Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say – The Meta Model – part 1

Words can never truly convey meaning and feeling. They are limited representations of what we mean. Body language and expressions add to them, but the words are insufficient to express what is really in your head.

When you say “I had a great day”, you may mean that you went to the gym and did a hard work out and then went to the office and did a pile of work and then went shopping and bought a ton of new stuff. However when I hear, “I had a great day”, I may picture sitting on a sofa eating potato chips and watching endless daytime TV.

NLP uses something called “The Meta Model” to help us get more specific in our meanings.

The Meta Model contains 3 key filters; deletion, generalisation, and distortion, to enable people to say what they want to say without boring you to death with 3 hours of details.

Everything you say goes through these 3 filters and everything I hear also goes through them.

In the Meta Model, you ask a series of questions designed to fill in the blanks left by these 3 filters.

Deletions occur when, as the name suggests, the speaker leaves out key information. Here are some examples of what you might hear and the questions you could ask.

·         I went out                                                      Where did you go?

·         He really upset me                                         How specifically did he upset you?

·         She’s better than I am                                    Better at what?

·         No. That’s wrong                                            Who says so? Where is your evidence?

·         This just isn’t working                                     What specifically isn’t working?

When you are given incomplete information your mind fills in the gaps.  But remember, your great day and my great day are completely different things. You may fill in the blanks differently depending on what you know of the speaker.

Deletions don’t just apply to language. They can apply to your thinking. They can become a habit. It’s quite common for people to “delete” all of the compliments they hear but focus heavily on any criticism.

When analysing your own thoughts, especially when that inner voice is criticising you, ask it:

·         Who? What? When? Where? How? (Why can be  a judgement question, rather than a fact gathering question and is often best avoided at this point)

·         What precisely?

Generalisation occurs when people make broad sweeping statements such as:

·         I can’t do it. . . it’s just impossible                  What stops you? Is that REALLY impossible?

·         We have to do X . . .                                     What would happen if we didn’t? Who says so?

·         He never ….                                                 Never? Not once ever?

·         We always do it this way                               Always? Why? What would happen if we did it differently?


Beware of must, have to, should, always, never, only and similar words. You’ve seen mugs and cups before. So when people talk about a mug or a cup you probably picture something similar to what you have at home or at work, based on your past experience of mugs and cups.

We can also get into the habit of generalising other experiences. Someone who had a very bad experience with a co-worker in their first job may expect all co-workers in subsequent jobs to be “bad”. This may result in withdrawal and never hanging out with co-workers.

Generalisations can include things like: “all lawyers are leeches”, “all politicians are liars”, all unemployed people are lazy”.  Once you decide that ALL of something is “that way” there is no room for discussion.

If you find yourself saying things like these ask yourself:

·         Always? Never? Every?

·         Why do you think that?

·         What if you could?

·         What if you did?


OK. Enough for today. We’ll carry on next time.



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