7 NLP Meta-Programs for Understanding People

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” –  Carl Jung

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming or, NLP, meta-programs are the keys to the way you process information.

NLP meta-programs are basically how you form your internal representations and direct your behavior.

In Unlimited Power: The New Science Of Personal Achievement, Tony Robbins writes about meta-programs that people use to sort and make sense of the world.

7 NLP Meta-Programs

Here are the 7 NLP Meta-Programs

  1. Toward or Away
  2. External or Internal Frame of Reference
  3. Sorting By Self or Sorting by Others
  4. Matcher or Mismatcher
  5. Convincer Strategy
  6. Possibility vs. Necessity
  7. Independent, Cooperative and Proximity Working Styles

1. Toward or Away NLP Meta Program

You can use this lens for understanding whether somebody drives from pain or gain.  You can also use this for looking at yourself.  Do you find that you move towards pleasure or away from pain?

Robbins writes:

“All human behavior revolves around the urge gain pleasure or avoid pain. You pull away from a lighted match in order to avoid the pain of burning your hand. You sit and watch a beautiful sunset because you get pleasure from the glorious celestial show as day glides into night.”

2. External or Internal Frame of Reference NLP Meta-Program

If you ever give a compliment and it seems like somebody doesn’t believe you, it might be because they are using an internal frame of reference.  You also can check this in yourself.  For example, do you put more stock in how you rate your performance or do you look to feedback from others?

Robbins writes:

“Ask someone else how he know when he’s done a good job. For some people, the proof comes from the outside. The boss pats you on the back and says your work was great. You get a raise. You win a big award. Your work is noticed and applauded by your peers.

When you get that sort of external approval, you know your work is good. That’s an external frame of reference.  For others, the proof comes from inside. They ‘just know inside’ when they’ve done well.”

3. Sorting By Self or Sorting by Others NLP Meta-Program

In this case, do you first think about what’s in it for you, or do you think about what’s in it for others?

Robbins writes:

“Some people look at human interactions primarily in terms of what’s in it for them personally, some in terms of what they can do for themselves or others.

Of course, people don’t always fall into one extreme or the other. If you sort only by self, you become a self-absorbed egotist. If you sort only by others, you become a martyr.”

4. Matcher or Mis-matcher NLP Meta-Program

If you ever find somebody that always seems to have to disagree with you, now you know why.

Robbins writes:

“This meta-program determines how you sort information to learn, understand, and the like. Some people respond to the world by finding sameness. They look at things and see what they have in common.

They’re matchers.

Other people are mis-matchers — difference people. There are two kinds of them. One type looks at the world and sees how things are different … The other kind of mis-matcher sees differences with exceptions. He’s like a matcher who finds sameness with exceptions in reverse – he sees the differences first, and then he’ll add the things they have in common.”

5. Convincer Strategy NLP Meta-Program

This meta-program involves what it takes to convince someone of something.

Robbins writes:

“The convincer strategy has two parts. To figure out what consistently convinces someone, you must first find out what sensory building blocks he needs to become convinced, and then you must discover how often he has to receive these stimuli before becoming convinced.”

6. Possibility vs. Necessity NLP Meta-Program

You might know some people that are minimalists or you might be a minimalist yourself, and focus on just what you need.  On the other hand, you might be a seeker and always looking to expand your opportunities and possibilities.

Robbins writes:

“Ask someone why he went to work for his present company or why he bought  his current car or house. Some people are motivated primarily by necessity, rather than by what they want. They do something because they must.

They’re not pulled to take action by what is possible. They’re not looking for infinite varieties of experience. They go through life taking what comes and what is available. When they need a new job or a new house or a new car or even a new spouse, they go out and accept what is available.  ‘

Others are motivated to look for possibilities. They’re motivated less by what they have to do than by what they want to do. They seek options, experiences, choices, paths.”

7. Independent, Cooperative and Proximity Working Styles NLP Meta-Program

By understanding this pattern, you can figure out where your most enjoyable work environments would be.

Robbins writes:

“Everyone has his own strategy for work. Some people are not happy unless they’re independent. They have great difficulty working closely with other people and can’t work well under a great deal of supervision. They have to run their own show.

Others function best as a part of a group. We call their strategy a cooperative one. They want to share responsibility for any task they take on. Still others have a proximity strategy, which is somewhere in between. They prefer to work with other people while maintaining a sole responsibility for a task. They’re in charge but not alone."

Additional Considerations

Robbins provides the following suggestions:

  1. All NLP meta-programs are context-and stress-related
  2. There are two ways to change NLP meta-programs. One is from a significant emotional event.   The other way you can change is by consciously deciding to do so.
  3. Use NLP meta-programs on two levels. The first is a tool to calibrate and guide your communication with others. The second is a tool for personal change.
  4. Constantly gauge and calibrate the people around you. Take note of specific patterns they have for perceiving their world and begin to analyze if others have similar patterns.
  5. Through this approach you can develop a whole set of distinctions about people that can empower you in knowing how to communicate effectively with all types of people.
  6. Become a student of possibility. NLP Meta-programs give you the tools to make crucial distinctions in deciding how to deal with people. You are not limited to the meta-programs discussed here.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Use meta-programs to understand yourself and others. Meta-programs helps you understand how people sort and make sense of the world. They also help you understand your own values, beliefs and behaviors.
  • Remember that people use a blend of meta-programs. It’s not this or that, it’s a spectrum of possibilities. It’s a tool for understanding how or why people behave and adapting your own behaviors to improve communication. They aren’t a tool for stereo-typing or pigeon-holing.
  • Change your own limiting meta-programs. If you have a way of processing the world that’s limiting your success, find a way to consciously adapt. Identifying your own meta-programs you use is a start. Once you have awareness, you can see how this shows up.

Ultimately, I think knowing how people work, helps bridge gaps.