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Logical Levels and Hierarchy of Ideas

The world is dynamic, and so are we. In our day to day lives which are dynamic, there are changes which occur.

Some changes are easy, some difficult, some last longer, and some shorter. These changes that occur, they happen on some levels called the Logical Levels. Anthropologist Gregory Bateson first proposed the notion of logical stages of learning and development as a process in the behavioural sciences, based on Bertrand Russell's work in logic and mathematics. Bateson defined four fundamental stages of learning and change, each of which encompasses and organises components from the previous level and has a bigger influence on the individual, organism, or system.

Beginning with Learning 0 and ending with Learning 4, Bateson postulated many stages of learning. While Bateson mentioned little about Learning 4, he did say that Learning 0 comprises just responding to stimuli and making no modifications based on experience or information.

Learning 1: Correcting the mistakes of a decision within a set of choices results in a change in the specificity of a response. It entails, in Bateson's words, "revision of choice within an unchanging set of options." An example would be selecting a different answer to a previously asked question when asked a second time.

Learning 2: is a change in the Learning 1 process, such as a corrective change in the set of possible solutions from which a decision is made, or a change in how the sequence of encounters is punctuated.The “hidden curriculum” conveyed by the manner of teaching rather than the content being taught is an example of such learning familiar to those in education. By learning how to “play the game” in the classroom, students improve their ability to learn what the teacher intends and to demonstrate what they know.

Learning 3: refers to a change in the Learning 2 process, such as a corrective alteration in the system of sets of possibilities from which a decision is made. In the same way that the results of second-order learning influence first-order learning, its outcomes modulate second-order learning, either boosting or interfering with it. By extension, if third-order learning accelerates second-order learning and second-order learning accelerates first-order learning, then a favourable combination of second- and third-order learning will accelerate first-order learning. As a result, a quantitative analysis of third-order learning should search for the exact purpose of learning rate acceleration or slowdown.

Our ideas are both outward and internal representations of the environment. Our memories, values, beliefs, imagination, and sensory representation are all part of our inner reality. These concepts also cover a wide range of thinking styles. Our thoughts can be conveyed in a hierarchy of concepts and language as well as along a continuum. Any discussion requires a constant flipping between levels and degrees of vagueness and precision, rather than a defined degree or level. Our neurology filters our exterior environment experience, resulting in internal representations (memories and experiences) that are a shadow of reality. Similarly, the language we use to convey our mental images to others is filtered, thus the words we use are a shadow of a shadow of reality. Not recognising this can lead to misunderstandings since, even if two individuals use the same term, they may not mean the same thing or draw from the same set of references.

The concept of logical levels describes how some processes and phenomena are influenced by the interactions of other processes and phenomena. Any activity system is a subsystem within another system and so on. Different degrees of processes are produced as a result of this type of connection between systems, depending on the system in which one is operating. Following Bateson's four basic stages of learning and change, Robert Dilts added six more: identity, values and standards, possibilities, behaviour, and environment.

The sixth level, spiritual, is classified as a relational field since it comprises various identities that can make a person feel that he's a part of a larger system that extends beyond his or her own identity.

Learning at higher levels of the hierarchy uses more brain capacity than learning at lower levels, according to Robert Dilts. Working and learning at the higher Logical Levels is more complicated and difficult than at the lower Logical Levels. When the conversation shifts from a low level, such as environment and behaviour, to a higher Logical Level, such as identity and convictions, the tension often rises.

These Logical Levels work on the concept of “Hierarchy of Ideas”. Before you can truly comprehend how Neuro Linguistic Programming language patterns operate, you must first grasp the ‘Hierarchy of Ideas.' The Hierarchy of Ideas is a linguistic technique used in Neuro Linguistic Programming that helps the speaker to bridge the domains of abstract to specific quickly and fluidly. The Hierarchy of Ideas is a concept that outlines how to master the art of communication by regulating the flow of dialogue or ideas from abstract to specific and vice versa. We utilize words to convey how abstract or detailed we are in processing information when we speak or think. The Hierarchy of Ideas is founded on the premise that language, concepts, and ideas are part of a communication continuum that spans particular details to broad abstractions. It's important to understand the Hierarchy of Ideas and the particular for this circumstance is that the more you can move up and down the levels of abstraction, the more successful you'll be in both personal and professional relationships, and the better you'll be at dealing with people who are stuck on one end or the other of the detail/big picture spectrum.


Consider how much information you have to digest on a daily basis. You read reports and emails, hold team briefings, and participate in webinars. Some of the information you get is simple to comprehend and retain, while other information is not. The distinction is frequently in the manner in which the information is delivered. When you need to communicate written or spoken knowledge to others, chunking can assist them in comprehending and remembering it. A chunked and logically arranged textual format offers readers rapid access to the larger idea. They can then delve into the specifics as needed. And a chunked spoken style can be particularly helpful in aiding individuals in following and remembering essential ideas.

In general, our brains are adept at chunking information together to make it easier to process. The idea is to determine how abstract or particular your language is, which, in turn, reveals where your mind is focused on the spectrum between the general ‘big picture' and fine-grained detail. Because our minds appear to process information in a limited number of ‘chunks,' this is also known as ‘chunking' in Neuro Linguistic Programming, and the particular for this circumstance is that people differ in how detailed or big-picture the quantity of information retained in each ‘chunk' is. It is also known as “Levels of Abstraction” since the higher we go on levels, the more abstract the concepts get. You may have had to deal with someone who is a nitpicker on occasion. If you ask this person to do anything, they want you to teach them exactly how to do it, down to the last detail; or they may go ahead and do it, then return to give you the full tale, step by step. If you ask this individual about their weekend, they will tell you everything they did in agonising detail and in chronological order. And if you interrupt them, they believe they must restart the storey from the beginning! Alternatively, you may have dealt with someone who only thinks in broad strokes and is uninterested in specifics. They just want to know the big picture, or what's essential, and they'll do everything they can to avoid the details. They'll give you vague directions, and it'll be a great effort to get them to come down to some type of practical level if you ask them how you want them to accomplish what they're asking.

We don't memorise telephone numbers or any other sequence of numbers as distinct individual digits; instead, we combine them together to make them simpler to recall. Information is spliced together. This is known as chunking. Chunking is the technique of dividing data into manageable chunks. Chunking is the technique of organising and categorising information into large chunks in a logical hierarchy in terms of abstracting.We may either chunk up the abstraction ladder to the big picture or chunk down to the specifics. Each step of the ladder symbolises a different level of specificity and a distinct category. The concept of chunks of information and our capacity to 'chunk up' to a higher level of abstraction, 'chunk down' to a lower level of abstraction, and even 'chunk sideways' or laterally between two chunks at the same level of abstraction are all used in the hierarchy of ideas. We get more general when we chunk up. We become more detailed when we chunk down. And we maintain the same degree of generality as we chunk across. Abstracting is the process of breaking down information into smaller chunks with varying degrees of precision. When you chunk up you are going for the big picture with what was said. To chunk up, inquire "What kind of example is this? What is the purpose of this?" To discover similarity, abstract up. You will find oneness if you abstract far enough. When you chunk down, you're for the finer points, something particular. The details are what most people are concerned with, think about, and discuss. When you chunk them up, you're removing them from this mode of thought. When you chunk laterally, you're looking for things that belong to the same category or group. If you look at the picture, it starts with vehicles, which is a method of transportation. By chunking laterally, you can encourage people to talk about other kinds of transportation. You're switching from one thought to the next here.

Think about sets and subsets. Sets are at a higher chunk than subsets. Sets contain subsets that may contain subsets of themselves.

We often express sets and subsets in a hierarchical format. Eg:


Subset Subset Subset

Subset Subset Subset Subset Subset Subset

We could replace the words set and subset in any scenario with words that we use in our sentences that describe what we are talking about. It could be a word or a group of words that give away the level at which someone is thinking and speaking.

During negotiations, the neuro-linguistic chunking approach comes in handy. Chunking up is a technique used to establish an agreement between two or more parties. Once a shared aim has been identified and agreed upon, chunking is used to isolate the issues that are interfering with the agreement. These specific roadblocks can then be addressed independently, allowing the general agreement to be reached. Once a unified objective has been established, the specifics become more essential. By comparing the current scenario to another trade or another illustration of the problem at hand, you may chunk laterally. Several Neuro-linguistic courses include these approaches. For any discourse, it's ideal to use all three chunking ways.

If we take the word travelling as an example and the main activity to be done, then we come to the fact that how do we want to travel? Is it by road or air or water? Choosing between road or air or water is known as “chunk sideways” or lateral chunking. Now, we decide the fact as to how do we want to travel. Do we travel by car or plane or a ship respectively. Choosing a car->for the road-> to travel is known as chunking up. Now wanting to travel-> by road-> on a car is chunking down.

At a certain degree of abstraction, the concept of "car" is conveyed. From this level of abstraction, one can go in three conceptual and linguistic directions. The first is to focus on specifics and get additional information.

In Neuro Linguistic Programming, this is referred to as chunking down. Example of inquiry that would go in this direction: What/Which specifically? By asking these questions, we will be able to elicit a layer of answers that are less abstract than animal reactions. For example, we might state that “SUV," "Sedan," and so on are representations of cars. By using these similar questions to one of these cases, we can break this down even more. Take the word "SUV" and ask yourself, "What exactly?" We will come across a layer of replies that is split into two subcategories when we reach a particular level of detail. The very first is SUV Types. The list "Hyundai," "Tata," "Kia," and so on may all be found in this sub-category. The second category is canine components, from which we may get the terms "Tires", "Engine," and so on. Of course, we may break these categories down further to elicit more particular levels. The second is to look at the broader picture or interrelationships between things, ideas, and concepts by going in the direction of abstraction. In Neuro Linguistic Programming, this is referred to as chunking up.

The following are some examples of inquiries that might lead in this direction: What kind of example is this? For what purpose/intent are you doing this? How would this benefit you?. By asking these questions, we will be able to elicit a layer of answers that are more abstract than animal responses. Animals, for example, are instances of "Living Things," "Life," "Transport," "Food," and so on. It should be self-evident that not all creatures are either "Food" or "Transport." However, if we chunk down from "Food" or "Transport," we can see how animals may be instances of these. Needless to say, we could build on these to elicit responses on a more abstract level.

The third option is to travel laterally inside a layer from any notion. This is known as Chunking Sideways in Neuro Linguistic Programming and is the result of a two-step procedure. The first step is to break things down into manageable chunks. The next step is to ask, “Can you think of any more examples of this?” This effectively slices down but in a different direction.

Conflict in the Hierarchy

When two parties are at odds, they are usually at the bottom of their thinking. They are quite detailed about the conflict's specifics. They need to be directed to a larger chunk in their thinking in order to find a solution. This actively entails persuading them to recognise that they share some common ground. To get an agreement in a negotiation, chunk up. To acquire a Nominalization, chunk up until you get a Nominalization. If two individuals are having a discussion, they should make sure they are thinking about the same components and map coordinates.

Chunking up can be a guide to establish an initial agreement level, a compromise between the parties, in a conflict resolution or mediation context. Chunking down, on the other hand, can be utilised to address individual issues and identify a leverage point from which to achieve a breakthrough.

If the topic of conversation is transportation, but one person is thinking of a car while the other is thinking of a ship, they will mismatch on some level. In this case, both the parties want the same thing which is transportation. Their conflict arises at a lower level, which is choosing the means of transportation. As a result, we'll need some tools to keep track of the dialogue in equilibrium. It's beneficial to become aware of your own and others' tastes, as well as to practice chunking up, down, and sideways. If someone has a preference that differs from yours, one technique for developing rapport with them is to match theirs for a while. When disagreement arises in a negotiation, one of the most important techniques is to chunk up in an attempt to establish common ground.

The combination of job and family is a frequent example of these conflicting desires. You want to advance at work while also spending more time with your family. chunking up may go something like this: a profession brings me money, which brings me freedom, which brings me fulfilment. Family time provides me with a sense of belonging, which in turn provides me with comfort and fulfilment. Recognizing that both sides eventually desire the same thing opens the door to coexistence, since no matter which of the two you're pursuing at any one time, you're constantly working toward the same objective. You still have to make room for both in your life, but it no longer seems like a struggle.

Why does conflict happen and how to resolve it

Individuals speaking at various levels of abstraction account for a lot of misunderstanding. Some individuals like to think in "big picture" terms or with highly abstract concepts and thoughts, whilst others prefer to think in "concrete terms" and pay attention to details and particular.

Conflict happens when we are stuck at level. And we don’t find an option. At many levels, conflicts arise between various aspects of human experience. Conflicts over actions, for example, may arise. On the one hand, a person may desire to watch a certain television programme while also doing some exercise outside. Conflicts can also arise between different abilities, such as creativity and safety. A person's views or ideals may be in conflict. On the one hand, a person may believe it is important to understand mathematics, but not that it is possible for him or her to do so. It will be difficult to learn math as a result of this.When it comes to responsibilities, identity conflicts are common. A person may battle between their responsibilities as a parent on the one hand and their responsibilities as an employee on the other. People can feel "incongruent," "inner conflict," "of two minds," or "at odds" with themselves at times. These concerns aren't so much about external influences as they are about deeper structures within a person's own mental system, and conflicts between different 'parts' of one's own mental system. To put it another way, these problems are about conflicts between oneself and oneself.

When the client is in conflict, there are two ideas: fixed and variable. Fixed is non-negotiable and variable is negotiable. Always try to focus on the variable which is negotiable while being on the logical level of the client. There is something that the client is willing to negotiate, and there is something that the client is not willing to negotiate. Negotiate the negotiable, and don't negotiate the non negotiables. As a therapist, we then probe and question to challenge the variables. We find the objection, and objection is where alternatives/other options are required. Options come where objection comes. Find the objection: is it in the environment? respond to that level, is it in the client’s behaviour? respond to that level, is it in the client’s capability? respond to that level, is it in the client’s value/belief ? respond to that level, or is it in the client’s identity? respond to that level. The process of creating alternatives is simply chunking sideways from the original location.






The external settings in which human behaviour is expressed and in which humans are active are referred to as the environment. It's all about the period of time and the geographical region where the shift took place. A person acting at this level will most likely justify the change by detailing exactly what occurred and who was involved. This explanation could be followed by a complaint. What people do and say is referred to as behaviour. When an onlooker observes another person performing an activity, the observed person's behaviour is what the onlooker sees, feels, or hears. The term "behaviour" refers to a person's actions and reactions in a certain situation.

On this level, a person describes his thoughts, actions, and the consequences of those actions in a given situation. People's abilities, talents, qualities, and techniques for engaging in or initiating change are referred to as skills. These could be technical abilities in their industry, but they could also be "soft talents" like the capacity to adapt to new and changing situations. This is referred to as the 'how' level. Through a personal strategy, competencies and skills guide behaviour. A person's greater sense of identity is supported by convictions, beliefs, and standards. The ‘why' is the focus of this level. Beliefs and opinions are about the reasons behind specific actions. Beliefs and convictions, according to the Logical Levels, can strengthen or weaken talents and skills. If a person believes he is awful at dancing, it may be difficult to learn how to dance. Convictions refer to whether or not someone believes something is possible, necessary or superfluous, or whether or not motivation is sparked.

The question of identity is, "Who are we?" This allows people going through a transition to form a shared identity. Conversations on this level are frequently about personal matters. What am I fond of? What is it that motivates me? What do I want to do with my life? The identity level is defined by the Logical Levels as a person's feeling of self-worth and self-realization. Identifying with something or someone can take various forms: a work, a marriage, a religion, and so on.

We meet the client at their level of conflict and we dont bring in our conflict, we bring in a resource. Meet people at their map. If we don’t find conflict at the conflict level, we are creating conflict where there is no conflict. As a therapist, we accept the client for their choices and don’t bring in subjective judgement to it.

Once you understand what is negotiable for them and what is not, and at what level their objection is, the problem is solved. That is how you work towards agreement from disagreement.

As Freud said, “Creativity is an attempt to resolve a conflict generated by unexpressed biological impulses, such that unfulfilled desires are the driving force of the imagination, and they fuel our dreams and daydreams”.

Identifying all the troublesome facts that each party can think of aids in understanding the other side of the argument and may highlight concerns that were not previously considered. Our clients are in the greatest position to establish an agreement if we start with an initial agreement frame and don't stop to go further into each problem. Instead, we focus on discovering the commonality in all of them.

“We can't solve problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein once stated. That is exactly how Neuro Linguistic Programming approaches conflict resolution: it first determines what the contentious issue is, and then “we ‘chunk it up' one level above the dispute to reach consensus on ‘higher level' positive intentions.” There is a positive goal motivating every behaviour; and a context in which every behaviour has value”. It is a multi-level communication as mentioned before i.e in the form of sets and subsets. What all has the person said “yes” or “agreed” to and at what level does the person says “no” and “disagrees”. Keep the agreement and work through the disagreement.

Make communication easier. The range of detail or abstraction at which most individuals communicate is a personal preference. Some people communicate and process information at a high level, whereas others communicate and process information at a low level. This does not, however, imply that one can only converse at a certain level. Within the continuum, there is generally a range that one is comfortable with. Unfortunately, many of us have had the unpleasant experience of interacting with someone whose degree of specificity (or abstraction) differs from ours.In this circumstance, one might facilitate conversation (and, in the process, establish rapport) by first matching their level (pacing in Neuro Linguistic Programming). Before guiding them in the direction you want them to go by asking them the right questions for chunking up, down, or sideways, you might want to go to the first section on rapport.

The conflict occurs where people say “no” to something as opposed to the other thing. This “no” is not to you, and not to the proposal that you bring to the field. Here, the concept of yourself is not to be mingled with the discussion you are having. Understand where the objection is, and understand “you” are not the objection. When people say “no”, they are saying no to something which in some way they are protecting within themselves. It could be environment, behaviour, capability, value or identity. For example a person says, “I cannot sing a song on stage”. Here “I” is the identity, the identity in me cannot sing a song on stage. This identity is either professional or relational. Here “cannot” is a question on capability. Here “sing” is a behaviour. Here “on stage” is the environment. Then we find out the level of conflict. The person is not okay with the environment i.e. “on stage”. So we bring an agreement to this level and say for example, “okay can you sing for me in the car?” and the person says “yes, i can”. The key point here is to find a common ground for moving from disagreeing to agreeing more to further reduce/finish conflict at the conflict level. The disagreement can never exist without agreement, but people don’t know how to disagree with the proposal and therefore they disagree with you. People are not in conflict with people, but their values are in conflict. Improved communication will arise from being able to detect the degree of abstraction at which others are speaking and being able to equal or pace that level of abstraction. Mutual results can be reached by advancing the discourse laterally, to the more concrete, or by continuing at the current level after establishing agreement on that degree of abstraction. Communication may continue to shift rapidly from abstract to concrete, or from concrete to abstract. Recognizing and using the level of abstraction on which the dialogue is taking place, on the other hand, will vastly improve communication.

Sometimes chunking up just once isn't enough to bring up an abstract enough interest to free up the space needed to solve the problem. In these instances, chunking up a number of times until a sufficiently abstract requirement is recognised may be required before considering alternative options for meeting that need. Given that the human mind can only handle a few pieces of information at any given time, the degree of abstraction these 'chunks' are at makes a difference.

Each ‘chunk' will include a lot of information at a ‘big chunk' level, but it will be summarised and abstracted. You would have to ‘chunk down' to a smaller chunk size in order to access the intricacies of any of the information included in that chunk, where each ‘chunk' includes more precise and clear information about one component of the larger chunk. You would need to ‘chunk up' to a higher level if you are examining something at a ‘small chunk' specific level and want to see how that knowledge fits into the broader picture or what is essential about it. This provides you a near-infinite number of options for the exact purpose of achieving that value. If one option is unavailable or has drawbacks that make it unsuitable, you have alternative options for the exact purpose of achieving that value. However, someone who is stuck at a more concrete level may only have one means of reaching the value. If people are denied that option, they will find it difficult to modify their behaviour and find another means to fulfil the value. As a result, if conditions change, which they frequently do these days, they will be unable to adjust and prosper.

One approach to use the degrees of abstraction is to start with the most abstract to get everyone's agreement, then progressively go down to more particular after everyone is in agreement. The particular reason for this circumstance is that they are comfortable with the uncertainty, some individuals will not demand additional precise details to be supplied. Others will demand a lot of information. As a result, agree on the broad concept first and then offer only the specifics that are necessary. By chunking up, chunking down, or chunking laterally in Neuro Linguistic Programming, we may modify the degree of abstraction.

Meet people at their understanding, at their level, meet them at their map. It's not a measure of compromise, it's a measure of reprobing. The language a person uses can reveal what level of functioning they have. A problem or circumstance can easily appear insurmountable if a person continues to work at a single level. When the level changes, however, the problem shifts and is suddenly observed from other angles. The problem will alter and a new anchor will be established by modifying the terminology and raising it to a higher degree.

We use words to express ourselves, to communicate our thoughts, to explain concepts, and to express our sentiments and emotions. The words we use might range from the most precise to the most generic, or anywhere in between. We use a hierarchy of abstraction or exactness in our regular discussions. Depending on the context of the message, we change levels within the hierarchy. Smaller chunks are utilised for more exact and accurate information, whereas larger chunks are used for abstract or broad notions.

Learning to use the Logical Levels adds a variety of interpersonal attributes. It improves both communication style and understanding of others by adding precision and depth. The Logical Levels gives an organised manner for a user to grasp what's going on in a system. Conflict exists in the map, and in the map it exists at a level. That is the exact level to be worked upon. All our beliefs and fixed viewpoints are malleable, and it is possible when we move around it. To bring the conflict closer to an agreement, go to a higher level and connect, and then come down. In every situation where there is a conflict, move above, connect and then continue. Arguments are about semantic disagreements. We are the ones who create meaning because we are the ones who produce it. An item or an event does not have intrinsic meaning. We may examine how we individually map the world by bringing frames of mind like curiosity, interest, and fun to a discourse. We establish the conversation's topic and parameters. We concentrate on agreed-upon elements within the logical levels and types grid, dealing with each one one at a time and tracking the process so that we know exactly where we are at any given time, and remembering to take a step back now and then to see how each element interacts with the larger picture. Keep in mind that your actions are dictated by your ideas. If you don't like the action, modify the ideas that are driving it. You may accomplish this by asking questions that will help you map out the action's structure and create an NLP well-formed result. Asking the correct questions, rather than telling people or oneself what to do, leads to transformational change, and we do this by having one conversation at a time.

This article on ' Logical Levels and Hierarchy of Ideas ' has been contributed by Shireen Dargan who is a student of Psychology, from Amity University, Noida,Uttar Pradesh, India.

Shireen is a part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.

Shireen's future plan is to grow professionally in these field which has made her observational, analytical and creative. With the aim of being competent in learning and grasping whatever professional skills she can be trained in, one would never find her shying away from any job role that would challenge her and would ultimately make her more skilled and diligent.

GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.

Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification


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