Mastering The Meta Model

    There has been a lot written about the NLP Meta Model over the years, from the earliest days it was first presented to the world in Dr. Richard Bandler's and John Grinder's Structure of Magic Volume 1.

    Their book was ground breaking and the Meta Model has gone on to become one of THE most useful tool we can all use to learn to enjoy a richer and better quality of life.

    However forty years on, many NLPers still treat their application of the Meta Model in a very stimulus-response process. And that gets old very quickly, for both you and the speaker.

    So let's have a quick recap of the most common ways people learn to use the Meta Model....

    The Beginner's Approach:

    You know if you are at this level if you are just listening for linguistic violations and challenging for generalizations, deletions and distortions as you notice them. But you don't really know what to do once you have identified a violation besides asking some rigid question.

    In effect, what is missing here is an effective strategy to get to the end outcome. And to be fair most people were never taught any.

    The next level that the student moves toward is what I call the ..

    Video Camera Operator:

    Here you have moved your focus on to paying attention for sensory specific terms and challenge any terms where there is ambiguity, that a Video camera would not be able to directly follow.The problem here is a strategy for working with the Meta Model is still missing, as is an understanding of the relationships between the various linguistic patterns.

    Lastly we have the approach of

    Go for the largest chunk first:

    This is a significant improvement as it takes the Meta Modeler from trying to tie down the lowest level of deletions, distortions and generalisations and moves them to 'what are the key frames' the person is holding that are having the largest impact on the unwanted present state.

    However, this in itself is not enough.

    Four Components That Affect The Quality Of Your Results:

    In reality there are at least four components that affect the quality of the results you can effect.

    The quality of the results will depend on quality of:

    1. The strategy you use.


    To be really masterful you MUST be able to hold the desired state in mind at all times, and avoid going down the rabbit hole of the speaker's content


    We all know that all strategies are not created equal. Some strategies simply don't work to get a given outcome. Others can be very powerful to help you achieve a specific result.


    2. Your ability to hold and track your progress toward a specific desired state

    It seems obvious, but we have all been there. You start off asking questions, working your way in .. and very soon you find yourself in quick sand. You heard the first linguistic violation, but after that well you can't really remember what you are working toward and your dialogue goes nowhere.

    To be really masterful you MUST be able to hold the desired state in mind at all times, and avoid going down the rabbit hole of the speaker's content. In addition every highly skilled user of NLP and the Meta Model will be regularly checking "where am I in relation to the desired outcome?"

    3. How well you understand the Meta Model Patterns

    How well you understand the Meta Model patterns, their relationships to each other and to human thinking processes (and the end of the day, what you say will only make sense based on how they (the client) processes your words) are key to being highly effective with the Meta Model.

    4. Your ability to quickly map out their worldview

    so you know which questions or suggestions will naturally lead them to reevaluating their present state.

    Powerful Rules of Thumb For Effective Meta Model Work:


    So here are a few pointers to keep in mind to develop greater mastery when using the Meta Model:

    1. We don't use the Meta Model in isolation

    We don't use the Meta Model isolated and somehow mysteriously disconnected from the rest of the NLP technology. We are always seeking to employ the Meta Model in the service of some output or goal, in a specific context. Therefore in the achievement of that we will look to employ a specific strategy and some or all of the NLP tools to achieve the desire state.

    So if you have found yourself having limited success when using the Meta Model, ask yourself:

    • What strategy have you been employing to achieve the outcome?
    • Were you aware of the context in which you were making challenges and could you anticipate the likely response and effect of those challenges?

    2. The Meta Model is based on Logic in its application

    How you use the Meta Model, when you use it skillfully, is by understanding the relationship between the patterns, the nature of how we all create "our unique reality" and human thinking patterns.

    For example understanding the cause and effect (C-E) structure that a client has gone through, to reach some conclusion (their utterance) can be very important. Yet at the same (metaphorical) level while C-E gives us the structure of the relationship between X happening and Y occurring, understanding the scope (via explicit or implicit universals) is also important in creating a change.

    People like Dr. Bandler and Master Trainer Michael Breen have done a lot of work over the years to refine and organize the Meta Model in a way that makes it incredibly powerful.

    3. Track at the Outcome Level, not the Data Level

    Many NLPers make the error of going after every violation they hear, and in doing so expend way too much energy and time trying to "change minds" or have the client re-evaluate their thinking.

    The expert is always tracking at the outcome level. Important questions to ask yourself are:

    • What is the desired state? Is it defined in sensory specific terms?
    • Is the desired state presented in a solvable frame? E.g. I want to cure world hunger vs. I want to start a charity that will feed 1,000 homeless people by December etc.
    • How does any question you ask help or hinder your progress toward that end?

    4. Treat Every Utterance the Client says a Whole Complete Map

    When working with a client, every utterance they say is the END result of some mental process where they have reached a conclusion, that they then express in language. For example "life sucks", "Asian people are intelligent", "XYZ people cannot go to heaven" ..

    When you treat each utterance as a complete map or model, you are looking to penetrate the person's thinking to understand what must be present in their thinking, what can't be there, and what could be present. By doing this we can quickly understand the way they are holding the present state and what needs to happen to shift them to the desired state.

    5. Every Question and Utterance Can Influence The Client

    Every question, every statement and non verbal can and will directionalise the exchange between a client and yourself. If I was to say "You know, if you put any resistance you have had aside, away for some time, then you might be open to really experiencing more of what you want. Couldn't you?"

    This statement will directionalise a dialogue just as the questions "what haven't you been noticing yet, that would allow you to overcome this problem .." will have another effect and directionalise the person accordingly.

    The degree that any statement or utterance you make creates a big shift in direction will depend, in part, on how well what you have said maps to their model and at the same time, by hearing it causes them to re-experience the previously held problem in a new way.

    There is much that could be written on effective use of the Meta Model, but I hope you have enjoyed this and will go out and put just three of the things I have proposed here into action.

    All of the apparently gifted NLPers I have met or studied with have had one consistent pattern in place .. anytime they came across something new or different from how they were doing something, that they tought could help them, they immediately tested it out for themselves and continued doing so until it became an automatic action.

    Until next time, wishing you much success.


    NLP Intermediate Level

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