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The NLP Meta Model

As the human race, what explicitly distinguishes us from other living beings is the ability to engage in communication with ourselves and others. Even thinking about a world where mankind failed to communicate seems alien. This however begs the question if we are able to efficiently and effectively communicate in words, the thoughts formulated in our minds. Words and furthermore sentences are instrumental in communicating but these are formed rather unconsciously. As a result we unknowingly engage in limiting these thoughts through our choice of words which may lead to distortions as well (Carroll, 2016).

Is there a way to go about this? Most certainly.

The Meta Model suggested in NLP training is a powerful tool to mitigate such distortions. Additionally, the Meta Model also receives information that was earlier left out. In simple words, the Meta Model is a framework of questions that aims at obtaining information with specificity whilst questioning and gaining more access to one’s perception of the world.

Click here to read more about the origins of NLP.

The three main target points of language that the Meta Model is able to access are as follows:

  • Distortions - a limit is imposed on thoughts and actions since something has been left out of the sentence; the representation is different from what it actually is. Being able to think about anything under the sun is in some or the other way a by-product of distortions.

  • Generalisations - creating categorical groups based off of only a single or specific experience. For example, when a child starts to draw with a crayon, he/she learns that using a crayon can produce whatever they want on a piece of paper. They then go on to realise that a paper is not the only surface on which a crayon can draw; they also start using the crayon to draw on various other surfaces such as the wall, the table, the bed, the door, and cupboards, and even the floor. Generalisations can have a positive or negative effect on an individual. Let us consider two examples to illustrate this. If you were underprepared for a math exam and performed poorly on it, it may not be the best idea to assume that you are incapable of ever doing well on a math exam. In fact, that may rather be self-handicapping. Similarly, if you had a difficult time driving a massive SUV car, it cannot be said that driving even a small hatchback might be an ordeal. Such generalisations make life harder (Eagle, n.d.).

  • Deletions - omissions from speech that might limit not only thought but also action (2019). If you have noticed how a camera focuses on its subject while capturing a photograph, you might have seen that it requires to blur out its background to do so. Similarly, be it conscious or unconscious, the mind needs to filter out certain aspects of the available sensory information in order to process the necessary information. For instance, if you are trying to find someone on a crowded dance floor, you knowingly or unknowingly do not focus on the music playing, the dance moves, the lighting, or even people’s outfit. Your goal is aimed at finding the person you’re looking for. This is also similar to being so engrossed in a book or show you’re watching and not even realising that it had started to rain outside the house while doing so.

The Meta Model consolidates these target points of language into a linguistic framework. This framework serves as an instrument in mapping someone’s thoughts. It provides one's thoughts through their choice of words. In terms of violations of the Meta Model, it does not question an individual’s thinking; it is rather just that the mode of thinking is either in their favour or not.

The basic Meta Model can be remembered using the following acronym: MLCCP UM NUS

1. Distortions

  1. Mind Reading

  2. Lost Performative

  3. Cause and Effect

  4. Complex Equivalence

  5. Presuppositions

2. Generalisations

  1. Universal Quantifiers

  2. Modal Operators

3. Deletions

  1. Nominalisations

  2. Unspecified Verbs

  3. Simple Deletions

The history of the Meta Model

Richard Bandler and John Grinder were the founding fathers of the NLP Meta Model. It was published in 1975. It started off when John Grinder assisted on the ‘how’ and in turn ‘what’ aspects of Fritz Perls work on unconscious assimilation that Richard Bandler and Frank Pucelik were working on. The Meta Model has a fixed syntax which is based on linguistics. It incorporates a set of verbal patterns that aim at questioning the form of an individual’s language.

How can the NLP Meta Model be used in one’s daily life?

In the NLP Practitioner Course, the meta model allows you to pay deeper attention to what people say, to whatever they may have in their head which they may not even be conscious of, to things that have not been expressed verbally. It helps improve your relationships by improving communication. This model can help you identify limiting values and beliefs. It also enables you to use language in a motivational, encouraging and empowering way (Campbell, n.d.).

Here are some techniques that will help you use the Meta Model:

-> Make it instrumental whilst engaging in active listening

  • When something is said, assume that it is only the tip of the iceberg

  • It needs to be understood that a considerable amount of thinking, analysing, emotions and more have gone into it.

-> Assess the dynamics of the situation and the person/people involved prior to using the Meta Model

  • Seeking permission is important prior to using the Meta Model

-> Build rapport

  • This helps the other person assign value when diving deeper into the issue at hand

-> Identify which category of the Meta Model is utilised the most by actively listening

-> Asking questions

-> Have a clear aim

  • Your aim should not be trying to make them admit to being wrong

  • It should rather be to ignite a thinking process in them, about their thought (“How to use the NLP Meta Model”, 2020)

How can the NLP Meta Model be used in one’s professional life?

The Meta Model is not only instrumental in your daily life but is it also extremely useful in your professional life. Thorough understanding of the Meta Model can give you a great impetus in the field of communication be it with clients, in coaching, in the sales market, to name a few. The application of the Meta Model is relevant to both an offline and online setting where it is able to help you:

  • Be charismatic and motivate your team members

  • Encourage your team to develop initiative and a sense of personal responsibility

  • Be able to focus on the solution than on the problem

  • Be not only creative but also flexible with your thoughts and the way you work

  • Draw motivation and energy to perform your work

  • Not engage in self-limiting beliefs and actions

This article on 'The NLP Meta Model' has been contributed by Alita Maria Stephen, a psychology major student at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is under the leadership and guidance of Anil Thomas. GIRP is an Umang Foundation Trust initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.

She has a passion for forensic psychology and criminal justice. She takes a keen interest in politics and international relations too. She is an avid reader who loves to travel. New knowledge is something she’s always on a constant lookout for. She is also a delegate at the 2021 Harvard National Model United Nations.


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