Robert Dilts’ Logical Levels Model (also called Neurological Levels), is a framework to analyze and understand human experiences, behaviours, and change. It provides a structured way of examining different levels of human experience and helps individuals identify and work with those levels to create effective change. It’s based on earlier work from anthropologist Gregory Bateson.
What we commonly call “Agile coaching” is mostly focused on the bottom three, whereas what we think of as “Professional coaching” covers all six.
Each of these levels are interconnected and each can be a resource or a limitation. While each is capable of affecting or impacting levels both above and below, we find that items higher on the list tend to have a much stronger effect on things lower. This means that when we want to make change at one level, we will find it much easier if we first change a higher level. It’s not impossible to influence change from a lower or the same level - it’s just harder.
Starting from the bottom and working upwards…
Environment: The external circumstances and surroundings in which an individual operates. It includes the physical location, people, objects, and specific situations. These are the things that happen to us and around us.
Behaviour: Observable actions, reactions, and responses of an individual. It refers to what a person does or says in a given context.
Limiting behaviours could be addiction or phobias or even anxiety. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that behaviours are always things we choose to do - many of them happen at an unconscious level and are out of conscious control.
Skills & Capabilities: The abilities, skills, and competencies that an individual possesses. This level represents the practical application of knowledge and expertise. This is where we start to accumulate our past - things we’ve learned and retained and add to our capabilities.
This answers how we are going to achieve what we want.
Values & Beliefs: The internal beliefs, values, and rules that shape an individual’s perception of the world and themselves. These beliefs and values influence decision-making and behaviour.
When we ask someone why they want to achieve a goal, the answer will either be a value or a belief. While different, they both address the question of why we would do something. Values are all about prioritization - this is more important to me than that. Beliefs are all the supporting pieces around the value: definition, causes, evidence, and consequences.
For example, I might value safety and believe that the way to achieve that safety is to save money.
Values and beliefs are both more than just a cognitive understanding. There is a deep connection to emotion and feeling at this level.
Identity: The sense of self, self-image, and the roles an individual identifies with. It encompasses how individuals define themselves and their place in the world.
While this is a form of belief, it’s more powerful than the lower level because it’s belief about who we are. If we believe that we are a victim or believe that we are not worthy then that will drive everything below it. Conversely, if we believe that we are lucky are successful, that will also shape our world.
Purpose: The highest level in the model, it pertains to an individual’s sense of purpose, mission, and connection to something beyond themselves.
This is drawn outside the pyramid because it’s bigger than ourselves. I am a person but I am also part of a family or a community or a profession. There is something that I am part of that affects who I am.
How do we use this?
The first step is understanding what’s happening and why we’re getting the results we are. If we want to change things about ourselves or help others change themselves, then we want to address the change at the level where it will make the most impact.
Example: In the article on releasing anxiety, you’ll now recognize the “I’m anxious” reframe to be leveraging this model. In that case, we’re pushing the problem from the level of identity down to behaviour and consequently weakening it’s power over us. I’ve had one person report that using this technique, she was able to completely stop a panic attack.
Example: Recently, I’ve seen many companies forcing people back into an office (environment) in the hopes of getting people to actively work more closely together (behaviour), only to discover that although they may sit together, the results they wanted aren’t happening. They’ve made the change at the wrong level. Perhaps they should have taught actual skills around collaboration (skills/capabilities) or focused more on the value of what they wanted (values/beliefs), or …
In a future article, I’ll talk more about how we can coach to each of these levels to meet people where they are and help them find the improvements they need.