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NLP Meta Model
By Roger Ellerton Phd, ISP, CMC, Renewal Technologies Inc. www.renewal.ca
Deep Structure and Surface Structure
At a deep level of thought, a speaker has complete knowledge of what he wishes to communicate to someone else. This is called the deep structure and operates at an unconscious level. To be efficient in his verbal or written communication, the speaker unconsciously deletes, generalizes or distorts his inner thoughts based on his beliefs and values, memories, decisions (limiting), strategies, what he wants you to hear, etc. What is finally said or written (surface structure) is only a small subset of the original thought and may be ambiguous or confusing and lead to miscommunication.
To illustrate deep structure and surface structure and why it is important to be aware of the distinction, let’s assume you are my business coach. Before saying or writing a word and often in a blink of an eye, my inner thoughts (deep structure) are unconsciously filtered through my model of the world (beliefs and values, etc.). I then say to you, “My boss doesn’t appreciate what I do.” -- The surface structure of my communication. You, as my business coach (assuming you are not well-trained) take in my words and at a deep level of thought (your deep structure), filter what I have said through your beliefs and values, memories, decisions, … . Then you may say (surface structure) something such as “I know exactly what you are saying and here is what you should do.” Your advice may be most appropriate for you and most inappropriate for me, as you have no real understanding as to what I mean by “My boss doesn’t appreciate what I do.” As a result, this may lead to us having an argument because I feel you do not understand me and are always telling me what to do and I may become more entrenched in continuing with my limiting beliefs and behaviours. To be an effective coach, you need to get curious about what I have said and to ask questions for both of us to gain a better appreciation of my deep structure. Once we have this clarity, you are in a better position to provide advice. What often happens is that when I, as the client, get clarity on the issue and what needs to be done, I do not need your advice, but simply your continued support and curiousity. In other words, as a coach you need to help me discover the path from my surface structure to my deep structure of language through questioning.
The Meta Model provides us (as coaches, bosses, therapists, family members, friends, …) with a set of questions to assist the person we are helping (client) to move from the surface structure of his communication to an understanding of his deep structure -- unconscious beliefs, values, decisions. This is not about finding the right answers but having a better understanding of your client’s model of the world.
Origin of the Meta Model
John Grinder and Richard Bandler developed the Meta Model by modeling two very successful therapists, Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir, who got extraordinary results from their clients by having them be more specific in what they expressed. That is, by using certain types of questions to gather information (gain understanding of the client’s deep structure). Grinder and Bandler observed that in moving from the deep structure to the surface structure, people unconsciously:
To recover the information missing as a result of deletions, generalizations and distortions, Grinder and Bandler identified 12 different patterns with corresponding questions and called this the Meta Model. The Meta Model is about being more specific (chunking down) to get a better understanding of the person’s model of the world. All human communication has the potential to be ambiguous. The purpose of the questions is to cut through this ambiguity, which may cause problems, and to access the missing information for both the client and the coach, i.e. to gain a better understanding of the client’s deep structure and to make better sense of the communication.
Although based on the work of two therapists, the Meta Model has much wider application -- wherever two or more people are engaged in communicating -- at work, at play, within the family, etc.
Once mastered, the Meta Model is a powerful and useful tool. However, it does take practice to master the questioning process and the process must be undertaken with a high degree of rapport -- the client must feel safe and not pressured. Before asking any of my clients, students, colleagues, family members, etc. the Meta Model questions, I make sure that they are comfortable in my presence, have a feeling of safety and I ask them the following: “May I ask you a question?” If they respond ‘no’, then I do not use meta model questioning. Instead, I put more effort in listening to the presuppositions (what is presupposed) in the words they choose in order to get a clearer understanding of their model of the world and how I can best interface/support them.
Avoid asking ‘Why’
The questions in the Meta Model do not have any ‘why’ questions. When you ask someone a ‘why’ question, often they feel they have to defend what they have said or done, make excuses or rationalize their behaviour. On the other hand, if you expressed the question as a ‘how’ question, then you get a better understanding of the process used by your client and thus more information and understanding.
And NLP is Much more than that!
Author: Roger Ellerton is a certified NLP trainer, coach, certified management consultant and the founder and managing partner of Renewal Technologies Inc. (www.renewal.ca). The above article is based on his book Live Your Dreams Let Reality Catch Up: NLP and Common Sense for Coaches, Managers and You.
Copyright © 2004, Renewal Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.
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