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The Meta Model in NLP

The distinction we’re going to look at now in NLP is something called the Meta Model.

This piece has been taken from a live training, so it may not scan as reading material, so if you can ‘hear’ it as the spoken word, it’ll dance more easily!

virgina satir

The Meta Model, according to the history that I know, was arrived at by the originators of NLP going out and modelling Virginia Satir. Now Virginia Satir was known as the mother, or I think it was the mother or the grandmother of all family therapy. She was known as a family therapist. She would go into people’s homes, and people’s families and she would simply ask questions. And because of the intention, and obviously the consciousness of what she was doing, with her languaging and the actual questions themselves, what people would discover is that they would come down inside the truth of a reality that they hadn’t seen before because it had been buried so deep under the normal kind of language patterns that arrive in your head.

The theory is this, underneath the habitual languaging that you’re normally doing in your head every day there is a truth and there are truths of your reality and when you can dig down and find these truths, and the problem is exposed for the reality that it is, it often just disappears, or at the very least, it loosens itself up.

So how might this be useful for you? Well, for instance for yourself it’s a great tool in problem solving, troubleshooting in business, uncovering roots of people’s problems when you’re doing one to one with people, but also it is a very good business tool as well, if you’re a manager or you’re on the upline somewhere in a networking group and you need to find out what’s really happening on your down-line or with the people that work with you then asking specific questions that we’re going to show you here which dig down directly, vertically, into the truth of various problems.

Now, there are some nuances here about how you have to use the Meta Model but I start off by saying you’ve got to use it carefully because it’s a
very powerful tool and being a powerful tool and quite intrusive, people will feel that it is powerful and intrusive unless there is enough kind of,
comfort, security, trust there, they won’t go with you.  So, you do have to have one of the cornerstones of NLP which is your rapport already set up with the people so that you can, they will allow you to get inside and do this questioning and allow their neurology to be moved by it at the same time.

So the Meta Model is a chunking down tool.  Now, as you can start to see here, these NLP techniques as you’re going through this series start to dovetail into each other.  Now, the Meta Model is a stand alone technique and if you’re just learning this by itself that’s fine, yet you also see that we’ve looked at, in the past we’ve looked at the hierarchy of ideas which is a chunking up and chunking down tool, and this will be the lower end of the hierarchy of ideas we’ll be chunking down into specificity.

The Columbo Effect


Remember your Columbo Effect here (more reference to this in a few paragraphs). “Ah, er, excuse me Ma’am, ah, I have a question to you, ah, you said ah, she’s a better person and, ah, I was just wondering ah, better than, compared to whom is that, or… or better at what?”

Soften the question before you fire it in there. Don’t become a Meta Monster like some people, which is very easy. And remembering that the
purpose of the Meta Model is to get the pattern up, so you can see it and then deal with it. The purpose of the Meta Model isn’t always to blow the problem out, or to solve problems. The whole purpose of the Meta Model is to uncover the truth of their situation, and the more skilled you get or the more graceful you get, the more your client opens up quickly, and quickly comes to the deepest truth that they’re holding inside their
neurology. And when they do that, often it loosens it right up, and sometimes it just does disappear.

It’s basically distinguising the different segments – the deletions, distortions and generalisations that people use to carve up reality, and
every one of them is outlined with a sentence and a challenge and a prediction of what may happen when you make that challenge.

Remember, if we go all the way back to the human communication model, that life is made up of deletions, distortions and generalisations, and
they’re deletions, distortions and generalisations of reality.

That person has got some kind of internal representation that they’ve cut down and made mean something, and then they’ve put language around it, as we discovered through the presuppositions in language of NLP, and then they’ve made decisions. And these decisions turn up as the Meta Model.

Before we go into the Meta Model and have a look at these distinctions, we need to just to frame how you get somebody on the page to begin with. Because if somebody’s saying “Well I just don’t like cheese”, now that’s not a problem, is it?

There’s a magic question for you, and I’d like you to write this question down, perhaps on the top of the page. If you’ve got the manual
with you, write it on top of the page. If you haven’t you’re just going to have to remember this and it’s quite succinct and very easy to remember,
and the question is, it’s your Magic Question:

“How Is That A Problem?”

Because what we want to get them is inside that reality that they’ve created. Now if they’re just saying “Oh, I just don’t like cheese and
that’s the problem.” well it isn’t a problem, is it? We don’t know the ins and outs of it.

“So how is that a problem?”

And if they say, “Well, I’m just too fat” well there you go, now you’re on the page. “Just too fat” is a comparative deletion. So they’re comparing themselves to somebody else, and making some assumptions.

“Compared to who?”

“I’m too fat” – “Compared to who?”

So that one question got you inside their neurology, into part of the reality that they’ve created there about themselves.

Now the other piece to this, so that’s your magic question and if you’re not on the page, if you’re not on page 44 and they haven’t come up with
anything that you can challenge inside these languaging patterns, you use that question.

“How is that a problem?”

Not why, not what, not whatever, How is that a problem. The word “How” gets you instructions of how it’s put together, gets you strategies from the inside.

I remember one time a story about a guy who was, he was on, there was a self development course he used to, well actually still does run, and they’re selling possibilities. So there’s nothing tangible to sell, there’s nothing wrong with the course by the way, they’re selling possibilities.
So when you go to an introduction evening, on this particular course, how do you sell a possibility? Well you have to be very abstract about it.
So they say, “We promise you a breakthrough on this course.”

There was this one guy there, and I think he had the Meta Model kind of built into him. I think he was a built-in Meta Monster, as it were, and he just kept reading off these kind of, what we would call the Meta Model patterns.

So they would say “Well, we promise you a breakthrough on this course.” And he would say “What kind of breakthrough?” And they’d say “A breakthrough in the possibility of who you are!” And he would say “What you mean, ‘the possibility’? And what do you mean by ‘of who I am’?”
and he kind of went on, and this went on.

Now they could only speak abstract, and he just kept asking very specific questions, and literally, they got two people from the course, who were running, you know, organisers, to take this, to guide this guy out of the room because they couldn’t handle it any more.

Abstract cannot handle specificity. Because you have to get more specific and you’ll lose the, you know you’ll get more detail, and therefore
sometimes lose the ambience of a meeting if it gets too specific.


Now the other part to this that I mentioned earlier, is it’s very good to have a softening way of asking the question. So it’s good to preempt the
question. If you think of someone like Columbo, on the TV from a long time ago, remember that detective, that kind of scatty looking detective. He used to always kind of, y’know, say “ah, I have a question for you here. I have a question. Um, you know, is it okay if I just come by and ask you this question?”

And they’ll say “Yeah sure Columbo, no worries I got nothing to hide.” “Yeah well, so you know you’re wearing your watch on your left wrist, well yesterday I saw it on your right wrist and I was wondering, um y’know, ah, how does that work for you?”

So don’t worry about the content of what I just said there, and don’t worry if it was nothing like Columbo, but what he did was he softened the
question by asking a couple of questions beforehand about if it was all right to ask the question in the first place. So you can say that, before firing in one of these challenges to the patterns they’re coming up with, you can just fire in, you can just soften that beforehand with, “is it okay to ask you a question, can I ask you this?”


“I have got a question for you, would it be all right to ask you this question?”

You’ve set them up, you’ve created a space of anticipation, but you’ve also got their permission that it’s all right to dig in there.

Let’s go through some examples, and challenges, and predictions. In fact, let’s do that on the next blog!

See you for the next instalment of The Meta Model.

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