Model’s of the World: Representational Systems by Rachel Hott, Ph.D.
When you enter a NLP practitioner training the first days are designed to orient and lay a foundation for your future learning. This article is like a refresher course. We all know the phrase “models of the world.”What does it mean?
“Models of the world” is one of the earliest bricks laid in a NLPer’s foundation. Let’s review and transderivationally search for its meaning.
Each person is born with five senses; visual ( see), auditory, (hear), olfactory (smell) gustatory (taste) and kinesthetic (movement and touch).
Included with kinesthetic are also emotional elements. As each person develops, these five sense are shaped by both environment and genetics. (Nature and Nurture). The way that we expeerience our reality is through these senses. Often our reality differs from others. Recently I was reminded by my sister-in-law that she remembered when I had offered a very questionable nineteen year old girl my apartment as a temporary home. This is going back ten years. I have no recall of that and adamantly deny ever doing such a thing. My sister-in-law recalls hearing (auditory) me say it.
I remember the feelings (kinesthetic) around the situation particularly because the girl was so unstable. In this instance my model of the world was represented more kinesthetically and my sister-in-laws was more auditory.
This phenomena was portrayed in the Japanese story, Rashomon. Each character describes a mutually shared experience from their own perspective. It becomes very difficult to know whom is right. Very often in interactions each person believes that they are right. However if you recognize that each person has their own model(s) of the world then you realize that each person is “right” from their viewpoint.
If everyone has their own model of the world how do we communicate? We communicate by identifying each other’s models and utilizing them when needed. A model of the world is a particular filter or screen from which wecreate our reality. The trick in communicating is to identify someone’s elses filter in order for you to best understand what they are experiencing. Our filters are like glasses, we are accustomed to wearing one style, weight and perscription. When you change those features you are seeing things with new eyes. Filters are also like favorite pieces of music. We hear the world with one set of ears. If you listened to somenew music you would be gaining a earful into another person’s experience.
Filters are also like clothes. We wear texture, cotton, silk, wools, etc. because of their feel and weight. When you try on clothes with a different texture you are expanding your repertoire.
The phrase “models of the world” implies that their are many ways to perceive reality and that there is no right way. This is helpful when you get in an argument with someone and you remind yourself that he/she is coming from their model of the world. In 1978 I had been involved in anti-nuclear campaigns against the Trident submarine. During the demonstrations it was very important to remember that the guards were people too. Their model of the world was very different than mine, however if I understood their model and acknowledged it, our relationship lost its adversarial tone. Recognizing that each person has their own model of the world enables you to communicate more easily with others.
No matter what kind of filter you have there are three processes your brain engages in to organize and arrange the information. They are generalizations, deletions, and distortions. Generalizations are the process to standardize, make rules and act as if things are similar. Inall professions there are generalizations about each and every professional. Accountants are bean counters, sales people are out for the buck and personnel are touchey/feeling. However you need to havegeneralizations to make some sense in the world. A stop sign means stop, or an elevator will go up when you press the up button. Although you may rely upon your generalizations to create order in your life you do not want to be bound to your generalizations either. This means be prepared to meet a counterexample to your generalization.
Three years ago I began training for American Management Association to lead NLP style seminars. One limiting generalization that I had was any male who had been in business for 20 years or more was not going to respect me. You can imagine how secure I felt in that position. Fortunately I met enough of these “types” who told me that the class was valuable. My generalization vanished. Since that time when a generalization comes into my filter I remind myself that I really don’t know and wait to be surprised.
Deletions are the process of omitting, overlooking or forgetting information. Many times in a busy office necessary information is deleted because of information overload as well as environmental noise. On the positive side in a busy office it is a strength to be able to delete some of the outside noise so that you can remain focused on your task. In New York City you practice deletion processes constantly. If you didn’t you would be overwhelmed.
When you are in the country it would be more appropriate to take in all the stimulation. One couple with whom I had worked had had an argument about whether the woman had told the husband to bring home some light bulbs. The argument was really about the fact that the woman did not feel that he listened to her. What we uncovered was that the husband had a tendancy to delete information that he considered banal. Now together they had to work towards making sure that when he considered something mundane he would let her know, in order for her to make sure he really listened.
Distortion is a method of adding to or altering an experience. How often do you receive criticsm and distort it as an “attack” rather than feedback. On the postive side when you are planing a meeting if you distort reality you can see the participants right in front of you and imagine difficult questions. Each of these three processes, generalizations, deletions and distortions have their strengths and limitations. It is important for you to identify your own patterns of processing and assess the strengths and limitations of your model of the world. If you tend to distort in a limiting way you could ask yourself the question, “How do I know.”This question would be directed towards facts and the distortion process would have to rely upon information to clarify the distortion. Or if you delete information you could give yourself the task to have a conversation with a friend and any time you are bombarded with information interrupt your friend and backtrack. With generalizations you could identify a generalization and then find three examples where this generalization would not be the rule. In addition to your own awareness you can also observe others and identify their uses of these processes. Knowing that each person has their own method of storing information will enable you to understand others and find efficient means in which to communicate with them.
Once the information is stored it becomes represented through the senses. We either see pictures or symbolic images, hear voices or sounds or feel sensations. Each person represents this information internally and externally. The way we represent information externally is literally in the words we use. These words are called predicates and are nouns, verbs and adverbs. For example, I am out of step with my boss. (Kinesthetic). We are not seeing eye to eye. (Visual). We are singing different tunes.(Auditory). Each statement represents what a person is subjectively experiencing. The words indicate which representational system we are using; visual, auditory or kinesthetic. For example, a manager I worked with said to his subordinates, “I want you to jump on it.” His subordinate responded “I will take a look at it as soon as possible.” My client felt that his subordinate did not understand the criticalness of the situation. If the subordinate had replied, ” I’m going to put the fire out,”this manager would have felt that his message had gotten across. Another example is where a manager and director were not working well together. After learning about predicates the director realized that she is visual and the manager is auditory. The director wanted to see everything in charts and graphs and the manager was always telling her the information. After this recognition the manager was sure to paint pictures for the director as he spoke. The director also attempted to comment about the information , in order to satisfy the manager’s needs.
Beware of categorizing or labeling someone visual , auditory, kinesthetic etc. No one is purely one style. Often it is contextual. For example when descirbing a communication snafu one trainee primarily used kinesthetic predicates. Words like, felt, confused, grasp, handle, connection. When she spoke of her vacation she used all visual words i.e., vistas, colors, bright, light, see, vantage point and when she described a successful event in her life she primarily used auditory words, i.e. heard, clicked, snap, tell, spoke, listened, harmonize. Rather than pinning her down as a kinesthetic from the first interview it was important to pay attention to her words and be flexible in each of the other scenarios. When you meet someone for the first time you listen for the predicates and match the system. If you meet them a second time beware of the labeling tendancy. Make sure you give them an opportunity to speak and respond to them at the moment.
Sometimes people do not use predicates in their language. Now can we label them “difficult people?” No, of course not. These people are using unspecified words.For example, awareness, understand, experience, comprehend, appreciate,think. When you are in conversation with an unspecified speaker simply ask a clarifying question. For example, “Well how do you appreciate your husband?” The response should be more specific with sensory information.
It is the sensory information that you are after. In addition to having a clue as to how this person perceives the world matching predicates is also a good technique to establish rapport. When you enter the other person’s model of the world they feel understood.
By both generating and identifying predicates you will expand your own predicate usage. To identify predicates listen to the t.v. and radio. In order to generate predicates pick a noncritical conversation with a friend and identify their predicates and then match. When you match use words that are in that category. For example. “I’m not sure what image I want to portray to my new boss. ” So it’s important for you to look a certain way but you don’t know what that would appear like?” In our practitioner training Steven Leeds and I do the standard demonstration where one of uswill match the predicates and the other will mismatch the predicates of a trainee. Invariably the trainee comments that they felt more understood by the person who matched them. When you practice this keep the content related to the topic. It is too easy to break rapport by attacking or changing the content.
Wouldn’t it be nice if people would be aware of your model of the world for a change? So often in a NLP practitioner training the trainees are learning ways to be the ultimate responsible communicator. This often seems one sided. What about the other person don’t they have any responsibility? Of course if they were knowledgable about NLP then it would be easier to communicate. Everyone would just enter into each other’s model of the world. This does not mean that all NLPers agree but it does mean that a NLPer is expected to recognize another’s model of the world. When you recognize another person’s model it is not enough to say, “I understand,”or “I respect your model of the world but….” What you should do is backtrack the essence of their statement by using their predicates. Then if you must you can add your model of the world statement.
Originally appeared in Anchor Point Magazine. Used by permission.