Looking at the list of credentials after Dr Alex Cheung's name, one cannot fail to wonder how he managed to amass such an impressive array of titles. From BSc to honorary doctorates, MBA to fellowships in the fields of business and engineering, he seems to have earned every academic distinction you can think of.
However, in his own opinion, the single most important qualification was in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) - something that gave him the opportunity to "start another life".
As he turned 50 and saw many of his peers already contemplating retirement, Dr Cheung decided to take a course in NLP in the US and soon realised the tremendous power this discipline has to change people's lives. But what exactly is it?
"Neuro Linguistic Programming is an 'excellence' collection of behavioural psychology," explains Dr Cheung. "It looks at the model of excellence in world leaders and examines how to install this in other people. It also draws out the unique powers each individual possesses and helps that individual to ride on these powers to achieve greatness."
The aim of NLP is to help us see what is normally invisible and hear what is not readily audible. Research by the University of Pennsylvania in 1970 had found that, when people communicate, only 7 percent of the total effect on the listener is achieved by the actual spoken content, 38 percent of the meaning is conveyed by tone of voice, and the remainder by body language. Skills taught by NLP help in reading people's emotions and intentions more accurately and, thus, in communicating more effectively.
"Successful people use NLP techniques knowingly or unknowingly"
"Successful people use NLP techniques knowingly or unknowingly," notes Dr Cheung, who cites the example of a senior government official required to meet students threatening to boycott lectures in protest against cuts in university funding. The boycott was successfully averted and discussions resumed later in a calmer atmosphere.
"The success of that meeting was attributable to a number of things," Dr Cheung explains. "Not least was the way the official started - by addressing the students as 'future leaders'. This powerfully reminded the students to examine the issues from the broader perspective of mature decision-makers and, by listening to their views for five hours, he commanded respect."
This kind of "3-win situation" - for the official, students and the university - is something that can be achieved through using NLP.
Currently one of only 19 NLP authorised trainers worldwide and the first fellowship holder in Asia, Dr Cheung has witnessed many life-changing experiences. "NLP has helped people from all walks of life and from all over the world improve their work and personal circumstances," he confirms, recalling how he helped a fireman suffering from insomnia and haunted by disturbing images. "He had seen a girl jump to her death so, using hypnotherapy, I installed a more positive frame of mind and, since then, he has become a much happier man."
During last year's SARS outbreak, some hospital administrators in mainland China used NLP techniques to boost morale among doctors and nurses apprehensive about the spread of the disease. "These superintendents made constant efforts to understand their staff's concerns and psychological condition and remind them of their mission and essential contribution to society," says Dr Cheung.
As a discipline based on behavioural science, NLP also has a role to play in crime detection and is used increasingly by police officers needing to get accurate information during the interrogation of suspects.
Joining the profession
As a confirmed advocate of the benefits NLP techniques can bring, Dr Cheung does whatever he can to spread the word. "I certainly look forward to seeing more qualified NLP trainers," he says. "When one candle lights other candles, its own brightness is not diminished."
Professional qualifications in NLP can be obtained by studying in Hong Kong or abroad depending on the time and funding available. Hong Kong offers the advantage of more abundant opportunities to practise under the continuous guidance of experienced trainers. Acquiring the NLP trainer qualification takes at least one year of active learning and practice. Applicants need not be degree holders but certainly require good language skills, personal maturity and a desire to contribute to society.
For those interested in becoming a trainer, Dr Cheung recommends a step by step approach. "People with a career should practise as an NLP trainer on a part-time basis. Book learning is important but life experiences are equally useful in illustrating the theories. I never had to give up my profession as an engineer while training in NLP!"
There are immense opportunities in mainland China where professionals are often more willing to pay for NLP training than their counterparts in Hong Kong. The potential Chinese market is huge but, so far, there are few qualified NLP trainers of world standard practising there.
To date, most practitioners work in the fields of business, education, sales and medical services but Dr Cheung predicts future demand could be "unlimited".