Learning The NLP Meta Model

    The Meta Model is at the foundation of NLP and was the first toolset for transformation developed by Richard and John.

    It has been used in every industry from therapy, business, and science to space travel and product innovation. Many NLPers seem to get caught up in the stimulus-response approach to employing the Meta-Model in their life. Yet this immensely powerful tool has been enhanced and developed many times since it codification in the Structure of Magic 1.

    This the article provides ten powerful tips to help you master your skill with the Meta-Model and move beyond the pattern of stimulus-response challenge often seen amongst new NLPers.

     1. The Terms are the least important aspect

    The first thing to get as a new person to NLP is the terms such as semantic ill-formedness, normalizations, transderivational search etc are the least important things to get. You don't need to know them off by memory. You need to ask yourself which would you prefer to be able to use the tools powerfully or to name the terms?

    Focusing on how you are becoming more skilful each and every day using the Meta-Model is far more useful than being an "NLP junkie" who can recite chapter and verse of SOM1/2 (Structure of Magic) yet can't use the model effectively.

    2. Let go of the rules!

    Don't get caught up in challenging every well-formed violation you hear. In the beginning, putting the Meta-Model into action you are going to miss lots of things and that is OK. Equally a common practice is "I spotted one!" a game where you challenge any and every violation you here. Neither is very helpful.

    With practice and time you will become more adept at hearing what is important and letting go of the need to challenge everything you hear. Focus instead on getting the outcome you want which is to intelligently and intentionally move the client towards the end goal that they want.

    3. Stay out of the content

    When you work with a client (whether that is a friend who is "stuck" or a paid client), make sure you are in an uptime state listening attentively to identify the key structures in their communication such as major presuppositions, cause and effect statements, Universals, complex equivalents etc. A good practice I have found when learning to get good is to simply listen to a friend share a problem they are having and just listen to identify what are the two or three major violations they keep using/repeating. For example they may be using lots of Universals (All, Every, Only etc) or making an action word (verb) into a static thing (noun) .. also known as normalizing.

    4. Go for the largest chunks first

    When you start listening to your client and are beginning to ask a question, remember that each question will influence and direct their consciousness.

     Review how you use the meta-model and identify how you will use anything you have learned here to improve your effectiveness.

    Therefore to ensure you don't get caught in a meta-model muddle, go for the large chunks first and be very aware of the presuppositions in your own language (so that you are leading the person down a path you want them to go). 

    There is little point if your client says "my mother hates me", replying "hates you, how specifically? or "according to whom?". When using the Meta-Model you will want to start off like a plane flying at 15,000 feet, high enough up to have a broad view of the land (client's problem structure) below so you can get a very good understanding of how the terrain is laid out before you swoop down and do a specific intervention.

    By going after the high-level chunks of the client's problem first, you will get a much better understanding as to how they are holding or representing the problem in their mind and most importantly what is inside or outside their map/model that would be welcoming or resistant to any proposed change. Richard Bandler often uses the "How do you know?" question or "so what?" response to the above type statements.

    5. Stay out of the content, but remember the content is important as well

    Statement three may seem in conflict with statement five, however, both tips live together. At the beginning of learning how to work with clients, it is a good idea to avoid getting caught up in the content of a person's communication and missing out on what is really going on to create the problem space. However, when you work with people, being able to attend to the content, to notice what they don't say, is often more important than what they do.

    Clients typically do not have a good idea of what or how they have the problem that they perceive they do. By listening to what they say, you can often infer and identify areas outside their map or model that are key to creating a solution that will work for them. The keyword is infer, and you need to know when you are inferring something by testing. As you get really good at using the Meta-Model you will begin to utilize the match between information and intuition. The tools will provide you with key information to understand and be able to change their problem from within. Your intuition with experience will help you to know where and how opportunities to do so arise.

    Master Trainer Michael Breen has a great question that he keeps in mind when working with clients: "What has to be present in this person's world view in order for this (behaviour) to be the right response?
    This will give you some ideas about areas to expand your questioning and identify resources and patterns of thought that may require adjusting.

    6. Apply it to Yourself

    Many years ago as a new person to NLP I found myself absorbed by Structure of Magic 1 and 2. (If you haven't already got a copy of them be sure you do.) And in the years that have passed since I continuously have been impressed with:

    The usefulness of the Meta Model in any context (I've applied it in Business, Therapy, Consultancy and many other areas) to provide really rich information to help ensure you correctly identify what is going on in a personal world view (including many times my own!) and

    How the language runs so deep and outside most people conscious awareness yet someone who is skilled in the Meta Model can influence them-self and others really powerfully. The best of NLP (IMHO) is not in doing a fancy technique but in doing the fundamentals really well. The Meta Model was the first model of NLP and the model from which Richard and John developed the other models of NLP.

    Whenever I need to make an important decision, business or otherwise I will almost always stop and ask myself how accurate and clear is your thinking about X? And I proceed to use the Meta Model along with some additional powerful frameworks to ensure I understand and can identify any Achilles heels in my thinking. So tip number 6 uses the Meta Model on yourself, daily. And whenever you find yourself or a friend "stuck," turn on your Uptime state, listen attentively, and rather than using other aspects of NLP such as any of the change techniques, simply restrict yourself to Meta Model queries and you will find your skill greatly improved in no time at all.

    7. Pay attention to non-verbal and analogue communications

    A basic premise in NLP is one cannot communicate. People are constantly oozing message and display many additional messages in their communications (often non verbally and outside their conscious awareness) that a skilled a practitioner can "tune" into. By being in an uptime state and noticing the non-verbal communications of your client and apparent incongruities, you can place well-targeted questions that will allow you to rapidly identify the core restriction the person is operating from and develop a path which will help reframe or shift the person's thinking, often entirely, about the whole problem.

    Therefore tip 7 is, pay exquisite attention to the non-verbal and analogue communications of your client and track them to identify the key structures that are keeping your client's world view restricted so you can use the meta-model to shift their experience.

    8. Be aware of your own tendency to hallucinate

    If someone says to you, "I had a bad accident when I was 28 and it really bothers me", what do you understand by that? Do you know what I mean? Most of us would say "we do." However, as a practitioner of NLP, you need to ensure that your understanding is grounded in sensory experience and that you avoid hallucinating what the other person means. That simple statement doesn't tell you what representation system the person is using to "hold" their "bothering" nor does it share with you what specifically about the accident is bothering them. So Tip 8 is, as you listen to people be aware of your own filters and how language calls up its own anchors which can mislead you if you aren't aware of how you are representing what you're hearing.

    9. Stay on Track

    One of the guiding principles to NLP change work is to lead a person from their present state to their desired state as efficiently as possible. When you are using the Meta Model, you can use this information to develop a path from the present state to the desired state.

    By attending to this you can begin to ask yourself the question "where is the point of leverage in this system? How is this person maintaining the "problem space" and what well-placed question could change all of that?" By making sure you are only going after information with a specific intention in mind and constantly scanning to understand how the person is holding this problem space, you can quickly identify ways to influence the speaker to a positive outcome.

    10. Have Fun

    Using the Meta Model can be a lot of fun and enormously rewarding. However, learning and mastering anything can seem uncomfortable at times. However, it's worth pushing through should this happen to you. As you practice each day you will begin to find yourself getting greater results all the time. If you only use the meta-model in habitual uncreative ways then you forget to have fun .. so tip 10 to greater effectiveness is making sure you enjoy the experience of using the Meta Model and have fun with it as you get better all the time.

    Making it Practical:

    Review how you use the meta-model and identify how you will use anything you have learned here to improve your effectiveness.

    Take two of the tips above and use them this week in your Meta Model communication with anyone you meet.

    The more you practice and incorporate the feedback you get, the greater your skill will become.


    If you're interested in becoming really skilled with language and the NLP language models be sure to check out our unique monthly Platinum Audio News Club here.

    NLP Intermediate Level

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