NLP Practitioner

The Meta Model

Written by Lee Avery

When John Grinder and Richard Bandler were first working on NLP one of the people that they worked with was Virginia Satir. She was a family therapist who had a success records second to none in her field.

John and Richard were very interested in this and studied her work and they noticed that she approached her clients in a very particular way and used very precise and clear language patterns. Her statements and questions would allow her clients to look at the world in a different way and in so doing they would change their approach and often their problems would just evaporate.

The Satir model, or Meta-Model as it has come to be known within NLP is a way for individuals to restructure their frame of reference and make changes that from a distance seem miraculous.

Meta-Model of Language  – Is an overarching model of language designed to enhance clarity and reduce ambiguity.

Where the Milton Model of language is designed to create ambiguity and confusion (and ultimately a trance state), the Meta-Model is used to define a more specific and clear structure of reality for the client.

If a statement is totally clear, without any ambiguity and totally undertandable then it is said to fit the Meta Model, however it is rare that any statement can truly meet the demands of the Meta-Model and where there are ‘holes’ in the statement these are called Meta-Model Violations.

What is the Meta Model For?

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and realised that you are talking at crossed purposes? You may think the conversation is about the kids and your partner is talking about the shopping? You’re in a meeting and suddenly notice all the blank faces staring back at you?

Many a sit-com has used Meta Model violations to create some funny moments and more than the odd double-entendre.

Using the Meta-Model in a conversation can help in the following ways:


By creating a framework for questions, the Meta-Model can be used to clarify meaning and fully understand what the person is talking about, it also allows you to fill in the gaps in a conversation and ensure that everyone is talking about the same thing.

Expands Possibility

The easiest way of limiting our options is thinking in a limiting way and limited thinking is very apparent in the way people speak. ‘Can’t’, ‘Try’, ‘Fail’ are all words that constrain our thinking, the Meta-Model allows us to challenge these ideas in a constructive and systematic way.

Meta Model Violations

When a person speaks they do so from their personal map of reality, and as the NLP Presupposition states “The Map is not the Territory”, so what a person says may not be what they mean. It will often include assumptions and concepts that are generally understood, it can have gross generalisations about the situation and it will be clouded in the emotions and personal history of the person talking.

The difference between what is being said and what is really happening are called Meta-Model Violations and there are 3 distinct categories.


Whenever a conversation takes place both parties assume that there is a level of knowledge already in place; the world as we know it works in a particular way, with a certain cast of characters with predictable situations.

The facts about these assumptions are lost and the holes are filled in automatically by past experience. The problem with this is that the facts put in to place may not be the ones that are meant to go there.

The Meta-Model Deletions come in 3 different types;

  • Simple Deletions – The ‘what’ is missing
  • Unspecified Referential Index – The ‘who’ has been left out of a statement
  • Unspecified Verbs – ‘how’ was it done?


Like looking in a fun-house mirror, a Meta-Model distortion is a reflection of reality that is warped in some way, usually by emotion or experience to meet the internal representation of the person talking. To that person the distortion is reality, however it is a modification of what is really going on so that Facts meet Beliefs.

The 5 Meta-Model violations that deal with distortions;

  • Mind Reading – Knowing the unknowable, what other people think.
  • Cause and Effect – Knowing ‘It’s not my fault, they made me do it’
  • Complex Equivalents – Knowing that ’this’ must mean ’that’
  • Nominalizations – Knowing an action is a ‘thing’ to be handled


In the book ‘Frogs into Princes’, Bandler and Grinder refer to these as ‘General-Lies-ations’, a play on the word, but from an NLP standpoint an apt mispronunciation.

We often here generalisations from children who have an ‘all or nothing’ view of the world where everything exists in black and white, where ‘everyone’ and ‘everything’ is right or wrong. Global words bringing the whole of reality into a homogenous lump.

Generalizations within NLP are a little more complex and usually signify a limiting belief in the speaker;

  • Modal Operators – Things must happen in this way otherwise it won’t work (Necessity). If only I could help (Possibility).
  • Universal Quantifier – All or Nothing thinking where everyone and no-one are involved.

About the author

Lee Avery

Professional Therapist, Clinical Hypnosis & NLP Trainer with over 25 years of experience in training new professionals and treating clients. He specialises in Trauma related Psychological health issues. After years of running training classes Lee has decided to publish his training materials online to further the accessibility of NLP and Hypnosis. He is an advocate for Clinical Hypnosis Excellence and is constantly looking to improve the professional standing of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy within the medical community.

He also runs Achieving Greatness a software development company producing mobile apps for the mental health community.

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