Communication is about sharing concrete facts (i.e. something happening in reality) or thoughts and perceptions. For example, the topic of communication may be an exact description of something in reality for example (concrete fact) “the brown dog ran across the green grass”, or it may be centered on someone’s thoughts “I think management lacks vision and direction”. The difficulty then, is that often, people find themselves talking about thoughts and feelings without grounding their references in the real world. In other words, you may be listening to someone talk a lot without really having any idea what they are talking about. The meta model is a useful tool for getting specific and bringing the conversation back to reality.
Communication necessarily involves generalisations, deletions and distortions in language in order to simplify our thoughts and convey what we want to say. It’s normal. Also however, these generalisations, deletions and distortions are misrepresentations of reality and when taken at face value result in miscommunications.
What are Generalisations, Deletions and Distortions?
A distortion is when you witness something in reality but then assign it a different meaning. You make a conclusion that is not based on the true experience as it happened. Distortion occurs when we interpret evidence in a way that supports what we already think, rather than accepting evidence that contradicts what we believe. Generalisations also skew the facts by taking something that is true in one context and applying it to multiple contexts. In this case, we view something in one situation and assume it is true in every situation. Deletions are when we delete part of reality in our communication – for example If I say “my friend Bob never listens to me” I am deleting all of the occurances Bob has listened.
Generalisations, deletions and distortions obscure communication (and thinking) because they result in nondescript, vague language. This means that information is left out and the message conveyed lacks clarity. Generalisation, deletions and distortions obscure thinking because how we speak to others and language the world on the outside, is a reflection of how we are thinking on the inside.
Benefits of the Meta Model
One of the benefits of the meta model (used in NLP trainings) is that it allows us to improve our communication for better understanding and clarity. Many of us have experienced lengthy conversations that are so unclear and ambiguous, that we walk away with no more understanding of the situation than we had at the start of the conversation. When you learn how to apply the meta model, you learn to be specific so your communications have clarity. The meta model helps you to become more precise so that the people who are receiving what you have to say can understand what you are saying.
Another benefit of the meta model is that it prevents miscommunication. The meta model helps you provide information with clarity, and it can also help you to understand what has been said to you. Sometimes people are talking to each other and think they are talking about the same thing, but in reality, each is projecting different definitions and interpretations in regard to the same content. Even though these people thought they were discussing the same thing, they walk away with completely different understandings because each assumed their words had the same meanings.
The meta model is about getting specific. An easy way to know if the communication you are receiving is specific enough is to make a picture in your mind of what is being said to you without adding any details. If you cannot clearly see what is being discussed, you need to ask questions and drill down to specifics.
Understanding the Truth
When you communicate with distortions and generalisations, it is an indication that your thinking may lack clarity. This means that your state of mind and your emotions could become exaggerated because they are based on false information. When this happens, you can use the meta model to drill down and understand the truth. The meta model allows you to look at a problem for what it really is. When you have an issue that has been generalised and distorted, you need to reduce it to the specifics in order to reveal the truth. By asking the right questions, you can evaporate a problem that was simply a misrepresentation of reality. This is one of the most beneficial uses of the meta model.