Language meta model

7fi. Language meta model

Joseph O’Connor and John Seymour take the deconstruction of language even further in their book ‘Introducing Neuro Linguistic Programming, The New Psychology of Personal Excellence.

In the practice of intellectual self-defense their Meta Model reconnects language with experience, and can be used for gathering information, clarifying meanings, identifying limitations and opening up choices. This is an extremely powerful model for revealing the underlying ‘wetiko’ patterns in people’s preconceived and unexamined ideologies.

Challenge 1. Deletions, nouns: Unspecified noun eg Who or what specifically…?

Examples: ‘They are out to get me.’ ‘Who is?’

‘It’s a matter of opinion?’ ‘What is?’

‘The neighbourhood has been ruined.’ ‘Who ruined it, how, when, why?’

‘If you leave chocolate around, people eat it.’ ‘Which people, why?’

Challenge 2. Deletions, verbs: Unspecified verb eg Who or what specifically…? How specifically is this happening?

Examples: ‘He travelled to Paris.’ ‘How did he travel?’

‘She hurt herself.’ ‘How did she hurt herself?’

‘I am trying to remember it.’ ‘How are you trying to remember it?’

What specifically are you trying to remember anyway?’

Challenge 3. Comparison: ‘Compared with what?’

Examples: ‘New improved Fluffo washing powder is better.’ ‘Better than what?’

‘I handled that meeting badly.’ ‘Compared with what?’

Challenge 4. Judgement: Who says ..?

Examples: ‘I am a selfish person’. ‘Who says you are a selfish person?’

‘I do.’ ‘By what standard do you judge yourself to be..?’

Challenge 4. Nominalisation

How is this being done? Who is nominalising about what, and how are they doing it?

Description: When a verb describing an ongoing process has been turned into a noun.

eg if a noun cannot be touched, tasted, smelt, seen or heard, it is a nominalisation.

Example: Teaching and discipline, applied with respect and firmness are essentials in the process of education.

Challenge 5. Generalisations

  1. Modal operator of possibility: What prevents you..?

Description: Words which set limits governed by unspoken rules,

Example: ‘cannot’ ‘must not’. They define what is considered possible.

  1. Modal operator of necessity: What would happen if you did/didn’t’..?

Description: Involving a need, there is a rule of conduct operating but not explicit.

Example: ‘I must always put other people first.’ ‘What would happen if you didn’t?’

‘You shouldn’t talk to those people.’ ‘What would happen if you did?’

3.Universal quantifier Always? Never? Everyone?

Description: Taking a few instances as representing the whole group.

Example: Pop music is rubbish. All generalisations are wrong. Actors are interesting people.

Challenge 6. Distortions

  1. Complex equivalence. How does this mean that?

Description: Statements linked in such a way they are taken to mean the same thing.

People may generalise their own experience to include everyone and forget that others think in different ways.

Example: ‘You are not smiling…you are not enjoying yourself.’

‘If you don’t look at me when I’m talking to you, then you are not paying attention.’

  1. Presupposition. What leads you to believe that..?

Description: Basic assumptions which limit choice.

Example: ‘Are you going to wear your green pyjamas or the red ones to go to bed?

‘What leads you to believe I am going to bed?’

‘When you get smart, you’ll understand this.’

‘Why don’t you smile more?’

  1. Cause and effect: How exactly does that make this happen?

Description: Assumptions that one thing causes another, eg ‘You made me do it’(Eric Berne)

Examples: ‘You made me feel angry.’ ‘The weather gets me down.’ ‘ You bore me.’

  1. Mind Reading: How do you know..?

Description: Presuming to know how another feels.

Example: ‘I could tell she didn’t like the present I gave her.’

‘He was angry but he wouldn’t admit it.’

Also mirrors: ‘If you cared for me you would know what I wanted.’

‘Can’t you see how I feel?’

‘You should know that I like that.’

“Which meta-model violation you challenge will depend on the context of the communication and your outcome. Consider the following sentence.

Why don’t these awful people stop always trying to help me, it makes me even angrier; 

‘I know I should keep my temper, but I can’t.’

This contains mind reading and presupposition (they are trying to annoy me), cause and effect (makes), universal quantifiers (always), judgements (awful), comparisons (angrier), modal operators of possibility and necessity (should, can’t), unspecified verbs (trying and help), nominalisation (temper), and unspecified nouns (people, it).


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