NLP Meta Model. Part one
The Meta-model was drawn from common questions and challenges made by effective therapists and was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970’s.
The questions have the pattern of typically “chunking down” – i.e. taking large units of behaviour offered by the client and breaking them down into smaller and more understandable chunks.
They lead the client to sensory-specific data rather than common generaLIEsations.
There is no need to learn what each category is called – an understanding of the patterns will suffice.
In reading through the examples below, you will notice some degree of overlap. More than one pattern can occur simultaneously in any sentence. In practice, the word “specifically” can be left out of the challenges since it tends to rather annoy!
Pattern #1: Deletion.
A common pattern in speech which is often necessary. Simple deletions occur when the speaker assumes the listener knows the necessary information to fill in the gaps. However this is not always the case, hence the meta-model challenges.
These are typically, “About what?” questions.
“I’m not able to cope.”
“My thinking is muddled.”
“A decision was made.”
“I need help before it is too late.”
With what, specifically?
Muddled about what, specifically?
Made by whom, specifically? About what?
Too late for what, specifically?
Pattern #2: Referential Index.
Another type of deletion is where the speaker introduces a person, place or thing into a sentence but is not specific about who, where or what. They do this by use of generalisation.
“Things get me down.”
“They don’t like me.”
“People think I’m fat.”
“Something should be done about it. “
What things, specifically?
Who specifically, doesn’t like you?
Who specifically thinks you are fat?
What should be done about what, and by whom, specifically?”
Pattern #3: Unspecified Verbs.
You may remember from school that a verb is a “doing word”. Here, the specifics of this “doing” have been deleted out. Therefore, the typical challenge is the “How?” question.
“I can’t do it.”
“He hates me.”
“I know that.”
Do it how, specifically?
Hates you in what way?
Blocked how? In what way?
Know that how, specifically?
Jealous how? In what way?
Pattern #4: Nominalisations.
A nominalisation is where a “process” is taken and turned linguistically into a “thing.” Essentially these are false nouns (naming words). The test for a nominalisation is to ask yourself, “Can I carry this in a wheelbarrow?”
Typical nominalisations are words such as, “jealousy”, “respect”, “love”, “harmony”, “depression”, “obesity” – all these things are processes or activities and not” things” . At the point of use, the speaker will typically view these processes as static “things” i.e. false nouns. The examples will help clarify:
“There is no respect here.”
Who is not respecting whom? Respecting in what way, specifically?
“I need more strength.”
Strength in what way?
“It’s just a thought.”
A thought how, specifically?
Now, in order to truly de-nominalise we need to turn the noun back into a verb. I.e. we get the client to refer back to the process. For example:
“I have depression.”
“You are depressing yourself, how?”
“I have a compulsion.”
“You compulse yourself how and in what way?
Pattern #5: Modal Operators.
Modal operators are words such as, “can”, “cannot”, “must”, “should”, “could” “won’t”, and “will”. Technically, they can be put into two categories of 1. Modal Operators of Possibility (can, could) and 2. Modal Operators of Necessity (must, should). These words reflect a variety of things for example when someone says: “I’ll try to return your book” I know that they won’t do it. The use of the word try will permit the speaker to come back later and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, but I did try…”
Modal operators are used in the positive (can, will, must) or negative form (cannot, won’t, mustn’t). Typical challenges to these are as follows:
“I can’t do that.”
What stops you?
“I can’t do anything right?”
What prevents you?
“People mustn’t know.”
What would happen if they did?
“You shouldn’t do that.”
What would happen if I did?
“I won’t go in.”
What stops you?
“You must go now.”
What might happen if I don’t?
“I shouldn’t eat cabbage.”
What stops you? What would happen if you did?
Meta Model. Part two
“The map is not the territory. ”
As well as challenging questions, there are other patterns in the meta-model that are known to successful therapists. Recognising these patterns in the speech of either yourself or your client enables you to begin to recognise specific features about the speaker’s model of the world.
Pattern #1: Lost Performatives.
These are statements that delete out the authority behind some “should” or “must” etc. A typical challenge is, “According to whom?”
“The decision has been reached.”
Reached by whom, specifically?
“People should know better.”
Who specifically should know better?
“That’s against policy.”
Whose policy specifically?
“That’s a very bad idea.”
According to whom?
“It’s a miserable day.”
According to whom?
“This is stupid.”
According to whom?
“They shouldn’t do that?”
According to whom, who says?
Pattern #2: Generalisations.
This is where an entire class of things, people, events etc are lumped together into one large category. Typical challenges can be to ask for a counterexample or to exaggerate the generalisation. For example:
“All depressives have low self-esteem. “
All depressives? How do you know that, specifically?
“Everyone knows that!”
“I am never happy.”
Was there ever a time when you were happy?
Pattern #3: Universal Quantifiers.
This is another type of generaLIEsation that excludes exception, for example:
“Everyone hates me.”
“I’ll never be happy.”
“I’m always miserable.”
“All men are bastards.”
Challenge these with an exaggeration of the statement, “Wow! EVERYONEhates you??”
Pattern #4: Presuppositions.
Elements of some part of the sentence presuppose the existence of some thing, event, person etc that is not stated explicitly. For example, “They ate all the oranges” presupposes that there was more than one of “them” doing the eating.
“My dad hit me again” presupposes that “dad” hit the speaker previously.
Pattern #5: Cause and Effect.
This is where the speaker puts elements into a relationship whereby event/action ‘A’ leads to event/action ‘B’. For example:
“When my father shouts at me, I feel depressed. ”
“When I smell chips, I get really hungry.”
“When I hear my girlfriend’s voice, I feel happier.”
Pattern #6: Mind Reading.
This is the pattern that starts wars, causes paranoia, anxiety and all sorts of serious problems. It basically takes the form of, “I know what you are thinking.”
“I know that you don’t like me.”
“You think I did it because I love Mildred.”
“I know that you don’t really feel that.”
“Don’t be stupid, you don’t really believe that!”
Meta Model Example
“No one ever listens to anything I ever say.”
You, acting as an effective listener need to pay attention to how the speaker speaks – i.e. their tonality, pitch, speed, volume etc. The client saying the above sentence said these words in a whiney, nasal tonality and she made no attempt to adapt her voice to fit into the environment that she was in. In short when she told me, “No one ever listens to anything I ever say” my internal response to myself was, “Well, I’m really not surprised!”
Note in this example the speaker does not place herself “at cause” – she places responsibility external to herself and she places herself at the level of “effect”. Some counsellors would reply to this ludicrous statement with, “And how do you feel about that?” However, a more skilled practitioner would hear that statement differently.
Now, let’s look at the meta-model violations.
The speaker uses three universal quantifiers. You could ask:
1. No one?? Has there ever been a person who did listen to what you say?
2. Nothing? No one listens to anything you ever say? Was there anything you ever said that someone did listen to?
The speaker offers two unspecified verbs. Find out what their evidence is for them. For example, you could ask:
1. Listens how, specifically? How would you know if someone was listening? What would they need to be doing so that you would know that they were listening?
2. What is it that you are trying to say?
3. How are you saying whatever it is you are trying to say?
Essentially, where we are trying to get the speaker is to the point of being “at cause” – i.e. She is responsible for her communication and the outcomes arising from it. I chose to challenge the generalisations/lack of referential index of “no-one” and “anything I ever say.” Essentially I challenged these with:
1. Who specifically does not listen? Me? My hamster? Who?
2. What specifically is it that you are saying that <persons> are not listening to?
Through these challenges, I was able to direct the client to the position whereby her generalisation of no one ever listening to anything she said could be moved to considerations of.
1. Who it was that was not listening.
2. The evidence by which she would know if a person was listening – i.e. what behaviour does she need to observe from the listener to let her know that he or she is in fact listening. Is her evidence requirement for this reasonable?
3. The mode by which she communicated – i.e. the tone of her voice etc and the impact this had upon the listener.
4. The content of what it was she was communicating.
A common example of a language pattern that traps the listener into a presupposition is that of, “When did you stop beating your wife?” The presupposition is that the listener is married and that he beats his wife. Naturally, the meta-model question to break this presupposition is:
“Beating my wife at what, specifically? Croquet? Bowls? Monopoly?”
Presuppositions presuppose a reality that is shared by everyone, don’t they? As long as the speaker believes and acts “as if” their presuppositions are true and not simply a question of belief, then the speaker will remain stuck in certain undesirable patterns of behaviour and belief.