Whenever someone talks about an experience, their verbal description will naturally delete a great deal of that experience.  That’s what words are useful for — taking a complex and detailed experience and briefly summarizing it. What you get is, at best, a brief outline of the total experience.

Whenever you gather information, you draw on your personal history to make an internal representation of what the other person says. You do this to:

  1. a) understand it, and
  2. b) know what you need to gather more information about to complete your internal representation.

As you do that, there is an extraordinarily strong tendency to delete or distort information and add in details that were not mentioned by that other person. The details you add may not even exist in that person’s internal representation.

The Meta Model is a set of questions that allow you to gather information that specifies someone’s experience to get a fuller representation of that experience.  It is one of the essential tools that separates a good NLP Practitioner from a sloppy one.

You can use all the NLP techniques elegantly, but if you haven’t pinpointed exactly where and when to use them, you can come up with a wonderful solution for the wrong thing. If you don’t know how to gather information, you’re like a surgeon who has a very sharp scalpel but doesn’t know where to cut.

When clients, business partners, employees, or students communicate with you or offer you a difficulty to solve, knowing what questions to ask can make a big difference in the outcome.

Many people don’t know what questions to ask, and they end up solving the wrong “problems.”  They think they understand and begin to solve something they don’t know about, which can often do more harm than good.

Example #1:

Management:  “We need to produce more.”  So the supervisor speeds up the assembly line, causing more defects.  The manager actually meant more quality.  (Or the manager might have expected more different kinds of products.)

Example #2:  Listening to dinner conversation between two people in a restaurant.  It was clear to us that neither knew what the other was talking about, but they thought they did.  You can have very “meaningful” conversations and arguments without ever knowing what the other person is talking about.

The Meta Model is a way not to do that.

When you gather information,  you usually ask questions.  There are six questions in English:  What? Which? Who? When? Where? And Why?

“Why?” is the only one that doesn’t ask for specific detail.  The answer to “Why?” is usually “Because…” and a historical or theoretical explanation.  You may get specific detail in response to “Why?” but that will only be a lucky accident.

This is why the question “Why?” does not appear in the Meta Model.  These information gathering questions are often called “challenges”; if you don’t like that word, use another one that you like better.

The Meta Model was the beginning of NLP; a great deal of NLP has been developed by using it.  (For instance, Strategies was created by exploring the question “How?”)


DistinctionMeta Model Inquiry
Unspecified Things 
1. After seven years I’ve just lost contact.With whom?
2. It seemed like an impossible task.Seemed to whom? Impossible to whom?
3. Now I don’t even talk to her.About what?
4. The other one is better.Better than what?
5. I have understood so much from you.What specifically?
6. You are nice.Compared with whom or what?
7. You find out the world looks different.Different from what?
8. Things get me down.What things?
9. Something should be done about it.What specifically should be done about it?
10. People get me down.Who specifically…?
11. This one is the last.Which one specifically is the last.
Unspecified Verbs 
1. I can deal with it.How specifically?
2. He just won’t leave me alone.How specifically will he not…?
3. He won’t love me.Love you, in what way?
4. This is what I believe.How do you believe, specifically?
5. When he starts another conversation, I’m compelledStarts how? Compelled how?
6. I am blocked.How are you blocked?
1. There is no respect here.Who is not respecting whom?
2. She needs more strength.Being strong in what way?
3. Knowledge is most important.How will (who) knowing what be…?
4. Can you have thought without experience?Can you have (who) thinking (how) without experience?
5. There is a lot of confusion.Who is confusing whom, in what way?
Universal Quantifiers 
1. I’ll never play again.Never?
2. There is nothing I need to add.Nothing?
3. Since we changed the times, all the children have been upset.All the children?
4. The editorials never mention the problems that we have found.Never mention the problems…?
5. To make sure, I always do a check.Always? Have you ever failed to do a check?
Modal Operators of Necessity and Impossibility 
1. I can’t do anything right.What stops you?
2. I’d really like to leave him, but I can’t.What would happen if you did?
3. People cannot know.What would happen if they did?
4. I have to believe it.What would happen if you didn’t?
5. I couldn’t say something like that.What would stop you? What would happen if you did?
6. I must never say those things.What will happen if you do?
7. I must not show my feelings.What prevents you?
Cause — Effect 
1. My family makes me mad.How do they make you mad?
2. My brother has been depressed since he spoke to DadHow has speaking to Dad made him depressed?
3. When she smiles through her fringe, I get all confused.How does her smiling make you confused?
4. Her refusal to listen really makes me sad.How does her refusal make you sad?
5. The whining tone in his voice gets under my skin.How does his whining tone get under your skin?
6. I feel bad for making her cry.What did you do that you believe made her cry?
Mind Reading 
1. I know what makes him happy.How do you know…?
2. You should have known I would not be pleased.How should I have known?
3. He doesn’t like me.How do you know…?
4. He should know better.How should he know not to do that?
5. I know what is good for him.How do you know what is good for him?
6. I’m sorry to keep annoying you.How do you know that you are annoying me?
Lost Performative 
1. It’s right that people should know.For whom is it true that people…?
2. Failure is a necessary part of the system.Necessary for whom? Who says it is?
3. That is a stupid thing to say.That is stupid according to whom?
4. Oh, it is not important anyway.It is not important to whom?
5. It is not good to be strict.Not good for whom?


Excerpted from the NLP Comprehensive 24 Day Practitioner Training Trainer’s Manual
(c) 1986, C & S Andreas, 2897 Valmont Rd., Boulder, CO  80301