Logical levels

Key point

If you are involved in change in any way at all, this is a very useful and practical model, which you can use to think about the change in a structured way.

Change is often complex, which is one of the reasons why it is often considered difficult: it is not so easy to fully comprehend everything that is going on and to know just where to intervene to trigger a desired change.

The logical levels model gives us a way of looking at an individual, group or organisation as a series of levels of processes and information. Changing something at an upper level would radiate changes down to all lower levels, while changing something at a lower level would possibly, but not necessarily, affect the higher levels.

The model

Let’s look at these levels from the bottom up.


This refers to the factors that are external opportunities or constraints. It is a description of the setting and conditions within which things are taking place.

  • Answers the questions ‘Where?’, ‘When?’ and ‘With whom?’


This is made up of the activities that are taking place within the environment.

  • Answers the question ‘What’s happening?’


These are the skills and knowledge that guide the behaviour.

  • Answers the question ‘How?’


These are the beliefs that support or limit us in using the skills and capabilities.

  • Answers the question ‘Is it possible?’


Values decide whether things are worth doing – our motivation.

  • Answers the question ‘Why bother?’


This level consolidates the systems of beliefs and values into a sense of self.

  • Answers the question ‘Who?’


This looks at the greater picture and assumes we are part of a greater whole.

  • Answers the questions ‘For what purpose?’, ‘For whom?’

Say the phrase ‘I can’t do that here’ five times, and each time emphasise a different word.

Notice how the emphasis changes the apparent logical level of the phrase.


Roberts Dilts developed the concept of Logical Levels based on earlier work by Gregory Bateson. His original model put beliefs and values together at the same level. The model has been widely used and many variations have arisen and been published.


NLP uses the term congruent to signify that things are in alignment. A congruent person is someone who is comfortable within themselves and without inner conflict. Their logical levels are lined up and mutually supportive, so there is no inner discord.

If a group, an organisation or an individual is not working well, it is helpful to use the structure of the logical levels to examine the situation and find out where the misalignment is. You then have a much better idea of the level of intervention required to bring things back into line and working smoothly.


Think of an issue that is taking your attention at the moment. It could be a personal one or something from work, such as a project; in fact, it could be almost anything.

Consider it in terms of the logical levels, starting at environment and working up the levels.

At each stage, write down any information you can think of that pertains to the level you are considering.

Do you see within your answers any obvious misalignment? If not, go through this exercise again, this time with somebody else who is not connected with the issue. You may not be seeing the misalignment because it mirrors your own.

Practical uses for logical levels

Whether you are thinking about individuals, families, organisations and systems, the logical levels model will help you to identify underlying patterns and ensure that you are considering all the relevant aspects. Use the model to

  • Gather, structure and organise information: this will help you deal with what could seem like an overwhelming mass of information and then structure it into some form of coherent output
  • Improve presentations: include information at all logical levels if you need comprehensive coverage; also, think about how you could use the model when building any handouts
  • Setting project outcomes: consider what you want to achieve on all levels so that the project outcome is congruent
  • Job description: consider all the levels when building a job description
  • Team togetherness: whether this is a work team or a family, consider what each person wants at every level; this is particularly important during times of change
  • Corporate change: examine the organisation at each of the logical levels and look for misalignment
  • Developing leadership: consider your leadership role at every level and look for misalignment.


The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.

Albert Einstein

Generally, the higher the level at which you intervene, the more profound the effect. Higher level interventions also typically take more skill and finesse to do well, and this is why so many people end up intervening at a level too low to have any lasting effect.

This is akin to painting the walls and putting in new carpet to solve a morale problem. This is intervening at an environment level to solve a values level problem.

Another common error in organisations is to throw training at a problem: if people are not performing, the assumption is that it is a training issue. But is it?

  • Do they have an environment or workspace that allows them to perform?
  • Do they have systems and procedures which permit the required behaviours?
  • Do they know what to do? If not, then this genuinely would be a training issue.
  • Do they believe that they can do it? If they know what to do, but do not believe they can do it, they will under perform, and further training won’t help.
  • Are they motivated to do it? Do they have some good reasons as to why they would want to do it?
  • Is it part of their identity? For example, a handyman in a hotel has an identity of fixing things that are broken. It may not occur to him to help a guest with luggage since he is not, at an identity level, a bellhop.
  • Can people see how what they are doing fits into a larger picture and purpose?

Notice that as soon as you start asking questions at the different levels, a very different picture may emerge as to what makes the most sense in terms of an intervention.


If you are confused, think about your situation at the logical levels:

  • Do you have all the necessary information or are there gaps?
  • Do you know what to do?
  • Do you know how to do it?
  • Do you think it’s not possible?
  • Does it conflict with your values?
  • Is it in keeping with your sense of self?