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The NLP Meta Model

The NLP Meta Model by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine

Once again you have entered the land of familiar ground or new territories depending upon who is “you.” This article attempts to cover basic NLP matter in a simplified style. Recently I was observing our Assistant Trainer, Kathy Mazetti, teaching the Meta Model to our practitioners. It was her first time presenting to the group and I had the opportunity to hear the Meta Model taught from a fresh perspective. In terms of simplicity Kathy identified some very clear foundations for approaching the Meta Model. Firstly, she identified it as a “Know Nothing Model.” When someone speaks we often respond as though we know what they mean. There are times when we are lucky and respond accurately, however there are also times when we have interpreted what they said and made an error. If you act as though you know nothing then you can approach a statement with a question. When you are speaking with someone and they say, ” I have to justify everything with you.” That statement is identified as the surface structure. When you ask a question, i.e. “Everything? Is there one time you didn’t have to justify with me?” The response you get will be the deep structure. The deep structure is where the person’s representation of the experience is stored. This representation is a more accurate description of what they are trying to say. Whenever you hear a statement you can now identify it as first the surface structure and then after a question has been asked and more information is given you have arrived at the the deeper structure. The usefulness of the meta model is:

To recognize it as a set of linguistic tools.

To allow you to learn about other’s model of the world.

To keep the listener from interpreting.

To enable the speaker to become aware of his/her own processes.

When the phrase Model of the World is used the image of filters is often described to explain how each person operates in the world. Three filters that are part of everyone’s processes are deletion, distortion and generalization.( See Anchor Point June ’89). When someone speaks they are demonstrating their filter through one of the meta model patterns. Before we explore what these nine meta model patterns look, sound and feel like let’s first do an inventory of two jargon words in the model.

The Challenge is what you say to a person when they have a made a statement. You are asking the person a question to obtain their deep structure. When you ask a question remember to pay attention to your form. If you say, “How specifically?” with a loud volume and nasal tonality you may not get the response you are looking for.

Prediction is determing the response you are going to get. You don’t know what the content will be but you do know the form in which the content will be given. For example if someone says, “I have decided,” You can predict that if you say, “Decided about what?”, you will get the missing information.

As you continue to read be prepared to learn nine “Meta Model” patterns. Some of them will feel familiar to you because either you or other’s around you use them. There is nothing inherently bad about using these patterns ( although they have been called violations they do not indicate wrongdoings). Actually there is no way not to use a meta model pattern in your speech. If the patterns are familiar to you notice whether you use them frequently thus becoming more aware of your process. If the patterns are unfamiliar to you begin to pay more attention to others linguistic styles as well as your own. It is possible that these are patterns that you do use but they are out of your consciousness.

1. Deletion (something or someone is missing)

The Challenge: “Who/what?” or “with whom/what?” or “for whom/what?”

The Prediction: To recover the deleted material Examples: “I am finished.”

Challenge: “Finished with what?”

“I understand”

Challenge: “Understand what/whom?”

“I am not happy.”

Challenge: “With what/whom?”

“This is better.”

Challenge: “Better than what?”

2. Lack of Referential Index (Vague information)

The Challenge: “Who/what, specifically?”

The Prediction: To specify the referential index

Examples: “The school is very demanding”.

Challenge: “Who, specifically is demanding?”

“It is dangerous”.

Challenge: “What, specifically is dangerous?”

“I love adventures”.

Challenge: “What adventures, specifically?”

3. Unspecified Verbs (verb is too vague)

The Challenge: How, specifically…?

The Prediction: To get more specificity or the complex equivalent.

Examples: “She spoiled me?”

Challenge: “How, specifically did she spoil you?”

“I understand it?” Challenge: “How, specifically do you understand it?” “He integrated his parts”.

Challenge: “How, specifically …?”

Now that you have read three patterns take a moment to pause and integrate. Say or write three sentences that clearly contain one of these three patterns; Deletion, Lack of Referential Index or Unspecified Verbs.

For example; Can you get that thing? I wish she would stop picking on me. They are all out to get me. When you have decided which pattern is best represented then use the correct challenge for each statement. Either say the challenge out loud or write it down. The pattern in this example is Lack of Referential Index. The challenge for this example would be; What thing specifically? Who specifically? and Who specifically? Do this practice session at least three times using all of the first three patterns. If you want you can practice this with another person who may have been reading this article over your shoulder. (This previous sentence is an example of the Mind Reading pattern which is pattern #8). As you continue reading each pattern allow yourself to stop after another set of three and practice the same exercise.

4. Nominalization (a process that has been made into a static event)

The Challenge: Turn noun into a verb and challenge as “unspecified verb”

The Prediction: To get a specified verb or complex equivalence

Examples: “I am having problems in my relationship.” Challenge: “How, specifically are you relating?”

“I can’t arrive at a decision?”

Challenge: “How, specifically are you deciding?” “I need to work on my anger at my mother.”

Challenge: “How, specifically are you angry at her.”

5. Universal Quantifiers (All, each, every, no one, everyone, never…)

The Challenge:

a. Exaggeration- “Everyone?”, “Always?”

b. Counter-example- “Has there ever been a time this did not happen?”

The Prediction: To get a counter-example

Examples: “You always give me a hard time”.

Challenge: “Always!!” or “Has there never been a time when you have not felt I am giving you a hard time?”

“No one gives me respect?”

Challenge: “No one?” or “Has there every been a time when you were respected?”

“Every time I hear her voice I get angry?

Challenge: “Every time?” or “Has there ever been a time when she spoke when you did not get angry?”

6. Modal Operators

(Of Necessity- need, must, have to, should, etc.)

(Of Possibility- can’t, impossible to, unable to, etc.) The Challenge: (

Necessity) “What would happen if you did (not). . .?”

(Possibility) “What stops you?” or “What would happen if you did (not)?”

The Prediction:

(Necessity) Projected Effect

(Possibility) Subjectively Identified Cause or Projected Effect

Examples: “I can’t do it?”

Challenge: “What stops you?” or “What would happen if you did?”

“You have to do it? Challenge: “What would happen if I didn’t?” “Learning the Meta-Model is impossible?”

Challenge: “What stops you?” or “What would happen if you did?”

7. Cause-Effect (some one or something causes someone else to feel, think or behave in a certain way)

The Challenge: “How, specifically, does X cause Y?”

The Prediction: The Subjectively Identified Cause or Complex Equivalence

Examples: “He makes me angry”

Challenge: “How, specifically, does he make you feel angry?”

“She depresses me”

Challenge: “How, specifically does she cause you to feel depressed?”

“The trainer confuses me?”

Challenge: “How, specifically does the trainer get you into a state of confusion?”

8. Mind Reading (someone claims to know what someone else is thinking or feeling)

The Challenge: “How do you know?”

The Prediction: To get the complex equivalence.

Examples: “She’s upset with me.” Challenge: “How do you know?”

“Of course he knows I’m angry with him”

Challenge: “How do you know?”

“He is so calm.” Challenge: “How do you know?”

9. Lost Performative (The individual who is making the statement is deleting him/herself as the source)

The Challenge: “For Whom?” or “Who says?” or “According to Whom?”

The Prediction? Recover Referential Index

Examples: “It’s wrong to steal.”

Challenge: “Who says?”

“NLP is great”

Challenge: “For Whom?”

“Nuclear power is safe”

Challenge: “According to whom?”

As a final integration say or write one sentence with several patterns. For example; These articles are always full of stimulating ideas. Now you begin to rip the sentence apart bit by bit with challenges from any appropriate pattern. Which articles specifically? Always ? How specifically do you get stimulated? Which ideas specifically? Etc. Continue practicing with new sentences until you have exausted yourself and the exercise. After these practice sessions you are ready to take the Meta Model on the road.

In both my personal and professional lives I find the Meta Model to be a necessity in really understanding another person’s subjective experience. In particular is a recent conversation with my three year old son, Daniel. Our neighbor was walking her new dog and said hello to us. Daniel didn’t smile or look at her. She commented that he must still be very sleepy. I knew he had been awake for a long time and after she left I asked him how come he had not said hello. He said he was “shy”. Shy is not a word that we have used to describe his behavior and I asked him what he meant by shy. He said, “When you don’t know the person.” I said “That may be true, but you do know Peggy.” Then he added, “I liked the other dog better.” The dog she was walking was her new dog, Cloe. Her old dog, Muffin had died and Daniel’s behavior, which he labeled shy, was in response to Cloe. After he said that we talked about our memories ofMuffin. It was a very touching moment. If I had not asked a question to gain deeper meaning into his world I believe that moment would have slipped by.

Warning; Questioning someone’s surface structure when you are first establishing rapport may effect your level of rapport. There will be times when you need to accept someone’s surface structure and make a mental note regarding something they had said. Once rapport has been established, you can deepen rapport by asking a question that will you give you fuller meaning of their experience.

If you want to read more about the meta model read:

Structure of Magic Volume 1 by Bandler and Grinder Influencing with Integrity by Genie LaBorde Solutions by Leslie Cameron-Bandler (In appendix 1).

Originally appeared in Anchor Point Magazine. Used by permission.

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