Meta Model Magic! Precision language skills for communicating and unlocking potential!
Well all know what we mean when we say something, don’t we? And because we know what we mean everyone else should too, right? When it’s put as bluntly as that most of us would probably deny that we believe the type of statement I have just made, but in reality many of us act as if we believed them. The results of these implicit beliefs can be poor communication, misunderstandings and crossed wires. Fortunately the NLP Meta Model offers a framework of skills and understandings that can identify the limitations of our linguistic communication and offer ways to develop greater clarity and precision in its use.
The Meta Model was developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler, the co-founders of NLP, in the early 1970s. They were studying the work of a number of particularly effective psychotherapists, including family therapist Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls, the famous originator of Gestalt Therapy. They noticed that these innovative and creative change agents seemed to explore beyond the surface content of their client’s language by asking particularly effective questions in response to what their clients said to them. These questioning skills seemed to unlock new layers of knowledge and insight for their clients, allowing them to generate remarkable personal change and growth. Bandler and Grinder distilled the patterns of these language skills, categorised and explored them and created a highly effective and teachable model – the Meta Model – that others could also learn and use in order to become more effective in their work across a whole variety of arenas beyond solely therapy work.
The effectiveness of the Meta Model is based upon the recognition that language, a magnificent achievement though it may be, can often be a less than perfect tool in conveying the subtle nuances of sensory-based experience. In order to translate the rich detail of experience into language, along with all our personal idiosyncratic associations that give our experience texture; we have to edit our experience down, convert it into words, communicate those to another person and hope that they will then decode our words to reproduce in their own sensory awareness a reasonable approximation of what we wanted them to become aware of. Described in such terms I hope you can see that the process, miraculous as it may be, is fraught with potential hazards.
Firstly, by editing our experience down, we necessarily leave out a huge amount of information and have to hope that the recipient of our communication will fill in the gaps accurately. Secondly, a great many words that we use do not have a completely objective meaning – they will be flavoured by all sorts of personal associations, generated as a result of each individual’s own personal history, which will result in them meaning very different things to different people. For example, even the simple word ‘mother’ is going to mean very different things to an upset child seeking maternal comfort; Lieutenant Ellen Ripley from the film Alien who, along with her crewmates, has been set-up for sacrifice by her spaceships’ computer nicknamed ‘Mother’, and Norman Bates from Psycho, for whom ‘Motheeeerrrr!!!’ is both the bane of his life and also his psychotic alter-ego. Mention the simple word ‘mother’ to this group of people and you will get three completely different responses, all of which might be completely different to your associations with the word. When you really think about it it is remarkable that misunderstandings are not more prevalent than they actually are.
Bandler and Grinder recognised that these processes of editing our experience could be placed in three broad categories – Deletions, Distortions and Generalisations. They further realised that not only do human beings delete, distort and generalise when communicating with others – we also do it when we talk to ourselves and make meaning out of the sensory input we receive from the world around us. Whilst such processes are vital if we are not to be overwhelmed, they can sometimes create difficulties if our world view and experience is impoverished or made problematic through the way in which we have deleted, distorted and generalised information. Recognising such limitations and challenging them can open up awareness of new and liberating possibilities, creating awareness of options for change, improvement and growth.
So, how do we know when someone is deleting, distorting or generalising experience? How do we know when it might be useful to help them become aware of more information? And how do we do it? The Meta Model gives us answers to these questions. Quite simply, there are recognisable language patterns that signal when information is being deleted, distorted and generalised, and there are fairly simple forms of questions that we can ask in response to these to recover the lost information and expand the metaphorical ‘map’ we are navigating by. The beneficial result is that we get greater clarity about what specifically another person is telling us (rather than having to fill in potentially incorrect detail) and the speaker can be encouraged to notice the limiting assumptions through which s/he is filtering experience, leading to greater flexibility of thinking and awareness of possibilities.
The Meta Model is an enormously potent and flexible set of skills and, although it originated in the study of therapeutic processes, it is applicable in just about every field of human communication. Within the business world, where the exchange of accurate information and the building of relationships upon firm mutual understanding is crucial, Meta Model skills can have an almost magical effect in dispelling confusion and eliciting quality information and communication. It is a set of skills that can be of benefit to almost anyone who interacts with other human beings – and that is pretty much every one of us.
The Certified NLP Trainers at Watt Works Consulting teach the powerful skills of the Meta Model in London, Cheshire and, in the near future, in Belfast, through our 2-day workshop – Meta Model Magic. This experiential training is ideal for those new to the Meta Model and also those who have studied it before and wish to brush up on their skills.