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When speaking, we often omit, generalize or distort information. In this way, a message sent often does not quite correspond to the actual intended message. This can lead to misunderstanding in communication, thus often requiring us to recover the information lost in transmission.
When we share our experiences with others, we make a series of partly conscious but mostly unconscious choices based on the totality of these experiences. Within the so-called "deep structure", which would linguistically encompass all events we have experienced made into one total experience, we select only certain parts, which then form the so-called "surface structure". This is what we actually communicate to others verbally. This are we able to communicate ourselves to another person, without having to repeat every single perception and experience in detail. In the same way, we also give our experience a certain value and determine its meaning to our life.
But very often, especially when we have problems, our choices are made in a way that limits our experience and room for maneuver. That is to say, we lose important information about ourselves and our experiences during this filtering process. This is because we filter, as already described, according to certain patterns of information, and from this, we verbally "assemble", so to speak, our very private model of the world.
The verbalized results of this filtering process are often referred to as Meta-Model violations. In other words, Meta-Model violations are sentences that lack phrases or meanings, or that express experiences in a generalized or distorted way. This is because the processes by which people filter out their verbalized representation of their world are the same with which they limit their inner representation of the world.
The Meta-Model offers possibilities for examining these processes. Gaining information here means obtaining a more precise and complete description of the content presented by the speaker by asking specific questions. This process helps to restore the link between the speaker's speech and his complete experience.
Texts regarding modeling processes
The three modeling processes Deletion, Generalization and Distortion are presented and explained here in pointed statements.
I am a Deletion. I want to keep most the information for myself. I am practically the black hole of the universe of language. And everyone fills in that hole in his own way. I prefer to leave out everything because it's all too much anyway. Short and sweet is my motto. This is of great importance, since they do not have the necessary capacity for storing everything that happens around them anyway. Or is it really vital to know how many plants are in this room, or everything single thing the nervous system is transmitting while listening to these important statements? All that information would uncontrollably overwhelm anyone. People need clarity and brevity. My favorite communication style is the telegram. It is also cheaper and is perfectly sufficient. Using this style, I can delete to my heart’s content. Imagine if, instead of answering with the comfortable “I'm fine,” I would say, “this morning I heard some beautiful music and then went out get some exercise and meet with loved ones, then had enjoyed some good discussions, so I am pretty satisfied!” Everyone would be bored. Conciseness is called for! The process is uninteresting: it is the result that counts. Well, OK, I can also drive people to despair, namely when I am needed in the present moment, and real understanding is important. When people are bombarded with catch-words such as respect, severity or “the important thing” and they have to think about what such words are really supposed to mean. That’s when they curse me. But thank goodness there are the Meta-Model questions.
I’m a Generalization. I am either black or white, always or never, all or none. With me there is nothing in between. What for? It's all the same anyway, after all. You have to stick to the rules. Then nothing can go wrong. I'm vital to people. Because placing a hand on a hot stove top once is enough for the experience to last forever. You’ll never do it again. With my help, you’ll follow all the rules, because you’ll learn that what is not allowed cannot be. Rain always comes from above and life must be organized. So, you need to use me; you can’t help it. But just as with black and white, I do not always bring relief ... when people get annoyed and feel reprimanded by my immutable and eternally valid wisdom. If, with my help, people become convinced of rules and opinions that only make them believe the worst of themselves, or that will not let them see anything new, because that’s just not allowed. By the way, who decides what is allowed and what is not? Meta-Model questions are definitely helpful here.
I am a Distortion. I am the lovers’ rose-colored glasses, the dark cloud through which the bad-tempered look at the world and I am an individual mirror on your mirror cabinet, through which people look at their environment and at themselves ... And I'm important because I know why something is so and not otherwise. It really helps people in orienting themselves when seeking explanations for events. That way, they can elegantly pass on responsibility and avoid making the effort, that is to say, to be the poor victim or to play the gopher for others ... In my opinion, you can possess something that is not explicitly described. Of course, I have to admit that this can lead to difficulties. I act as if I know what others are thinking. And you enjoy the Meta-Model, right? Because you are smart enough to take advantage of it and apply it. Because that's the right way to learn and develop. And there are endless ways to do that. One way is using Meta-Model questions.
The Transformation Model
For more information about the transformation Model, please follow the link.
Meta-Model Language Patterns
The arrangement of the language patterns presented below is based on the original: “Meta-Language and Psychotherapy: The Structure of Magic I” by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. Other publications on the Meta-Model sometimes have other equally well-founded arrangements. In the spirit of NLP, there is no “right” or “wrong”.
The Meta-Model is extremely helpful for penetrating into the deep structure of a behavior or problem. Various questioning techniques are available for this - but not every question is effective. NLP training teaches 22 question techniques, and sometimes all the questions appear to be great ones. It is therefore important to choose the questions carefully and not to become a Meta-Monster. Anyone who knows the Meta-Model well knows when which question is suitable and which questions are superfluous.
Simple Deletions indicate that a speaker has omitted some elements of his representation of an experience and does not communicate them to the person listening to the sentence. Regardless of whether he has deliberately or unconsciously omitted them, the result is that the listener lacks this information. If the listener notices the Deletion, then he can question them and gradually uncover other elements of the deep structure.
The most important Deletions refer to the following elements:
|People:||Who did something?|
|Objects:||What was done to what or to whom?|
|Location:||Where did something happen?|
|Time:||When did something happen?|
|Method:||How was something done?|
|Options:||What possibilities were there?|
|Amount:||How often? How many?|
This information is needed (it must be specified), at least, to reconstruct a context within which the experiences that led to the incomplete model too place.
- Unspecified verbs: A part of the sentence that belongs to the verb is missing.
A verb can be combined with different information. Some of this information is necessary for the sentence to sound right to us. Other information is not necessary but may interest the listener.
Deleted material can be questioned with the following question words: About what? How? To whom? What exactly? With whom? From whom? With what? How much?
|I’m glad.||What are you glad about?|
|Peter is afraid.||What is Peter afraid of?|
|My brother laughed.||What did he laugh about?|
|I bought a bicycle.||From whom did you buy the bicycle?|
- Unspecified nouns: A part of the sentence that belongs to the noun and would make the sentence complete is missing.
|Susanne has no idea..||About what has she no idea?|
|He has no time.||For what doesn’t he have time?|
|I have a problem.||A problem with what (with whom)?|
|The boy has no success.||No success with what?|
- Unspecified adjectives: Adjectives describe nouns, e.g. big, blue, round, brave, etc. Adjectives always indicate a Deletion. At the least, the person or thing that provides the corresponding meaning to the noun is always deleted.
|He is respected||By whom is he respected?|
|That man is successful.||At what is he successful?|
|The news is sad.||Sad for whom?|
|That noise is disturbing||Whom is it disturbing?|
- Unspecified adverbs: Adverbs describe how something is done. So, they describe verbs. In this type of Deletion, a phrase that belongs to an adverb is missing.
|He behaved appropriately.||To whom did he behave appropriately?|
|That obviously presents a problem.||Obvious to whom?|
|Unfortunately, nothing can be done about that.||Unfortunately for whom? In what way?|
|He argued in a hostile manner.||Hostile to/for whom?|
Adverbs that can appear with Deletions are adverbs such as "clear" and "obvious" or represent an individual judgment (e.g., usually, unfortunately). These Deletions can be recognized by putting "it is" in front of the adjective form of the adverb and giving the newly formed sentence the same meaning as the old one. (“It is usual for that to happen.”)
- Unspecified comparison: The object or scale of the comparison is missing. Comparative and superlative adjectives denote a comparison between two experiences or objects. Often the basis of comparison is not mentioned by the speaker. The Meta-Model question to recover the deleted information (i.e., the basis of comparison) is: Compared to whom? Compared to what?
We distinguish between three different levels of comparison:
- Positive comparisons = comparisons in which two properties are compared at the same level, for example: large, as large as, small, as small as, as, as old as, etc.
- Differentiating comparisons = comparisons that describe differences of level, e.g., larger, larger than, smaller, smaller than, older, older than.
- Superlative comparisons = comparisons that describe the highest level, e.g., the largest, the smallest, the oldest.
|The tie was expensive.||Expensive compared to what?|
|Carl Lewis is the fastest.||The fastest compared to what?|
|The tasks are more difficult.||More difficult than what?|
|That would be better for me.||Better than what?|
- Unspecific use of modal operators: These include the word groups: must, may, can, should, it is not possible, able, unable. There are modal operators of necessity (must, have to), possibility (can, able), permission (may, must not) and recommendation (should).
Modal operators are verbs and describe another verb in more detail. In addition, they often point out Generalizations that speaker has used in the formation of his world model. That's why sometimes they are also assigned to the Generalization modelling process.
Our goal here is to ask about consequences or results.
|I have to do my homework.||What will happen if you don’t?|
|We mustn’t come too late.||What will happen if you do?|
|You should listen to me now.||What will happen if I don’t?|
|We can’t do it.||What is keeping us from doing it?|
|No one can get rich in one year.||What makes that impossible?|
|You can’t have more than one wife.||What prevents me from having more than one wife?|
|I consider myself incapable of solving this problem.||What is preventing you from solving this problem?|
In the process of Distortion, experiences are transformed in different ways. Mostly, they are so twisted that they severely restrict a person's ability to act.
Distortions arise when new events or facts are perceived through the lens of old conclusions or beliefs. Under these circumstances the relationships between individual facts or events cannot be perceived impartially, and are seemingly logically, but often restrictively, associated with each other.
In our speech, it is very common for us to turn a process into an event. For example, we say “I'm glad of my decision.” The word “decision” originally represents the process of “deciding on something”. This process has been transformed into a nominalization and now only describes a result. In fact, what is described here as a result is an ongoing process that may well be changed or influenced. However, the formulation using a nominalization does not allow such a view. In other words, nominalizations are an expression of the fact that a process is perceived as something static.
By asking questions, the deleted meaning can be retrieved, and nominalizations converted back into process words. This leads to an extension or completion of the speaker’s model of the world and can initiate a process of change.
|My decision not to take the job is making me uncomfortable.||What is preventing you from making another decision?|
|What is preventing you from changing your mind?|
|What would happen, if you would reconsider and decide to take the job?|
|I am hopeful.||What are you hoping for?|
|My convictions remain unchanged.||Of what exactly are you convinced?|
|The frustration is just too much for her.||What is frustrating her? What exactly is she experiencing?|
If you have difficulty recognizing nominalizations, consider placing the item in a wheelbarrow. You can put a chair in it; you cannot put a decision, conviction, hope, trust, love into it, because they are nominalizations.
Nominalizations refer to two limitations in the speaker's model:
- a) Many elements of the original experience have disappeared from the sentence, they have been deleted
- b) Processes have been objectified, i.e., distorted.
That is why one can find nominalizations in the literature at times categorized as Deletions and at times as Distortions:
How can you denomalize? To turn a nominalization back into a process, you can check whether there is a similar-sounding verb, adjective or adverb and use this in a counter-question: Example: Life is hard. Question: Who lives so that what is hard for whom?
Presuppositions are sentences that presuppose one or more other sentences as true in order to make sense. The point here is to question the hidden presumption and thereby expose and relativize it.
|If you are so obnoxiously to me again, I won’t go out with you anymore.||What exactly seemed so obnoxious to you?|
|You have improved in the meantime.||How do you know that I was not performing well before?|
|When you become wiser, you will understand my decision.||What allows you to assume that I am not wise?|
|What has caused you to change your attitude?||What leads you to think that my attitude has changed?|
|You are just as selfish as your father.||What makes you think that my father is selfish?|
- Cause - Effect
The person speaking assumes that an external event or the person to whom he is speaking triggers his internal state. It gives the impression that the person speaking has no choice and must experience the feeling.
|You make me angry.||How exactly do I make you angry?|
|Her winking at me, is distracting me.||How exactly is her winking causing you to be distracted?|
|You are forcing me to take action.||How exactly am I forcing you?|
|You depress me.||How exactly am I depressing you?|
|I am sad, because you’ve left me.||If I had not left you, would you be happy?|
|I don’t want to get angry, but she just won’t stop criticizing me.||Do you always get angry when someone criticizes you?|
In reality, it is impossible for one person to create feelings in another person. People experience feelings in reaction to their interactions with others, but they generate their feelings themselves. In these cases, people shift the responsibility for feelings outwards, so that they are no longer responsible for them. In such cases, question the statement so that they take responsibility for their reactions again.
- Mind Reading
It often happens that our counterpart believes that he knows exactly what we are thinking or feeling without any direct indication.
|I know exactly what you are thinking right now.||How do you know what I am thinking?|
|If you loved me, you would do what I expect of you.||How do you know that I know what you expect of me?|
|I know what’s best for you.||How exactly do you know that?|
|You never think about me.||How do you know that I never think about you?|
Mind reading can consist in interpreting unconscious signals and then announcing the interpretation as fact. To be sure, you can often be right, but sometimes also quite wrong! Why should you make a vague guess, if you can ask?
- Lost performative (lost speaker)
A statement about a rule that sounds as if it applies to the whole world. The information as to whom or what this rule refers to, or to whom it relates has been lost.
|It is wrong to kill other people.||Who says that?|
|One does not do that.||Who claims that?|
|Too much work will make you sick.||What tells you that?|
With such sentences, the speaker presents you with an assumption that is valid in his model of the world. Do not automatically accept the rules of another person but check whether it is valid for you.
We generalize certain statements, because often the exceptions are not important and we do not want to say every time: “Usually it is like this, but exceptions are a) ..., b) ... and c) ...” We often spare ourselves that and simply say: “The weather is always bad when I want to go for a walk!” “You never listen to me!” The problem with this is, however, that the Generalization severely limits experience. We lose detail and fullness. Sometimes it is precisely the exceptions that are crucial and can help us to gain new insights.
- Missing reference
There is no reference to a specific individual experience, so the statement seems to apply to all experiences. The noun groups are non-specific, or nouns are replaced by pronouns. Any noun group is non-specific if "who" or "what" have been deleted from it, so that no one remembers about whom or what exactly the speaker is speaking.
|No one pays attention to what I say.||Who exactly is not paying attention to what you say?|
What exactly are you saying?
|We do not want to get lost in detail.||Who exactly should not get lost in which details?|
|One should not lie.||Who should not lie?|
|Let us cease.||Who exactly should cease?|
- Generalized reference index
Statements are made about all elements of a class. The universal quantifier is not mentioned. You can, however, but you can ask exactly for that.
|Women are nice.||All women?|
|Siamese cats are very clean.||All Siamese cats?|
|Men are pigs.||All men?|
- Universal quantifiers
There are maps that show a section of an area but claim to depict the whole area. Statements that are to apply forever (all time), to everywhere (all places), to everyone (all people), contain universal quantifiers. Universal quantifiers include always, everyone, all, everywhere, never, nothing, no, nobody.
You can react to universal quantifiers in two ways.
a) By applying more universal quantifiers to the speaker's sentence, exaggerating the sentence in such a way that the speaker realizes that the Generalization is not valid and that it contradicts the questioner.
Example: I can’t trust anyone. Question: Is there really nobody at all whom you could ever trust?
b) You can also ask directly about the original experience (and directly ask for a counterexample).
Example: I can’t trust anyone.
Question: Who has abused your trust? Who can’t you trust? Are there any people you can trust?
|Nobody pays attention to me||Really NOBODY? No one at all?|
|It is impossible to believe anyone.||Have you ever had the experience of being able to believe someone?|
|All people are bad.||Really each and every person? Is there not one exception?|
|I never make mistakes.||Really never? Can you imagine any circumstances in which you have made a mistake?|
- Symmetric Predicates
They always describe processes between two people. What applies to one inevitably applies to the other. If Hans argues with me, then I always argue with Hans. A dispute always involves two people.
|Hans always argues with me.||DO I always argue with Hans?|
|My husband doesn’t touch me anymore.||Do you touch your husband?|
|She never gives me her hand to hold.||Do you offer your hand to hold?|
- Non-symmetric Predicates
This involves activities in which only one person is actively involved. In these predicates, the same does not necessarily apply to the other person, although it often does.
|The beautiful woman is not smiling at me?||Are you smiling at the beautiful woman?|
|My father does not see me anymore.||Do you see your father?|
- If (not) X, then (not) Y
|I have to perform well so that the others will like me.||If others perform well, do you always like them?/td>|
|If I don’t love others, then no one will love me.||When you love others, do they always love you?|
- Complex Equivalence
A verifiable experience is thus linked to an interpretation, as if one automatically meant the other. Two syntactically similar sentences are uttered one after the other, either first the experience and then the interpretation or vice versa.
Possible reactions to complex equivalences: Is that always the case? Does X ... always mean Y? Do you know a case where X did not mean Y? What does it mean for you to have X, to experience it? If not X, then not Y? If X, then not Y?
|You do not love me because you do not look at me when you talk to me.||Does I don’t look at you mean I don’t love you?|
|My girlfriend does not take me seriously. She always smiles in such a way that I feel she’s laughing at me.||Does that mean that every time she smiles at you, she is not taking you seriously?|
|No.||When you smile at your girlfriend, does that mean you are not taking her seriously?|
|What is the difference?|
- Incompletely specified verbs
Verbs are used that only describe events very generally. Basically, almost all verbs used are incomplete. Even if I say, “Ina kissed Mario on the mouth,” there is still much that could be said more precisely, e.g., how long, how intensely. Because of this, the incompletely specified verbs are sometimes assigned to Deletions.
|We came together.||In what way exactly did you come together?|
|My sister always ignores me.||How exactly does your sister ignore you?|
|Klaus went to New York.||How exactly did Klaus go to New York?|
|My cat demands attention.||How exactly does your cat demand attention?|