Animal, Vegetable or Mineral by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine
Some of you may know that in communication there is a distinction between content and form. If you are a beginner to NLP separating content and form is one of your first steps to becoming a seasoned NLPer. If you are a seasoned NLPer then content and form are already separated and you are in the land of multi-level communication. Each back to basics article that I have written has had a variety of levels to read and discern. Please feel free to continue to read at your level now.
Do you remember playing the game twenty questions? One of the first questions is, “Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?” This question establishes a category for the person to then organize their next question. In NLP jargon the first question is a large chunk question. Chunk size relates to information whether it is large, small or similar to another chunk size. If the answer to the large chunk question is animal then the next question to follow would be going for specifics which is a small chunk. For example, Is it a kangaroo? This appears to be quite a jump from animal so perhaps a question asking for its natural habitat would be more proportional.
Let us take the large chunk ANIMAL and chunk down (get more specifics). There are lots of kinds of animals so you could chunk down and add Farm Animals, Work Animals, Domestic Animals and Show Animals. At that point you could continue to chunk down and identify Horse, Dog, Cat, Cow etc. If you wanted to chunk down another way you can identify parts of the animal; tail, legs, teeth, ears etc. You can also chunk laterally which means identifying a category that relates to ANIMAL. For example: If you had the category ANIMAL and the chunk up was CREATURES you ask yourself what else fits under this category. For example, Monsters, Humans and Space Creatures can be added as lateral chunks. In order to chunk laterally you first chunk up from the initial category. Chunking is an excellent way for you to become masterful at twenty questions. It is also a useful pattern for you to master in interpersonal and intra-personal communication.
One of my occupations is parenting. (Large chunk). As I parent two children I discover how important it is to chunk information appropriately. When we were preparing for a trip to Seattle I began by saying that we will be going on a plane, and that it is a long ride, there will be lots of different people etc. When we were on the plane the excitement wore off and my son spoke the classic line, “Mom, are we there yet?” It was then that I realized that I had small chunked all the pieces of our trip and I hadn’t described it as an adventure. I responded by saying that if we were there we wouldn’t have the adventure of flying and now is the time for the adventure to begin. After I chunked (framed) the experience for him as an adventure he was able to have more fun on the plane. Responding to chunk size and being conscious of your own chunk size are two elements in using chunking in your daily conversations.
In order to establish rapport NLP trainees are taught to match the other person’s model of the world. This applies to chunking as well. If you want to establish, deepen and maintain rapport match the person’s chunk size. Imagine meeting someone who loves facts and figures. They are showing you a new product and give the statistics for its time efficiency. If you respond by saying,”Gee, it sure is an efficient product,” they will listen to you but will not feel as though they have been heard. Instead if you respond by saying,” Well those numbers are real impressive and I’m sure each second that we save will be money in our pocket,” then you are responding to the chunk size of information. That was an example of an individual who chunked small, affectionately known as a “small chunker.” If you meet a “small chunker” match their small chunks. Go bit by bit and see how small you can go. Of course there are “big chunkers” too. Many times new NLP trainees fall into this category. A common conversation will be, “Oh I am so excited about learning NLP it is a such a powerful technology.” Responding in kind, you might say, “Yes NLP is clearly a leading edge communications model.” If you wanted to lead the person to smaller chunks you might add, ” There are specific techniques that are very effective would you like to hear about them?”
Leading to another chunk size can be useful in either direction. For example, when a client says they are feeling overwhelmed. After pacing this individual with a statement like, “There’s a lot you have to do,” you then add, “what exactly are you overwhelmed with?” Just like in the Meta Model with “Nominalizations” and “Universal Quantifiers” (See Anchor Point April ’90) you are taking the large chunk word and asking for specifics. This questioning style is very important for individuals who are chunking large and appear to be overwhelmed or ungrounded.
In the reverse it is useful to lead a “small chunker” to a larger chunk size when they are picking apart everything. For example, A client of mine looks at herself and says, “Yuch, I can’t stand my hair, my breasts are too small, my stomach is too big, my feet are too large I’m a mess.” I responded by saying, “So when you look at all thoseparts you feel like a mess. How will you be thinking about this differently when you are appreciating yourself?” When she shifted chunk size she was no longer picking herself apart. Asking chunking-up questions is useful for an individual who is overly critical or is stuck in too much detail.
In order to practice your chunking skills it is best for you to select non-critical topics and explore the chunk sizes. For example: Recently, at the NANLP conference in Baltimore, I observed chunking styles in two groups. In the research section the task was to establish an outcome and from all the parts of the outcome a mission statement was formed. That process took three flip chart papers and an estimated one and a half hours of discusssion. In the trainers section there was a task to establish a mission statement. Although it was suggested, by yours truly, to approach the mission statement the way the research group did -step by step with many pieces that tied together at the end, the trainers group declined. Instead they started with an individual’s proposed mission statement and within ten minutes added and deleted critical words and the mission was accomplished. Which group preferred small chunks? large chunks?
Pay attention to your own way of organizing information. Chunking large, small or laterally all have value in the system of organizing information. Your best advantage is to use all of them. When giving specifics take a moment to label your general concept. When identifying the large picture remember to throw in specific examples. Utilize the lateral chunk by identifying analogies. No matter what you do, practice your twenty questions so you can play dog, carrot or gold.
Originally appeared in Anchor Point Magazine. Used by permission.