NLP Meta Programmes: Options & Procedures

Is this you - or somebody you know?

  • You prefer to do things on the spur of the moment – rather than make long term plans?
  • You have difficulty in making decisions – preferring to keep your options open?
  • You have difficulty in deferring to others’ authority?
  • You hate routine - and tend to keep changing the way things are done?

Or how about this one…?

  • You know that there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way to do things – it’s that simple
  • You like to plan things in detail before you begin a project.
  • You need people to quickly get to the point and tell you exactly what they want.
  • You like to do things efficiently and finish on time.

The ‘Options and Procedures’ Meta Programme

These two styles of thinking and behaviour are identified in an NLP Meta Programme called “Options & Procedures”.

NLP Meta Programmes describe pairs of behavioural traits or preferences at opposite ends of a continuum.

And in this case the continuum has people who favour Options at one end and those who favour Procedures at the other.

I like to do things the right way!

At one end of the continuum are the people who like Procedures. They value efficiency and productivity.  So they like to do things by the book and follow a course of action with clearly defined steps.

They can become impatient and even irritated if presented with a range of options or choices: ‘Why waste time with options and choices when there is obviously a best practice which can be followed?’

They are great at making decisions – and sticking to them!

Before beginning a project they need to know what the steps are, what is the timetable, and what are the criteria for success.  Once they have this they’ll deliver and on time because they have an almost compulsive need to finish a task.

I like to keep my options open?”

At the other end of this continuum are those with a strong Options preference. They don’t like to follow the crowd; they like to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Ask them to do something in a particular way and they’ll immediately come back two or three alternative ways of doing it!  And even if they discover that your way works excellently they will want to keep varying the procedure - because for them being creative is more important than getting it right.

They don’t like making decisions since this would tie them down – no more options!

People with a strong Options preference work best in roles allow them to experiment and improvise. Asking them to work in an ordered manner or to stick to a routine is like putting a wild bird in a cage.  They like to be able to change their mind, sometimes frequently and unexpectedly as new ideas occur to them.

For example

How to they like to be managed

Options: Can be very difficult to manage. Will rebel against traditional tell-to-do management.

Procedures: Easy to manage if you give them clear instructions. Like to follow the rules.

How to motivate them

Options: Ask them what they see as the advantages and disadvantages

Procedures: Give them list of advantages and disadvantages

How they like to work

Options: Like the freedom to do it their way and to be ‘creative’ in following instructions

Procedures: Like the security of a detailed plan and someone to refer to when in doubt

How they like to cook:

Options: Have great difficulty in following recipes. Likely to have a compulsion to make at least a few changes in the ingredients or the quantities. Their meals can be great or disastrous.

Procedures: Likely to have a digital scales and a digital timer – because recipes must be followed very strictly indeed. Their meals will be reliably wonderful.

How they see one another

People who operate at one extreme of the NLP Meta Programme continuum will usually find those who operate at the other extreme difficult, strange, or even exasperating! And those on the Options-Procedures continuum do tend to find each other difficult to understand.

The Options specialist will see Procedure people as boring, rigid, and unadventurous.  And the Procedure specialist is likely to find their opposite number somewhat unreliable, not a ‘team player’, or even a bit flaky.

‘We’re going on holiday tomorrow…’

Options specialist:

“Why don’t we leave a bit earlier and we can explore the countryside en route to the airport!  Make it an adventure! And maybe stop off at a country inn for a bite to eat.  Oh, don’t worry about the plane times – we’ll be okay – no point in spoiling the first day of our holidays by getting uptight about times...”

Procedures specialist:

“Now according to the web the journey will take 3 hours and 26 minutes.  We’ll allow 60 minutes for parking and getting back to the airport plus 45 minutes for getting through security.  And we’d better add an extra hour just in case.  So we leave at 7:35 AM.  Oh, and I’ll check the traffic reports first thing in the morning just in case we need to leave earlier.  Now let’s each put our own passport and other documents into these new polythene pockets so we have everything ready for the journey.”

So what? How can I use this?

There are many applications for NLP Meta Programmes including

  • Identify the ideal personal profile for a particular job at
  • Ensuring a work team has a good balance of personalities
  • Coach people according to their personal style
  • Design a training programme that will appeal to wide range of preferences.

That said, the most immediate value of this NLP Meta Programme is the insight it gives you into a person’s preferences and why they may be different from you.

When you recognise they’re not ‘wrong’ - just different from you – you can better understand and elate with them.

NB: People are not their NLP Meta Programmes

The Meta Programmes identify habitual patterns of thinking and behaviour rather than personalities. Very few people operate exclusively at one end of a continuum except, perhaps, when under stress - most of us will tend to be towards one end or the other.

Our preferences may change with the situation, too. We may need to be procedural in getting the children ready for school and then become quite Options oriented when we arrive at work.

(In my own case I tend be like the above-mentioned Options fiend when cooking. And this can produce interesting but not always reliable results... But I will move towards being an off-the-scale Procedures specialist when organising a training programme.)


Note: NLP Meta Programmes are on the curriculum for our NLP Master Practitioner Certification Programme. We examine 9 of these and also look at how to create more to suit different situations. See also Sameness Meta Programme


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