Life coaching with the NLP Meta Model

The most valuable coaching tool?

You know how it goes,,,

Kerry says “I can't do that.”

You've learned all those wonderful NLP skills so you have to tell her that you know she can do it

So you tell her. And she repeats that she can't.

And you end up in an argument in which her self-limiting belief is strengthened by your well-intentioned comments.

Telling them of the error of their ways

When you recognise that a person has a belief that gets in the way of their success or happiness it is very tempting to want to tell them of the error of their ways. After all, once you point out to them how stupid they are being they will thank you and change their ways, right?

Obviously not. None of us likes being told that we are wrong and that the speaker is right. So we energetically defend our beliefs, even the daft ones. In fact, the strength with which we adhere to our beliefs reflects the degree to which we have had to defend them!

Make a note: the more you argue with a person and tell them how wrong they are the more you strengthen the belief that you wish to loosen.

What to do? Use two tools: questions and the Meta Model. Plus huge amounts of rapport, good observational skills, the ability to be quiet while the other person thinks things through, and patience (because strong self-limiting beliefs respond best to a very gradual softly, softly approach rather than a full frontal attack backed by the force of your personality.)

The value of the NLP Meta Model

The Meta Model is, in my opinion, one the most valuable of the NLP skills. It provides us with a means of identifying when a person is using one of the thirteen key forms of sloppy thinking. It also provides a means of subtly coaching a person in better ways of thinking - and of reducing misunderstandings by making our own communication more clear and unambiguous.

It's also one of the truly in-depth NLP Skills - which is why we explore it only after people have first completed our NLP Core Skills course (which is Part 1 of our NLP Practitioner Certification Programme) and have moved up to the Part 2 of this programme. Yes, it can be learned as a series of about 13 questions to ask parrot-fashion. But that's not what it was designed to do.

A tool for understanding people

Despite the widespread misconception that the Meta Model is a tool for asking people questions to 'challenge their thinking', it is not.

Yes, you can ask 'Meta Model Questions'. And, yes, this is often a valuable coaching process to use.... but only after you have first spent some time listening to the person and identifying the key Meta Model patterns which underlie and support their difficulty.

Unless you use it to understand their processing the Meta Model is just a clumsy set of questions - with which you can occasionally strike lucky - but which will usually either irritate or confuse the recipient.

The Meta Model in action:

Let's say, for example, that Jack says 'I can tell Jill doesn't like me from her expression so there is no point in asking her for a date! That makes me sad because I never have any luck with girls.'

At first glance/hearing a fairly understandable comment. Yet when we apply the Meta Model to it we learn a little more…

Jack believes he can read Jill's mind. This is an erroneous belief unless he is a very gifted clairvoyant.

He also believes that the appearance of her facial muscles enables him to predict what her likely response will be. In reality he is looking at her expression and deciding that if he had the same expression he would be feeling certain feelings and would also be likely to react in a particular way… and, as a result of this piece of questionable deduction, that he can predict her behaviour.

He has a very limiting belief that he never has any 'luck with girls'. This is a generalisation - a belief which rests on skimpy and carefully selected evidence. While it is possible that it is true this is rather unlikely. What is more likely is that he has is using the memory of a number of set-backs to generalise the past, to predict that the future will simply be more of the same - and to trap himself in a prison of his own unuseful beliefs.

In saying that 'this makes me sad' Jack is announcing that he believes that his emotions are the result of outside events over which he has no control. But the way in which he announces this ensures that be remains a victim - since his comment implies no ownership of the difficulty! He 'is' a victim. But a victim of his own thinking rather than of events.

To assist Jack we could use the Meta Model to alert him to how his predicament is resulting from his own less-than-useful thinking. And, rather than lecture him on the error of his ways, we can do this in the most subtle manner - by simply asking a seemingly innocuous question or two!

How to learn the Meta Model

Like all NLP skills the Meta Model is best learned interactively and with hands-on coaching from a skilled Certified NLP Trainer. And you will get best results when you recognise that it needs to be used alongside other NLP skills and principles which will include:

  • Rapport
  • Respect for the other person's right to their own views
  • Clarity about outcomes for the interaction - yours and the other person's
  • The ability to recognise and respond to non-verbal communication
  • The ability to listen thoroughly - rather than simply be quiet
  • Awareness of naturally occurring anchors.

Can I learn the Meta Model through books?

Perhaps. As long as you go about it in a very systematic and thorough manner. The following are some pointers:

Have two or three books on the go simultaneously so you benefit from the different viewpoints and emphases of the authors.

Take one category at a time and practise it for a week or two.

Listen for the category only during the first couple of minutes of the conversation - otherwise you are unlikely to take a very active role on the conversation!

The Meta Model 'challenges' or coaching questions need to be used with great caution. Avoid using them at all until you have reached the stage where you are able to easily recognise all thirteen categories. Then only use the challenges when you have a specific purpose for doing so and have established very good rapport, inter-personal respect, and calibration skills.

Be careful to avoid overusing the coaching questions - otherwise the Meta Model can become an interrogation tool.

It is often a good idea to announce in advance that you will be asking a number of helpful coaching questions to alert you to how certain thinking patterns may be getting in your way.

Coaching & the Meta Model

Whether in formal or informal settings most coaching tends to rest on an uneasy blend of traditional Rogerian counselling methods and advice-giving. The Meta Model provides a means of making coaching more empowering, more respectful, more comfortable - and considerably more effective.

Instead of trying to provide answers the 'coach' uses questions to literally coach the other person in finding their own answers. Instead of enduring an uncomfortable, blame-oriented, and occasionally demeaning, session the person being coached experiences a sense of empowerment - they've found their own answers.

Is it worth the effort?

The Meta Model isn't as sexy or dramatic as anchoring or the submodality techniques or the eye accessing cues. Yet, once learned, it is likely to be the skill that you will use most consistently - in every single conversation.

It also enables you to think and communicate with a precision and clarity that is far from common…

See also this article on the NLP Meta Model



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