What Are Meta Model Questions?
Developed by John Grinder & Richard Bandler, the Meta Model is a linguistic tool used by coaches to help clear ambiguities in the client’s language and clarify if what they are saying is indeed what they mean. By using this model, a coach can gain an insight into the client’s thought process and speech patterns.
NLP Meta Model Questions are essentially a simple questioning technique that prompts a client to explore and clarify their mental maps, recover & confront information that they may be avoiding, and remove & re-check their assumptions and generalizations.
3 Broad Areas of Misinterpretation
The essence of Meta Model Questions comes down to breaking down conversations into three broad areas of misinterpretation – generalization, deletion, and distortion.
Generalization is what happens when we apply our experiences, thoughts, and beliefs generically into situations that are similar in nature – even though they might be unidentical in many different aspects. For instance, we may know one or two lawyers who are cunning, and as a result we infer that “All lawyers are cunning”. Generalization leads to false assumptions.
Deletion is what takes place when we choose to focus on one or few parameters that are convenient to us and leave out other details that could also be relevant. This is called ‘selective listening’ – which means paying attention to only certain portions of our experience and excluding the remaining portions of the same experience. For instance, this sentence “I know he doesn’t like me”, consists of several deletions, like – who doesn’t like the speaker? What specific actions led to this conclusion?
Deletion leads to blind spots that are essential to know about.
Distortion takes place when we twist or distort an action or behaviour and draw a conclusion that may be radically different from the reality. This misinterpretation allows us to make shifts in our experience of sensory data. For instance, “He read my message and didn’t respond to me – that means he is avoiding me,” When we make this conclusion, we are failing to consider other possibilities of the situation, like he is busy or travelling or has an emergency, and arriving at a conclusion that may or may not be true.
Distortions lead to misrepresentations, misunderstandings, and fantasies.
With the help of the Meta Model Questions, a coach can identify these misrepresentations and address them appropriately. This is done by asking a series of questions based on the statement of the client, identifying the misrepresentation taking place, and addressing them accordingly to enable to client to recognize their own generalizations, deletions, and distortions. This tool is especially helpful in the following areas of coaching:
- Setting outcomes & goals
- Developing self-coaching skills
- Modifying or changing behaviour patterns
- Enhancing relationships by having self-aware conversations
Application of NLP Meta Model Questions
|Meta Model Pattern||Examples of deletions, distortions, generalisations||Questions to recover deleted, distorted, and generalized information|
|Simple Deletions |
|“People will laugh at me if I go to school for my degree at this age!”||Who specifically will laugh at you?|
|Missing Nouns |
(Person/thing detail left out)
|“People are selfish”||Who, specifically?|
|Missing Verbs |
(Descriptive details left out)
|“At least he tries”||In what way? |
How specifically does he try?
(Use of the abstract, leading to no concrete message)
|“My husband doesn’t appreciate the finer things in life”||What does he specifically not appreciate?|
|Comparative Deletions |
(Comparison details not specified)
|“He’s more tolerant”||More tolerant than whom?|
|Mind Reading |
(Knowledge-assertion without evidence)
|“He will never get along with my parents”||How do you know that he will not get along? |
What do you mean by never?
|Lost Performative (Evaluative statements mapped by unknown persons)||“They say that winners never change their minds”||Who says that? |
Has no winner ever changed their mind?
|Cause & Effect |
(A causes B stated without factual evidence)
|“If I do that I’ll get into trouble”||How exactly will you get into trouble if you do that?|
|Complex Equivalence |
(Equating an external action with an external state)
|“He is silent. He disapproves of what I have done.”||How do you know his silence means he disapproves of what you’ve done?|
(Assumptions about unexpressed things)
|“You will like it when you do it”||How do you know I will do it? |
What specifically makes you think I will like it?
|Universal Quantifiers |
(Things described in universal terms – never, always, all)
|“All women are bad drivers!”||All women? |
Do you know a woman who is not a bad driver?
|Modal Operators |
(Statements expressed by necessity vs possibility – must, have to, should, ought to, can, etc.)
|I must not do that||What will happen if you do? |
What will happen if you don’t do?
What won’t happen if you do?
What won’t happen if you don’t do?
How to Use Meta Model Questions
Before you actually employ the meta model questions technique in your coaching sessions, make sure to go through the following guidelines:
1. Determine the outcome of using NLP meta model questions
Before you sit down to coach a person and apply meta model on them, ask yourself “what is my specific reason to meta model?” Meta model can be applied for different reasons, like finding out what NLP technique to apply, finding out what goal to set, finding out what the problem is, getting to know someone, creating consciousness for the client, and more. Knowing what you intend as an outcome after using meta model questions is important.
2. Step into a place of curiosity
Coming from a place of curiosity instead of judgment is highly recommended when sitting with a client. When you filter whatever is transpiring in the coaching session through curiosity, it is no longer about you, your definitions, your trainings, techniques, or even meta model questions. The only thing that matters is the map of the client’s world.
3. Apply the meta model
First, set the frame within the conversation as well as the purpose and intention. For instance, “This conversation will last 60 minutes and is intended to understand the issue in more detail and find workable solutions”.
Use specific or precise words to clarify the specific instruction or task
- Nouns: who / what / which exactly / specifically?
- Verbs: how / when / where / with whom exactly / specifically?
- Think about consequences: what would happen if you did / didn’t?
- Challenge generalizations: are there any exceptions?
And finally, paraphrase sentences and keep calibrating to ensure that you and your client are on the same page with the most accurate version of all the information.
4. Know when to stop
The idea with meta model questioning is not to gather as much details and data as possible about the client – their past, present, and future. The idea is to gather relevant details, not all the details.
With the use of this tool, you can find out (with regards to your client) how something works, what their problems are like, who is involved and in what way, what the client needs, what helps them make a decision, etc. There is a point at which you will have enough details and you don’t need any more. That is when having restraint and awareness to stop is crucial!
Meta model questioning is one of the most powerful tools you can employ in your coaching session. It’s seemingly simple, but when utilised intentionally and with awareness it has the potential to help the client recover a lot of their unconscious biases and assumptions that are coming in the way of their growth.
1. What are NLP Meta Model Questions?
Meta model questions is one of the most powerful and popular tools in neuro linguistic programming (NLP). It is essentially a questioning technique that prompts a client to explore and clarify their mental maps, recover & confront information that they may be avoiding, and remove & re-check their assumptions and generalizations.
With the help of the Meta Model Questions, a coach can identify clients’ misrepresentations and address them appropriately. This is done by asking a series of questions based on the statement of the client, identifying the misrepresentation taking place, and addressing them accordingly to enable to client to recognize their own generalizations, deletions, and distortions.
2. Who designed the Meta Model Questions process?
The NLP Meta Model Questions process was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder – both of whom are co-founders of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) – in the year 1975.
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