Meta Programs

by Flemming Funch, 14 Jan 1995.

In NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) there is a phenomenon called "Meta-programs". It is basically charting out how different people work differently. Different people have for various reasons different modes of operating, either consistently or in specific situations.

For example, some people mainly prefer to move TOWARDS things. Other people prefer to move AWAY from things. That is, some people will sort the world based on what they want, and they will try to get closer to those things. Other people will mainly look for what they don't like, and will try to get away from those things.

Ideally one does both, but many people do one or the other. What they do might depend on the situation, but usually there is a consistent pattern.

Some people focus on the NECESSITIES in life. That is, they will concentrate on what HAS to be done, and will want to get to work on the task at hand, doing the things that obviously need to be done. Other people focus on POSSIBILITIES. They will always want to have a choice and will prefer to think about the future, rather than about the boring things that need doing.

A NECESSITY person and a POSSIBILITY person might not get along well if they are trying to accomplish something together. They might accuse each other of avoiding the really important parts of the matter (which will be different between them). If they understand what is going on, they could realize that they complement each other well. One looks at problems that need solving, the other looks at possible paths to follow. We need both, so that is great really, as long as they can appreciate each other's differences.

Some people prefer to deal with universal, abstract GENERALITIES, thinking really big, looking at the world in really BIG chunks. Other people prefer thinking in small, very SPECIFIC chunks, dealing with exact details of what is going on. Each of those people would tend to confuse each other if they try to agree on something. The GENERALITY person might seem like an unrealistic airhead to the SPECIFIC person. And the GENERALITY person thinks that the SPECIFIC person is totally unwilling to see the full picture.

We all have all aspects of behavior within us, and ideally speaking we have the different aspects integrated with each other. However, very often we specialize and emphasize one mode of behavior to the exclusion of others.

If we can recognize differences in how each of us operates, WITHOUT having to judge it, without having to accuse the people different from yourself of being WRONG, unwilling to see (it your way), etc, then we might get along much better.

You tend to achieve rapport with somebody else by somewhat approximating their way of thinking and behaving. If you can recognize how somebody else works, you can translate your position into their language. And vice versa, you understand what they say to the degree that they translate their intentions into your language.

For example, if I am talking to somebody who is focusing always on SPECIFICS, and I am a GENERALITY person, then I would have to be able to present what I am saying somewhat in the other person's terms, or we might just be talking past each other. That person would need to know what EXACTLY I have in mind, what I plan on doing, which situations specifically it applies to, etc. Which is good for me too to look at, because that is most likely the parts of the picture that I am leaving out as a GENERALITY person.

We need to both solve existing problems and move towards desirable possibilities. It is not one OR the other. We might each prefer to focus on different aspects, but it all needs to be done. Somebody needs to deal with what is going wrong, no matter what we choose to call it. Somebody should be thinking about where we are headed. One to to exclusion of the other gives an unbalanced activity. Done together, either by one person, or by people who complement each other, the activity can be much stronger.

Another Meta-program is whether one focuses on SELF or OTHERS. Some people predominantly focus on what THEY are doing, and will take decisions exclusively based on their own best interests. Other people will focus predominantly on the needs and activities of OTHERS, trying to arrange things so that others are most happy or effective.

Again, we need both, and it would probably be best if one could do both in an integrated way at the same time. Doing what is best BOTH for one self and for others at the same time.

Another Meta-program is where one places one's source of authority, is it INTERNAL or EXTERNAL. A person with INTERNAL reference will take all decisions based on what HE feels or thinks, and that is the end of it. A person with EXTERNAL reference will want to hear what others have to say and will tend to choose based on what the authoritative opninion or consensus is.

Each specialty will tend to have blind spots which the "opposite" type sees. Each can learn something from the "other" side. A person with INTERNAL reference of authority could often need to listen more to what others think. A person with EXTERNAL reference of authority could often benefit from paying attention to what they themselves feel like.

By seeking to understand and encompass all modes of operation one can become a more whole person, and also be more able to get along with anybody at any time.

- Flemming