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Role Model


In NLP, modelling is a primary skill that helps people try out different approaches to see what works for them by discerning and imitating the ways others succeed. Termed by Robert Dilts, R.O.L.E. Model outlines the four essential NLP elements of modelling cognitive strategies (Dilts, 1998). These four elements are representational systems, orientation, effect, and links. In the following sections, we describe each of these components in uncomplicated detail, coupled with illustrations and easy-to-do demonstrations.


Being the original core discipline of NLP, modelling involves observing and copying the ways others achieve results. The three most common NLP goals include a) developing techniques to improve performance, b) modelling destructive behaviours to understand which strategies we need to shun or change, and c) using modelling to understand someone better; the more we are conscious of our clients’ thought processes, the easier it is to develop rapport.

The most common 'features' or distinctions in the NLP modelling process include physiology (The B.A.G.E.L. Model), cognitive strategies (The R.O.L.E. Model), meta-program patterns, belief and value systems, and meta-patterns (Dilts, 1998). We will be looking into the R.O.L.E. Model and the B.A.G.E.L. Model in that order. While the former model focuses on representational systems and submodalities, the latter emphasises specific patterns of physiology. Robert Dilts created the term “R.O.L.E. Model” in 1987. This model describes the four essential NLP elements involved in modelling strategies. The R.O.L.E. Model aims to recognise mental strategies or crucial aspects of thought and behaviour to achieve a specific response. This process involves the identification of the vital steps of the mental strategy. It also involves identifying the role each step plays in the overall neurological program.

R.O.L.E is an acronym, of which R refers to ‘Representational systems,’ O to ‘Orientation,’ L to ‘Links,’ and


R - Representational Systems


The senses through which we experience the world around us are referred to as representational systems. There are several different systems at work: Visual (sight), Auditory (sound), Kinesthetic (feelings), Olfactory (smell), and Gustatory (taste). These five sensory modalities plus another called Auditory Digital (Ad), which is our running commentary or self-talk, are the primary ways in which we code, store, represent, and give meaning to our experiences.

Think about a pleasant meal that you recently had. To remember this, you might have made a mental image(V) of the food you ate, whom you were with, or the place where you ate. Or maybe you remembered the sounds (A) in the environment; conversations that took place during the meal, or even the sound the cutlery made while you were eating it. Did you repeat the instruction, "think of a pleasant meal," to yourself (Ad) as you were trying to remember? Perhaps part of the experience included the feel (K) of where you sat, the silverware in your hand, the sensations of the food in your stomach, or just the overall sense of a pleasing meal. Did you recall the actual smells (O) and tastes (G) of the food you ate?

You may have undergone all these sensations one after the other or even in a combination. Specific experiences may have been more vivid and easily accessible than others.

"Some people are worth melting for."


Now think of an unpleasant experience, like sitting in the dentist's chair. Notice if you recalled this experience with an internal image (V) of the dentist, the assistant, the clinic or of particular dental instruments. Or maybe you recalled sounds first (A), like the dentist's voice or the sounds of the drills. Did you remember the feeling (K) of being seated on the dental chair, numbness in your mouth, or other emotions we will choose not to dwell on? How much did you access the smells and tastes (O) of the medicines, mouthwash, cotton rolls, etc.? Was the sequence you used to access this memory similar to or different from that of the pleasant meal? Did certain sensory portions of the second memory stand out from the first one?

We noted that thinking is a combination and sequence of sensory experiences. Of importance in NLP is how this combining and sequencing occur as it determines the accuracy and impact of the information into consideration. In other words, the sensory system(s) one uses to carry out a particular mental task can make a significant difference in their effectiveness. For instance, some functions are more visual in nature (e.g., proofreading) and require the ability to visualise. Other behaviours depend more on one of the other senses, such as playing a musical instrument (Auditory) or performing gymnastics (kinesthetic).

Most common representational systems are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, often referred to as VAK (Ellerton, 2013). Although primary senses, gustatory and olfactory do not play a significant role and are often clubbed under kinesthetic. However, this is not the case if you are a chef, a food critic, or work with fragrances, or generally use and rely on smells and tastes.

 Language as a Representational System

 Language as a Representational System

The function of a word uttered (language) is to organise and connect information from other senses and not merely register experiences as purely tonal elements. Brain processes language differently from pure sounds, and NLP, therefore, considers language to function as another representational system. Along with the five sense modalities, we noted that Auditory digital (Ad), i.e., words, is a representational system. It is called “digital” as words are discrete verbal symbols or digits. Further, NLP distinguishes Ad from Auditory tonal (At), i.e., pure sounds.


Each representational system perceives certain fundamental qualities of experience. For example, the Visual modality perceives colour, brightness, etc. Similarly, other representational systems perceive tone, loudness, temperature, pressure, and so on. These qualities or attributes are called “submodalities” in NLP as they are sub-components of each of the representational systems. People differ in their abilities to recognise and manipulate these qualities. This difference can be significant in determining their ability to perform particular mental tasks. It is the information about the sensory qualities of things that are most important to our minds, not the things themselves. In fact, many NLP techniques are based on making the clients change the submodality qualities of their mental representations of a memory or thought to alter their reactions consciously. The emotion associated with a specific thought is often functionally linked to the submodalities with which that thought is presented to consciousness. This discovery led to a variety of brief therapy NLP interventions with its basis on the change of these key submodalities (NLP Coaching: Changing Submodalities (Like to Dislike) | NLP World, n.d.).

In effect, voluntary change of submodalities on the part of the subject was often found to alter long- term the connected 'feeling' response, paving the way for several change techniques based on deliberately changing internal representations. NLP co-originator Richard Bandler, in particular, has made extensive use of submodality manipulations in the evolution of his work. Some common submodalities are as below:


O - Orientation

We can orient our senses in three ways:

1. To absorb information from the external world;

2. To remember or recall existing information; and

3. To construct, imagine or piece together new information.


If it is unclear or unimportant whether the orientation is constructed or remembered, we simply use that abbreviation i for (i)nternal orientation. It is safe to say that we guide our lives based on how we connect information of the past (memories) and future to respond to what is perceived in the current external environment. The success or failure of a specific thought process is determined by the emphasis placed on the functions mentioned, the order in which they are balanced and combined, how much information is brought in through each, etc.

For a quick demonstration:

1. Look at something in the external environment around you at the moment.

2. Close your eyes and notice how you internally represent what you just saw.

3. What are some associations to memories you can make from this object?

4. Imagine or construct a scenario combining the external object with one of the associated memories.

5. Repeat this process with your other senses.

Differences in Individual Orientation

As seen with submodalities, individuals differ in their abilities to orient their senses in the ways described. Often one orientation is developed at the expense of another. For example, a person may have a photographic memory (Vr) but not be very imaginative (Vc). Similarly, it’s a common notion that creative people (Vc) are often forgetful (Vr). Another notable instance is when a person cultivates the internal ability to use their senses at the expense of the ability to orient externally, and vice versa. This example explains why people usually say that someone cannot be good at academics (which involves internal skills) and be a good athlete (which involves external seeing, hearing, and feeling).

With that said, the main difference lies in which representational systems are:

1. Most highly developed:

The development of a representational system depends on the person’s capability to manipulate, organise, synthesise, and distinguish information (submodalities, orientation, etc.) within that system.

2. Most highly valued:

The impact or effect determines value it has on a person's behaviour (the elements that determine the effects of a particular representational system will be explored more fully in a later section (Effect) of this article). Some people, for example, have a very highly developed ability to use language, yet what they say has very little to do with how they act.

3. Most conscious:

The consciousness of a representational system is a function of how much a person is aware of the information being processed through that system. Someone may be very conscious of feelings but may not be able to manipulate them very well - in fact, sometimes that is why they remain in consciousness so much. Likewise, a person may have a very well-developed capacity to generate and respond to visual images and yet are not consciously aware of making these internal imageries. It is possible for someone to have one representational system, which is the most developed, most valued and most conscious. It is also possible that these functions might each involve a different sensory system. For example, a person could be most able to manipulate words and sounds, respond most often to feelings, yet be most consciously aware of what he or she sees, i.e., most developed – auditory; most valued – kinesthetic; most conscious – visual. The over- or under-development of the orientation of a specific representational system determines their aptitude for certain tasks. It also forms the basis of many fundamental personality characteristics.

L – Links Links are related to how one specific step (sensory representation) is linked to other representations. For example, is something you see in the external environment associated with internal feelings, remembered images, or words? Is a specific song linked to a feeling or a mental picture of someone? The sequence and manner in which each step is associated with the step before and after is an essential feature of thought. Representations can be linked together either sequentially (digital linkages) or simultaneously (analog linkages).

Before elaborating on the two linkages, it is crucial to understand the difference between digital coding and analog coding. Analogue representation is a continuous spectrum, whereas digital coding is either on or off, one or zero (Smith, 2011). For example, take the difference between a regular watch with hands (analogue) and a digital watch. The position of the hands in a traditional watch tells you approximately what time it is, while you need to be aware of what the numbers (digits) mean to understand the digital version. As another example for analog coding, let us take that of a dog growling when it is angry. It grows louder when it gets angrier. That is to say that the volume of the growl varies with the intensity of its anger. Digital coding does not work this way.

Digital Linkages

Sequential links are a function of “digital” coding. When representations are linked this way, they act as anchors or triggers. One representation follows another in a straight chain of events.

sequential links

Digital coding involves connections that behave as a trigger. They turn a process on or off; there is no overlap between the stimulus representation and the response representation. Most verbal and symbolic cues make digital linkages. For example, the word "cat" does not physically sound like a cat, feel furry, nor do the sounds or letters deliberately indicate four legs, whiskers, a tail etc. The word is simply a cue for us to access a particular sequence of mental pictures, sounds, feelings, etc. In NLP notation, digital links are shown as an arrow connecting the two experiences that have been linked. The arrow points from the trigger representation to the response. So, Ad  Vr would indicate a word which triggers a remembered mental image. The abbreviation Ve  Ke would suggest an external visual cue (like the green light on a traffic signal) that cues an external movement (to 'go').

Analog Linkages

Simultaneous links occur as a function of "analog" coding. In this, there is an overlap between the steps linked together. These representations vary in proportion to each other, as opposed to 'on or off' as seen in digital linkages. For example, some people experience overlap between what they see and what they feel. Dancers, for instance, sometimes report feeling the movements of someone they are watching perform. The more intense the movements they see, the more intense is their feeling. In NLP this connection would be called a "see-feel" overlap, notated as Ve -/-> Ki. A musician may have the same kind of overlapping link between tones and images. Such a linkage would be called a "hear-see" overlap (At -/-> Vi). The particular sequence of steps linked together influences the effectiveness of the strategy. For example, a see-feel link may be better for evaluative tasks such as art criticism or copy editing. On the other hand, a feel- see link may be better for productive functions such as creating artwork or brainstorming. Analog links often occur as synesthesias. Synesthesias are the ongoing overlap between sensory representations.


The term “synaesthesia” refers to the process of overlapping the information coming from one sense and that from a different one. It literally means "synthesising of the senses." Two experiences become so overlapped that it is difficult to distinguish one experience from the other. Synaesthesia patterns are essential in determining the ease with which specific mental tasks are performed. As with the other cognitive capacities, the strength of various synaesthesia relationships varies in people. In many ways, these are primary neurological functions that determine a person's innate capabilities and form the building blocks of intelligence and personality.

Synesthesias between Submodalities ;

Synesthesia links may occur between submodality qualities as well. For example, in a V -/-> Ki synesthesia (see-feel overlap), some people may feel relaxed when they see a particular colour, say blue, and irritated when they see, say red. Other people may have little response to colour but may feel relaxed when they see a slow movement and irritation when they see fast action. Still others, the intensity of feeling may be related to brightness, size, etc.

We previously mentioned that submodalities may be used to change the emotion associated with a particular memory or thought (see under “Submodalities”). Now, review the two experiences discussed previously – the pleasant meal and the unpleasant trip to the dentist. Which qualities of sight, sound, feeling, smell, and taste make one experience enjoyable and the other unpleasant? As an experiment, change some of the dimensions of the sensory qualities of your memories.

Alter the memory of the pleasant meal:

1. Make the image dimmer and then brighter.

2. Make the size of the image bigger than life and then make it smaller. Now place the image farther away from you.

3. Make the sounds louder and then softer; raise and lower the pitch of the voices and other sounds. Notice how these affect the feelings of pleasantness associated with the experience. Now, do the same thing with the unpleasant experience of the dentist’s office.

types of links in the role

Most likely, you will find that altering the qualities of the experience will significantly change the degree of

unpleasantness associated with the memory at the moment. You can gain significant insight into your highly

developed, most valued, and most conscious representation systems from your ability to make these


Establishing Linkages through ‘Anchoring’

Both digital and analog links are essential for thinking, learning, creativity, and the general organisation of our experiences. In NLP, the term "anchoring" refers to the establishment of a linkage between one sensory representation and another. It is a process similar to the "conditioning" technique used by Pavlov. He created a connection between the hearing of a bell and salivation in dogs. He did so by making the dogs associate the sound of a bell with food. Eventually, just by ringing the bell, the dogs would start salivating even though no food was

given. Similarly, in the dentist example mentioned above, people come to associate the sound of the dentist’s drill with the pain it causes (Ate -/-> Ke). They start feeling anxious by merely hearing the sound of the drill. Another example can be with regards to cancer patients exposed to chemotherapy, who report feeling nauseated by a variety of clinic stimuli such as the sight of an oncologist and colour of the chemotherapy drugs (Ve -/-> Ke), clinic odours (O -/-> Ke), nurse’s voice (Ate -/-> Ke), etc. (Andrykowski et al., 1988; Divgi, 1989).

In NLP, this process of conditioning or association is used to deliberately establish or change linkages between steps in a mental program. In behaviourist's stimulus-response conditioning approach, the stimulus is always an external cue. In contrast, 'anchors' may be established with any specific cognitive event, i.e., can be internal. For example, a remembered picture of your favourite person (Vr) may be used to anchor a particular feeling (Ki) like happiness. Or touch on the leg (Ke) may be used to anchor a particular visual fantasy (Vc). This is to say that a specific submodality quality such as voice tone may be used to anchor a particular submodality quality of an image, feeling, and so on.

Oftentimes, anchors may be established through merely associating the two mental experiences together. For example, you could ask your client to vividly re-experience a time they felt very confident and pat their shoulder while they think of the feeling. With one or two repetitions, the shoulder pat (Ke) will start getting linked to the sense of confidence (Ki). In time, a pat on the shoulder will spontaneously evoke a feeling of confidence in the person (Ke  Ki). Anchoring, therefore, can be a potent tool to establish and reactivate new mental programs.

E - Effect

This refers to the result or impact of each step in the thought process. The function or purpose of each mental

step or linkage in the overall cognitive program influences the effectiveness of a strategy. The effect of a

particular step is a function of why and how it is used.

The AEIOU of Effects

Some possible effects of a particular step may be to:

1. (a)ccess information through association and application of perceptual filters;

2. (e)valuate or judge information by comparing it to some standard criteria;

3. (i)nput information from the external environment;4. (o)rganise information by arranging it in a particular structure;

5. (u)tilize some aspect of the external environment to express or change something.

The effects mentioned above are organised into a primary feedback loop called a T.O.T.E. (Miller et al., 1960). This acronym stands for Test-Operate-Test-Exit. This means that the function of any part of a behavioural program could be to:

(T)est information from the senses to check progress towards the goal in order to

(O)perate to change some part of the current experience so that it can satisfy the

(T)est and

(E)xit onto the next part of the program.

The T.O.T.E. concept postulates that all cognitive and behavioural programs have a fixed goal, and a variable

means to achieve the same.

basic TOTE Structure

Thus, the function of a specific step could be to:

a) generate or input a sensory representation,

b) to test or evaluate a particular sensory representation, or

c) to operate to change some part of an experience or behaviour associated with a sensory


possible effets of ROLE Model elements

Like the other R.O.L.E. Model elements, people differ in their ability to fix goals (Test). They also differ in their flexibility and choices of means to achieve the goal (Operations). Keeping in line with the AEIOU effects, Tests contain (o)rganisation and (e)valuative functions, while Operations usually consist of (a)ccess or (u)tilization functions.

basic cognitive functions with the TOTE

From this diagram, it is easy to understand the typical sequence of these functions:

I  A  O  E  U


Let us get a better sense for how these different effects combine to make up our thinking strategies. Answer

the following questions about a time when you were able to be resourceful and creative:

1. What is the context in which you can be creative and flexible?

2. What are the goals or objectives that you are attempting to accomplish in this context?

3. What do you use as proof to know you are accomplishing those goals?

4. What do you do to get done with the plans - what are some specific steps and activities that you

undertake to accomplish your goals in this context?

5. When you experience unforeseen obstacles or difficulties in achieving your goals in this context,

how do you respond to them? What steps do you take to rectify them?

According to NLP, it is the type of representational systems, submodalities, orientations, linkages, etc., that a

person uses to carry out these various tests and operations that determines the degree of success of a thought


Physiological Clues: Making the R.O.L.E. into a B.A.G.E.L. NLP uses behavioural cues to identify the internal processes of others. These behavioural cues can be

identified by the B.A.G.E.L. Model developed by Robert Dilts. As mentioned in the introduction, two of the

features of NLP's modelling process is cognition and physiology.

The R.O.L.E. Model dealt with cognitive processes. Mental programs need the help of specific physiological

processes for consolidation and expression to function effectively. These physical reactions are essential for:

a) Development of specific mental processes

b) Teaching specific mental processes and

c) External observation and confirmation of the same.

The primary behavioural elements involved in the R.O.L.E. Model are:

  • Body Posture

  • Accessing Cues

  • Gestures

  • Eye Movements

  • Language Patterns

Let us see each of them in order.

1. Body Posture

People often take on systematic, habitual postures when deep in thought. These postures can give great

insight into the representational system they are using. Following are some typical examples:

a) Visual: Leaning back with head and shoulders up or rounded, shallow breathing.


2. Accessing Cues

When people are thinking, they cue or trigger certain types of representations in different ways such as

breathing rate, non-verbal "grunts and groans," facial expressions, snapping their fingers, scratching their

heads, and so on. Some of these are idiosyncratic to the individual and need to be 'calibrated' to that person.

3. Gestures

People often touch, point to, or gesture the sensory modality with which they are thinking. Some typical

examples include:

4. Eye Movements

Automatic, unconscious eye movements often accompany a particular thought process indicating the representational system accessed. Before understanding how NLP has categorised these cues, let us do a small activity: Find a partner and ask the following questions. Observe his or her eye movements. For each item, keep track of your partner's eye movements in one of the boxes provided below by using symbols or numbers that

represent the sequence of positions you observe.

1. Can you picture all of the items in your wallet or purse?

2. Can you hear the difference in the sound a bee makes and the sound a mosquito makes?

3. Can you feel what it is like to stand in a tub of warm water?

4. What is something really important to you? Think of it right now.

5. Language Patterns

A primary method NLP makes use of is searching for specific linguistic patterns. These patterns indicate a particular representational system or its submodalities. An example of this is ‘predicates.’ Predicates are words, such as verbs, adverbs and adjectives, which indicate actions or qualities as opposed to things. It is the part of a sentence or clause containing a verb and stating something about the subject (e.g. went home in John went home). It is the type of language that is usually reflexively selected and therefore reflects the underlying unconscious structure that produced them.


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