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"What On Earth Does He Mean?" - Decoding Other People's Words With NLP's Meta Model

Apr 27, 2008
Your friend Bob says: "I can't stand my job; everyone there hates me, but I can't afford to leave it!"

Maybe it's time for Bob to find a new job, after all how can a person be expected to spend their working hours with a group of people, each and everyone of whom hates him. The money is little compensation for working with people who spend all the time insulting him, sabotaging his work, and stealing his paper clips, or whatever it is that they do. So you advise him to leave, and get a new job. He does, and a few weeks later you meet him again and ask him about his new job. "I can't stand it there" he says, "nobody speaks to me! I should never have left my old job".

So what is going on here? This article describes how we can use Neuro Linguistic Programming's (NLP) Meta Model both to understand our friend, and to help him understand himself.

When we speak we attempt to describe our external and internal experiences. We describe the people around us, what they do, when and where they do it, how it makes us feel, and why we think they do it. Unfortunately, we describe our reality purely from the point of view of our own subjective experience and beliefs, after all what else do we have?

When we listen we hear the words that offer a description limited by the nature of language and by the point of view and beliefs of the speaker. How do we compensate for this and get a view of the reality that lies underneath? The answers are in questions.

Neurolinguistic Programming's Meta Model Questions seeks to recover real experience from spoken language. Neuro-Linguistic Programming states that in experiencing reality we delete, distort and generalize information to make sense of reality (this model is based upon the work of Noam Chomsky, Alfred Korzybski and others).

In looking at a sentence we first ask ourselves what has to be true for the person, for the sentence to make sense. In NLP this is called a Linguistic Presupposition.

Then we can consider whether there is a deletion, distortion or generalization within a spoken sentence (which we refer to as a "Meta Model Violation").

Let's consider Bob's statement: I can't stand my job; everyone there hates me, but I can't afford to leave it!.

First let's consider the things that have to be true (Linguistic Presuppositions) for the sentence to make sense:

* Bob has a job
* Bob has unpleasant feelings toward his job
* Bob works with or around other people
* There exists a place ("there") associated with the job
* Bob gets compensated for his job
* Bob would be financially(?) inconvenienced if he left his job

Now let's consider the way Bob deletes, distorts and generalizes information (the Meta Model Violations) in describing his experience in this sentence. We'll start with the most egregious:

* The people he works with "hate" him. How often do we actually "hate" people we work with? We may not be best friends with them, we may not like them, we may even actively dislike them. We rarely hate them.

* "Everyone" there "hates" Bob. How likely is it that there is not even one person there who actually likes Bob? Not even one? Come on.

* Bob "can't stand" his job. What does this mean? He can't stand it another minute? Another day? Another week? How does he know when he "can't stand" something?

* He "can't afford" to leave his job. What would happen if he did leave his job?

* What could he not afford if he left his job?

So, how do we go about helping Bob, using the Neuro Linguistic Programming Meta Model?

* Firstly, if we are to help Bob, we have to make sure we have rapport with him. He has to feel that we care about him.

* Then we have to begin to fill in the gaps between his words and the reality. We could ask questions such as:

* "Who exactly do you think hates you at your job?"

* "How do you know they hate you? What are they doing that makes you think that? Is there any other explanation for their behavior? Have you ever behaved that way toward somebody you didn't hate?"

* "How bad is it for you? If it doesn't change in the short term is it really something that you can't stand for a while? What can you do to begin to change the dynamics? What would happen if you simply ceased to care about it? "

* "What would happen if you left? Can you find a better job? What exactly couldn't you afford? Can you afford to stay in a job you don't like?"

Learning the Meta Model allows us to understand what we don't understand about what other people say. Once we know that we can decide what information is important to retrieve from the underlying reality. The Meta Model then provides the questions we need to retrieve this missing information. Reconnecting with the underlying reality will help us to better understand those around us, and help them to better understand themselves.
About the Author
Shawn Carson offers Neurolinguistic Programming NLP Training in New York, as well as business and professional coaching. Shawn is a certified hypnotist and offers help to stop smoking, lose weight, achieve goals. Neuro Linguistic Programming's (NLP) Meta Model is a powerful tool for understanding others and beginning the process of positive change
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