6. Meta programs – NLP for Rookies


Meta programs

Meta programs

Our beliefs and values steer our focus and select the information our subconscious mind chooses to become aware of. Our Meta programs are the systems and patterns we apply when we process, code and react to our gathered information.

Noticing the Meta programs of others is the best way of accessing necessary information that can help us to begin building rapport. This valuable information can be used to guide, motivate, instruct and communicate with ourselves and others on many different and more effective levels. It is also a very valuable tool to use in business, as the Meta programs people operate can have a dramatic impact on their job suitability and satisfaction.

Entrepreneurs, sales people and stockbrokers can often be described as having specific characteristics of language, gestures and beliefs that are common to their professions – characteristics such as being outgoing, confident, etc.

People who operate with similar Meta programs will find that they very quickly create rapport when communicating with one another. By matching, mirroring and reflecting someone else’s Meta programs we will become able to communicate on an unconscious and more profound level. On the other hand, failing to pay attention to someone’s Meta programs can rapidly lead to a catastrophic breakdown in communication and can quickly cause conflict and a misunderstanding of intent.

Rookie Buster

People who operate with similar Meta programs will find that they very quickly create rapport when communicating with one another.

Our Meta programs highlight the processes we use when implementing most of our thinking, and recognizing them provides us with a base understanding of where to begin implementing change.

In a similar way to how our beliefs are formed, we begin creating our Meta programs during our childhood under the influence of our parents and figures of authority, and of our childhood environment. As we develop, our Meta programs develop as well. Our experience changes them, sometimes installing stronger ranges in their influence or in extreme cases turning them inside out and operating them from the opposite side of the scale.

Someone who is “global” (that is, who focuses on the end result and the bigger picture) may choose to become “detailed” (focusing on specific information and tiny details), perhaps as a result of losing a multimillion dollar account due to overlooking some small but crucial detail.

Most of the Meta programs we operate are functioning on an unconscious level. They are not fixed in structure and we do not operate any specific model at any specific time. In fact, as our situations change, so will our Meta models. Sometimes we will subconsciously respond with one, while at other times we may combine various different structures and run them all systematically together.

Everyday Meta programs applied to work and management

We all operate a range of different Meta programs and each one influences our actions and perceptions to varying degrees, as shown on this scale:

1. Towards and Away from

People operating a “Towards” value program will have tremendous (and sometimes blinkered) focus upon their goals. Their actions are motivated by the perceived benefits and gains behind an objective and their desire to attain it.

Towards people are brilliant at setting themselves goals and targets and are constantly creating new ones to focus on. The downside can be that sometimes these people overlook possible risks and may struggle to complete on tasks, often choosing to move to the new and more exciting.

Rookie Buster

Towards people are brilliant at setting themselves goals and targets.

In management a Towards person will be motivated through praise and goal incentives.


Positive and optimistic, confident in their approach to work, forward thinking, good social skills, lots of energy and drive.


May get distracted by having too many bright new goals on the horizon, can have a tendency to make mistakes through their enthusiasm.

People operating an “Away from” program are often motivated into action through their perceptions of negatives. They focus their attention on the possibility that things may go wrong, and will often avoid taking on new opportunities due to their wariness of the potential negative outcomes. An Away from person will be motivated into action because they don’t want to experience something bad rather than because they want to experience something good.

In management an Away from person will perform better with regular, firm appraisals and stricter management tactics.


Good at recognizing potential hazards, spotting errors and risks.


Will avoid potential opportunities, can be quite negative in their approach to things and over cautious.

Where do you fit on this scale?

2. Options and Procedure

People operating an “Options” program will spend their time looking over all the choices available in life. They are generally optimistic in nature and like to consider lots of different options before deciding upon any one idea.

Variety is of great importance to these people, although it can lead to distraction, procrastination and an inability to make a decision. People with Options values are always thinking the grass is greener on the other side.

In management these people respond well to roles that offer plenty of variety and opportunities for providing different working methodologies. However it is worth noting that Options people can struggle to perform repetitive tasks or in any structured environments. Options people can also have a maverick approach to work, so they will happily test the system and may occasionally break the rules.


Generally happy in nature, will always be looking for new ways to try things; they perceive multiple choices and will often spot opportunities that others may overlook. Love variety, very creative and crave change.


They will struggle to complete repetitive tasks, can procrastinate, will avoid making decisions, struggle to focus and are often unsettled.

People operating “Procedure” programs need systems, structure and order within their day. Without them they become easily confused and overwhelmed into paralysis. These people are very obedient, enjoy writing lists and are very methodical in their approach to life and its tasks. They are incredibly reliable and will happily focus on repetitive tasks, but they do struggle with change and find it difficult to take on new information and procedures.

In management these people are easy to influence and will often stick within the agreed rules. Procedure people are very reliable, but may struggle to become innovative thinkers and would make terrible sales people. They generally respond well to micro management and an organized, structured environment.


Very methodical, enjoy a systematic approach to life. Like to follow rules, very obedient, obliging, very tidy, organized and reliable.


Easy to unnerve. Can get lost in the procedures and miss the bigger picture; narrow minded, struggle to think for themselves, hate change, not very adaptable, strict, no innovation, And perfectionist.

Where do fit you on this scale?

3. Internal and External

People operating an “Internal “program only seek confirmation from within themselves. If someone is internally referenced they will rely upon their own personal judgements before allowing external opinions to influence their decisions or perceptions.

Internal people rely upon their own feelings, senses, thinking and values to gain reassurance that their actions are justified. They will very rarely seek out advice from others. Internal people can be their own harshest critics and their most avid supporters. They can appear to be selfish, aloof and sometimes over confident. In management, these people can prove difficult to influence and will need a strong argument that reflects their values and beliefs before being persuaded into action.


Can remain motivated, even in difficult situations. Self reliant. Confident, hard to manipulate.


Selfish, over critical, unrealistically high standards, difficult to manage, ignore external advice and evidence against internal judgements.

People operating an “External” program are constantly seeking external feedback for confirmation of their self worth, deeds, decisions and actions. These people are prone to sheep-like qualities and will always follow the decision of the pack rather than thinking for themselves. Externally focused people can appear needy and often feel insecure within themselves, lacking self assurance.

Rookie Buster

People operating an “External” program are constantly seeking external feedback for confimation of their self worth.

In management, External people need constant praise and reassurance. They enjoy being presented with all the facts and work best as part of a team, as they are fantastic team players and motivators. If left alone, they may become insecure, demotivated and depressed.


Interact well with others, sociable, aware of other people’s feelings and motivations, excellent at rapport and provide brilliant customer/client service.


Always need external reassurance, rely upon external feedback for recognition in order to respond and progress. Often indecisive and can become nervous and quiet in one-to-one situations.

Where do you fit on this scale?

4. In time and Through time

People operating an “In time” program enjoy living in the moment and have a tendency to ignore tomorrow, focusing upon the immediate experiences of today, the here and now.

Whatever actions they are performing or people they are speaking to in any given moment, their subject will have their complete attention, but once the moment has passed, whatever they were focusing upon is soon lost and forgotten.

In management, In time people are great at achieving the task in hand and can create the impression of giving their customer complete undivided attention and understanding. However, the manager of an In time person would be wise to remember they can be unreliable and it would be worth keeping their tasks to a minimum rather than overloading them. An In time person may be easily distracted and may often arrive late for work, although it will never be personal and their apologies will be sincere.


Value the moment, enthusiastic, focused upon the task in hand.


Struggle to perceive anything beyond the moment. This can lead them to being late for meetings and appointments and struggling even to notice goals, let alone remain focused on them.

Individuals with a “Through time” program will spend a lot of their time planning, creating lists and schedules, constantly updating their mental diary. A Through time person is always analysing their next move and the next task, and will be constantly flitting off to prepare for the next event. These people are fantastic timekeepers, but have a tendency to miss the opportunities available to them in the present. This preoccupation with the future can leave others with the impression that they are uninterested, bored or simply have other places to go and things to attend to, which in some ways is true.

In management a Through time person makes a good administrator or PA, as they are able to remember long lists of things to do, places to go and communications that need addressing. They are not however known for their people skills and may often upset other members of a team, as well as clients and customers.


Good organizational and timekeeping skills; forward thinking.


Can appear bored and uninterested; often poor at rapport.

Where do you fit on this scale?

5. Global and Detail

People with a “Global” program will understand situations by focusing upon the bigger picture. These people are good at staying focused by keeping their eye on the eventual objectives, and great at remaining goal focused and selling the eventual dream to customers and clients.

Rookie Buster

People with a “Global” program will understand situations by focusing upon the bigger picture.

Unfortunately these people can struggle to focus on the minute details of a situation and can become easily confused and overwhelmed by the intrinsic information. Give a Global person too much information and they will soon get lost in the detail and will struggle to understand and follow the thread of any conversation.

In management, Global people make good salespeople, as they can focus their subject’s attention upon the larger objectives (shiny car, rather than weekly payments). They are very good at creating big ideas and shaping company objectives, but they will struggle to plan their day or create a detailed business plan and can sometimes end up procrastinating because they struggle to understand what needs tackling first.


Good at creating large concept and focusing attention upon the bigger picture; can often prove to be good motivators.


Can struggle with detailed information, and can be easily overwhelmed with too many options or ideas; can struggle to make decisions and often overlook the finer details.

People with a “Detail” program are very focused when it comes to understanding all the tiny elements of a process and the specifics of a decision. Detail people enjoy extracting every specific quality from a conversation and are very good at spotting tiny mistakes and flaws and at reading the small print.

In management, Detail people make good analysts, accountants or insurers. They are very particular in their temperament and like everything to be done in a very specific way. They are good at overseeing company plans, developing strategies and analysing procedures and effectiveness. They can be perfectionists and can sometimes prove to be slightly temperamental and can get easily upset about the smaller things in life.


Happy working and studying large amounts of specific details, focused and persistent, good at spotting mistakes that are often overlooked and making sense out of chaotic data.


Can struggle to move beyond the detail and can lose time working through all of the particulars, rather than progressing towards the overall goal. Often seen as pedantic, fickle and unimaginative.

Where do you fit on this scale?

6. Sameness and Difference

People operating a “Sameness” model understand new information by comparing to past experiences. They will often stick to methodologies that they have tried, tested and already understand. These people enjoy familiarity and struggle to comprehend any new information as they have no reference system for it. Sameness people love repetition, hate change and once settled in their lives are likely to remain that way permanently.

Rookie Buster

People operating a “Sameness” model understand new information by comparing to past experiences.

In management, Sameness people respond well to familiar environments, consistent expectations, appraisals and micro management, and are happiest when working within a structured and repetitive working environment. These people will generally respond badly to change and will feel insecure or uncomfortable if you decide to move the office furniture around.

Sameness people are extremely reliable and consistent in their working styles, unlikely to put themselves forward for promotion and unlikely ever to leave an organization once established there.


Reliable, consistent and happy to do repetitive tasks.


Stubborn, difficult to influence and unwilling to try new things or perceive new ideas; will resist any changes in the work place.

People operating a “ Difference” program are always looking for new ways of changing things. Easily bored and constantly unsettled, Difference people love variety and find it very hard to settle on any career choice, management style, goal or even how to take their morning coffee. Difference people are very creative and will always be inventing new ideas and looking for new ways to go about doing things. Difference people hate structure, and struggle to recognize patterns, as their minds can only notice the new and revolutionary, and because of this they quickly disregard anything that is deemed old and has no perceived value.

In management, Difference people tend to be self employed, and they do well working as journalists or as actors, or in any career that offers them constant change. Difference people make good business developers and are best managed with patience, a long leash and a firm steering hand. From a management point of view these people are most successfully influenced by highlighting the variety of experiences on offer within the working day and by guiding their focus to all the new pieces of information they have yet to perceive.


Always happy to try new ideas and approaches and to evolve their working style. Enjoy learning and training courses and will happily deal with new products, customers or clients.


Can be constantly unsettled; will create change for change’s sake; lack stability or focus.

Where do you fit on this scale?

What happens when your Meta programs clash with others?

In any environment, communication can break down. Meta programs may sometimes clash, and issues may not be addressed with similar understanding. For example, if someone with a “Through time” orientation begins working alongside an “In time” person, the Through time person will soon become annoyed.

Imagine both parties are working on the same assignment, with the same deadlines and the same scheduled meeting. How long do you think it would take the carefully organized, forever planning Through time person to become frustrated with the focused-on-the-moment In time person? Equally, how long would it be before the In time person became annoyed by the Through time person’s constant reference to time? From the In time person’s viewpoint, the Through time person obviously has better things to be getting on with and is simply distracting them both from their work with all this talk about something that doesn’t matter right now.

These types of conflict can happen within the other Meta programs too. It is difficult to influence the way other people choose to operate their Meta programs, but recognizing them can influence the way you choose to respond and react to them.

You may not be able to change someone else’s operating structure, but through the understanding of the Meta programs, you can choose to change the impact other people have upon you, and you can certainly choose to change the scale by which you operate yourself.

Coach’s notes

Sliding the scale

1. Spend a couple of minutes looking through your own list of your personal Meta programs and decide whether or not you think they are productive or counter productive in attaining your goals.

2. If you find that they are counter productive, look through the Meta programs and identify the qualities you would like to introduce to alter this behaviour. Write down some ideas of how you can begin introducing these new qualities into your daily life. How will you know when you are finally achieving the results you want?

3. Work towards lowering the scale number of the qualities you find are having a negative impact, and increase and introduce all of the qualities that you want to experience more of – those that you find provide you with a positive impact on your life.

Once you become aware of your own Meta programs, you can choose to uncover which ones are serving you well and which ones aren’t. Armed with that information, you can then learn to alter, change or introduce Meta programs that help you to create the results you want.

Go for it! What happens if you are operating a Meta program that is not serving you very well and is actually preventing you from achieving what it is you want? Your Meta programs have developed in response to certain situations over the years, but they are not set in stone. The key is becoming aware. If your personal Meta programs are counterproductive, change your scale slightly and introduce some of the qualities of your desired behaviour. And if you’re doing something that you find is not serving your needs – change it.







































































The Meta model was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder to identify categories of language patterns and gain a deeper understanding of an individual’s experience. Through this chapter you will be taught how to use the Meta model, one of the most powerful verbal tools in business. You will also learn how to spot your own and other’s limitations and explore different ways of approaching situations, in turn opening up more choices and options to you. The Meta model will help you to become more efficient and effective in both your professional and personal lives. This will help decrease conflict and misunderstanding and allow you to gain more specific, relevant results.