achieve our goals.

Since non-verbal signals are clues to how people subconsciously see the world, understanding how people communicate (especially what they are communicating non-verbally) is a fundamental aspect of NLP.

1) NLP Helps Salespeople to Understand Their Clients

It's easy to see how the study of NLP is advantageous in multiple areas of life, from someone's personal relationships to virtually any occupation. One field in which NLP is especially relevant is that of sales and marketing.

NLP can help those involved in sales to become more skilled at communicating. By helping those trained in it to be better communicators, NLP helps salespeople to identify their clients' needs and to meet those needs more easily.

Whether or not someone subscribes wholeheartedly to NLP, most would agree that understanding where clients are coming from, being able to help them, and truly wanting to help them are basics to good salesmanship.

In his article "5 Traits of Highly Successful Salespeople," Geoffrey James notes the necessity of empathy for clients, the ability to problem-solve (aka, overcome difficulties to meet clients' needs), and optimism.

Empathy, he says, goes beyond merely reading the other person's behavior accurately. You actually need to identify with what the client is going through. And empathy naturally helps motivate you to help your clients overcome any obstacles that are impeding their goals.

2) NLP Helps Salespeople to Understand Themselves

James also notes the importance of how as a salesperson your perceptions of the world impact your own behavior and possible results. Optimism is important for not letting a bad sales experience affect your performance in the other sales you have to make that day.

Since NLP also helps individuals understand their own outlooks on the world, it can help salespeople visualize their goals, pursue them, and actually attain them, making the salespeople more confident in the process and increasing their influence.

3)NLP Helps You Not to Hate Selling

The usefulness of NLP in the area of marketing and sales is obvious, but some might feel that determining others' needs in order to sell them a product seems manipulative and possibly unethical.

It is important, however, to keep in mind a common stereotype many have about sales.

When envisioning a skilled salesperson, you might think of a greasy car salesman trying to badger you into buying just so he can make his commission. Or you might think of a movie such as Glengarry Glen Ross, which depicts real estate as a cutthroat business where all that matters is closing a lead, whatever the cost.

And while you might never have experienced working in a brutal sales environment, most of us have encountered a pushy salesperson at some point in our lives.

Nevertheless, even though such behavior is a potential failure of salesmanship, selling, rightly understood, is about identifying a genuine need and meeting it--which makes it easy to see how NLP could be an advantage for both the customer and salesperson.

In their podcast Authority Alchemy, Brian Horn and Jack Mize repeatedly encourage entrepreneurs to see themselves as educators and advocates for their clients. Horn and Mize warn business owners against letting culture's negative stereotypes make them fearful of selling.

For example, if people go to a car lot, they are there because they, in fact, actually want to buy a car. The act of trying to sell them one isn't manipulative. What matters is how the seller approaches the buyer.

NLP, therefore, can be valuable in helping identify the needs of others, even in a scenario in which you want to make a profit.


There are basic skills we need to navigate life well, two of the most important being good communication and an awareness of our own perceptions. NLP can help salespeople and their clients save valuable time and money, in addition to helping people in general become more successful individuals.

What are the benefits of NLP in your life?