The Meta Model: Challenging the Limitations in our Mental Maps

There is predominantly a way of detecting the limits of somebody’s thinking. If the verbal productions that people create are a sensibly realistic reflection of the thinking patterns in our systems, then you’ve been treated to a power. They just shared to you where the limit of their map is.

What are the challenges if I say to you: “We can’t do this?” What specific verbal challenges will we make a statement? There are two – one points to the future and one points to the past.

When I say, “we can’t do this,” you say:

  • What stops us?
  • What’s in the world that makes it impossible?   

These replies are, in fact, past-oriented questions. The other one is more interesting. “What would happen if I did?” this is gold, a future-oriented response.

In a parent scenario, it’ll take extra time with your teenagers, but they should be taught this. For instance,

Mom: “You can’t go for a sleepover.”

Child: “Mom, but what would happen if I did?”

There may be an answer to that or maybe none, but it will teach the child as he moves into different parts of life. Through their knowledge about it, they can detect these conversational hinders naturally and discover the consequences of doing things that they’re demanded they can’t do.

Distorting Perceptions Through Language

To share their experiences, human beings depend on language. For the whole part, the sentences we create are unconscious productions. We frequently bound ourselves through the language we use, and distort the direct view from our more profound reality.

When we collect information, we draw on our personal history in making an internal representation of what the other person speaks to understand it. We also do it to tell what we need to gather more information about to complete our internal representation.

As we do that, there’s a strong tendency to distort or delete information and add in details that weren’t stated or not even in a person’s internal representation.

The Meta model is a set of questions that allow us to collect information that specifies someone’s experience, to get a complete representation of that experience.

The History of the Meta Model

The Meta Model, NLP’s first formal model, was put out in 1975. NLP’s founders John Grinder and Richard Bandler published it in their pioneering book, The Structure of Magic Volume 1.

It extended features of transformational grammar (Chomsky) and general semantics (Korzybski). It was also developed through modeling the successful therapeutic language interventions of psychiatrists Milton Erickson and Fritz Perls, as well as the family therapist, Virginia Satir.

Precision Model

Information means influence. The person that has information possesses the situation. Those that have reached the prime control of information are in the state to alter their own experience. They can also influence the actions, feelings, and thoughts that form the experience of most of us; these are grasped through communication.

The influence of communication over the external world and the way we embody the information of it governs the expanse of excellence within us and with others. Thus, communication will be of value when it can be felt, seen, or heard. To reach this, the NLP has a way called Meta Model or Precision Model.

The NLP Meta Model

The Meta model is useful for dealing with distortions in the language. It also helps people to enhance their internal experience and to have a richer experience in communication.

This model is one of the crucial gears that separates a good NLP practitioner from a slack one. You can use all the NLP practices gracefully. However, if you haven’t identified precisely when and where to use them, you can always come up with an excellent solution for the wrong thing.

The Universal Modelling Process

In NLP, we refer to two mental maps. One points to the sensory-based map or the internal representation of what we see, smell, hear, and taste, while the second points to the linguistic image of the sensory-based map.

Alfred Korzybski, founder of general semantics created the expression, “The map is not the territory”. The maps that we have in our minds are not the world itself, but an internal representation of it.

The Meta Model is based upon the knowledge that we don’t function directly on the world. We take in ideas through our sense organs. Using the three universal modeling processes of distortion, generalization, and deletion form an internal representation in images, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings.

Deletion, Distortion, and Generalization


Distortion is the process of signifying elements of the model contrary to how they were initially being meant. Various ways of thinking about the world and its complexities all depends upon the capability to alter the so-called reality.


Generalization is a process of taking a portion of your model of the world and use it in signifying a complete set of experience.


Deletion is the process of selective consideration, wherein parts of the mental map are omitted and do not exist in the verbal expression. Whether this is a conscious judgment or an unconscious method, it is difficult to pay attention to the mass of information that influences your senses.

How does it work?

The Meta Model validates the course of distortion, generalization, and deletion into a set of linguistic patterns that give us a tool for representing the structure of how someone thinks by investigating the words used.

Typically, this model is used to question the words that people use to develop the value of the conversation. It can also be used to analyze the structure of how someone thinks and then deliver information back to them.

The NLP Meta Model covers ten patterns. To make it easier to memorize the basic, use the acrostic MLCCP UM NUS:

Distortions Generalizations Deletions
Mind Reading Lost Performative Cause Effect Complex Equivalence Presuppositions Universal Quantifiers Modal Operators Nominalizations Unspecified Verbs Simple Deletions


The Five Distortion Categories

Mind Reading

A mind read is where you believe that you know what someone else is feeling or thinking without any sensory-based information to support that belief. Collect more information about the mind read by asking, How and what? type of questions.

Mind Read Statements Meta Model Challenges
A person does not love me. How do you know if that person doesn’t?
I know what’s good for you. How exactly do you know that?

Lost Performative

Lost performative values judgment, where the actor of the judgment is not specified. The speaker states the statement as a generalization true for the world (good or bad). Challenge a lost performative to get the basis of the belief, by asking, according to whom?, how do you know that?, who says? type of questions.

Lost Performative Statements Meta Model Challenges
I should exercise every day. Who says you should exercise every day?
A good person does not do that. Who claims that?

Cause and Effect

The cause and effect show a direct claim that one thing causes or is caused by when there is no logical basis or sensory-based evidence to support a causal link.

Gather more data about a cause and effect by asking, How specifically? You can also use a counter-example type of questions to know how the person does the process of making themselves act and feel in a specific way.

Cause and Effect Statements Meta Model Challenges
You make me nervous when you look at me like that. How specifically does my stare make you nervous?
I am sad because you’ve left me. If I had not left you, would you be happy?


Complex Equivalence

Statements where complex ideas, situations, or their implications are likened as synonymous. A complex equivalence is different from a cause and effect. “You make me happy when you are early,” is a cause and effect, while “You being early means you want to be with me,” is a complex equivalence.” In this case, the complex equivalence is at a greater level of abstraction.

Defy a complex equivalence to get the two statements that are related or a counter-example. For instance, Does it always have to mean that? Could it mean something else?

Complex Equivalence Statements Meta Model Challenges
You are late again. You don’t want to be with me. How does my tardiness means that I don’t want to be with you?
You don’t like me because you don’t look at me when you talk. Does I don’t look at you mean that I don’t like you?


Presuppositions are the linguistic correspondent of assumptions. To make sense of a sentence, the listener or the speaker take the presuppositions/assumptions as being valid. We challenge a presupposition to get detailed information and learn the truth of the matter.

Presuppositions Statements Meta Model Challenges
We always eat healthy low-fat meals. Healthy in what way? According to whom?
You are just as beautiful as your mother. What makes you think that my mother is beautiful?


The Two Generalization Categories

Universal Quantifiers

A universal quantifier is a total generalization that eliminates exemptions by asserting that something is accurate for everything. We can easily distinguish a universal quantifier by the words all, every, always, everyone, never, none, nobody, and no one.

Challenge the universal quantifier by reiterating the keyword and pattern it out by using volume and an interrogative tone.

Universal Quantifiers Statements Meta Model Challenges
Nobody wants to be my friend. Nobody wants to be your friend?
All people are terrible. Really each and every person? Is there not an exception to that?

Modal Operators

Modal operators are connected to the motivational ways of moving towards what we want and moving away from what we don’t. Whether you do what you have to (modal operators of necessity) or what you want to (modal operators of possibility), it will still achieve some worth.

Collect more information about a modal operator by asking, What would happen if?What would happen if you did not?You can also use lost performative type of challenges by asking, according to whom? In some situations, reiterate the word and pattern it out using an interrogative tone just like universal quantifiers.

A. Modal Operators of Possibility

Modal operators of possibility use the words can, cannot, will, will not, would, may, may not, it is possible, and it is impossible.

Modal Operators of Possibility Statements Meta Model Challenges
I can’t see myself talking to my crush. What stops you from seeing yourself talking to your crush?
No one can get rich in six months. What makes that impossible?

B.  Modal Operators of Necessity

Modal operators of necessity use the words should, should not, must, must not, have to, need to, and it is necessary.

Modal Operator of Necessity Statements Meta Model Challenges
I should exercise more. Who says that you should exercise more? Is it something that you desire to do?
We mustn’t come too early in the party. What will happen if we do?


The Three Deletion Categories


Nominalization happens when a verb is converted into a noun. It’s like capturing a snapshot of a moving object, and eventually, you don’t see the movement anymore, only the (static) object.

Challenge a nominalization by asking questions that reveal the process like, How specifically? What do you mean by that word?

Nominalizations Statements Meta Model Challenges
The rule says that you must do this and that. What specifically is a rule?
The attention is just too much for him. What kind of attention is he experiencing?

Unspecified Verbs

Unspecified verbs are words which do not specify to some degree. It does not also clarify what exactly is being denoted. Here, something is omitted. Gather more details by asking, How specifically? type of questions.

Unspecified Verbs Statements Meta Model Challenges
I have been trying hard to be with you. How exactly have you been trying?
My best friend laughed. What did she laughed about?

Simple Deletions

In a simple deletion, a significant component in a statement is missing. The means to examine is by trying to create a vibrant representation in your mind.

Ask yourself, “What is absent from this statement?”, then ask questions like, About what? What specifically? What do you mean by that?

Simple Deletions Statements Meta Model Challenges
You just don’t understand. What specifically don’t I understand?
I have a problem. A problem with what? With whom?


The Meta Model Extended

When Richard Bandler requested L. Michael Hall to write the 25-year update on the Meta Model, the Meta Model was extended in 1997.

Hall’s additions are discussed and presented in his book, Communication Magic, wherein he included nine new Meta Model forms grounded on Korzybski’s General Semantics, Cognitive Therapy and Rational Emotive Therapy (Beck and Ellis).


Meta Model questions are mostly a simple questioning technique. It fuels the clients to clarify and explore their mental maps by challenging information they may be forgetting or avoiding while re-checking their assumptions.

It is essential to ask these questions only after we’ve built up enough level of trust and rapport. While simple, these questions can entail the courage to respond. The idea is that we’re not agreeing or disagreeing with them, nor judging them. We are merely asking questions to recognize and understand the circumstances better.

Ask questions established on their words. The purpose is to develop their thinking, not influencing them by presenting other thoughts.