Cold-Reading Metaprograms, NLP Article

      A student recently came up to me at the beginning of a seminar and expressed frustration over (a) not having enough magic bullets of persuasion, (b) not being able to magically know exactly what to say to people he hadn't yet spoken to, and (c) not automatically being the persuasive guy he wanted to be, no matter how many 'magic bubbles' he hallucinated around him and his persuasion subjects.

      After I stopped laughing along with him, I asked him "So you want me to tell you how to get past all that? Or do you think you already know how?" Note, I already knew the answer to this question, but I wanted him to dig his position in a little deeper.

      And sure enough, he further solidified his position, which I knew would be useful for me later on -- "No, I don't know, which is why I'm asking you, Jonathan. I've been trying for months on my own to get through that, and I haven't -- so I'm looking to you for some answers!"

      I said "OK, fair enough. Happy to help. So you want to become a more effective, targeted communicator. Let's start with this...

Want to Influence Others? Nix the bubbles, bub!

      A little history here. Some people have tried to create a high-level method of creating more rapport by hallucinating "golden bubbles" around themselves and other people. (I know, I know, it's laughable).

      Still, they can work, as weird as they sound. Bubbles are a great high-level approach ONLY IF you've already got the skills built into your entire neurology -- into your entire body. And weekend trainings, let alone learning on one's own, are not sufficient to ensure that. Bubbles are pretty much useless to most (more useless to older people) if they haven't gone through the process first of involving their lower body consciously in their rapport skills. Over time, the older people get, typically, the less they use & move their body in communication with other people. Kids are naturals at this, because they use their entire bodies in almost every action they take. So -- use the bubbles only after going through a rigorous multi-day rapport training with conscious effort to involve the whole body. Then, they'll work surprisingly well as a high-level trigger for rapport. If you haven't had such a training, use the conscious rapport skills you've heard or read about such as mirroring & matching. You'll get clearer results than you would from the bubbles."

      "Second, you don't automatically deserve anything you want. Deserving value comes from providing it. Providing it comes from gathering better information, and using that information wisely."

And next, get past the childish desire for "Magic Bullets."

      Then I told him "there are no magic bullets, & wanting magic bullets comes from a position of deprivation & scarcity, and that other people can sense that from a mile away... and they will build walls between them and you."

      I also told him "even though there's no magic bullets, there ARE powerfully persuasive perspectives, mindsets, and techniques, that -- when used & built upon a foundation of wanting to deliver ample value towards others, do work incredibly well. And that can help you walk through the hidden doorways of people's minds."

      That got him salivating.

      So I told him, "let's concentrate on the 2nd thing you said to me -- not being able to magically know exactly what to say to people you haven't yet spoken to."

      I asked him, "ever hear about metaprograms?"

      He said "Yes."

      I said, "OK, it doesn't matter to me who you learned them from, or how many you've heard there are; what matters is if you know how to figure them out. Do you?"

Do you know how to use NLP metaprograms to figure people out? Begin with Procedures vs. Options...

      He goes "Well, like if I ask a question, and someone tells me stories, I know they're procedurally-oriented, and if they give me lists of things, I know they're options-oriented...?"

      I said, "good, good! Yes, that's what I'm talking about. How about big chunk vs small chunk?"

      He said "If they use lots of details and focus on problems, they're small chunk, and if they use the 20,000-foot birds-eye-view, and use a massive visionary perspective -- they're big-chunk."

      Again I said "Good, good." He did seem to have some useful knowledge. So I stepped things up a bit. "And how often in real-world persuasion settings do you have an option to do complete metaprograms elicitations before you have to start persuading?"

      A pause ensued... "Ummm, not that often."

      I said, "Yup. And that's part of the challenge you face, making NLP more useful to yourself in real-world settings. So let's think about this from a different angle..."

"How would you elicit someone's contextual NLP metaprograms -- completely nonverbally?"

      He balked. "What, you mean, before they ever open their mouth?"

      I said "Yes, of course."

      Then he tried to hoist his limiting belief on me. "You can't do that."

      I handed him back his limiting belief. "Sure I can. It's you who can't do that, yet."

      Ever watch someone's pupils dilate, really quickly?

      He said, "I gotta know how to do that." Quick response!

      I said, "OK, I'll get you started. Here's 3 metaprograms you can elicit completely nonverbally. And even though we can elicit them nonverbally, before they speak, it's true we do have to observe them in response to information provided in some context. So either WE have to be speaking first, or, we have to observe them responding to other people communicating."

      He nodded, not quite getting it. When they nod quickly, that's them pretending to keep their mind open.

      "My point is, that we cannot NOT communicate. That even when people are communicating to US, we're responding, sometimes in obvious fashion, sometimes in extremely subtle fashion. And so does everyone else. So if we can calibrate to those responses, and interpret those responses well, we can read their current contextual metaprograms."

      He nodded more slowly, starting to get it.

NLP Metaprogram: Motivation Strategy

      "Take someone's motivation strategy -- Away-From, or Towards. This is the most obvious of them all. If I say something to you, and your head &/or upper body have a rapid micromuscular backing-away-from response which causes you to get more excited... Bingo. Away-from. If instead your head &/or upper body instantly moves forward and your face shows more excitement at that very same moment, Bingo. Towards. And what I do is -- I gather an overview of these responses over a short period of time, and take the average. Did you get more excited overall from away-from responses -- or more from towards responses? Because of course -- we're all capable of both. But people tend to rely more on one response than another -- in certain contexts."

      "Wow." He said. And I waited for that to sink in a while, then he asked a followup question: "So if I tell a disgusting story to someone, and their head backs away from me..."

      I had to interrupt him. "No, no, stop right there. Intentionally disgusting content, or, intentionally attractive content (like monetary subjects or romance/sex) will skew the results. You want to be speaking about things normally, on both sides of the metaprogram. Use away-from language yourself, use towards language yourself -- find out what they respond to most -- and how they respond to it."

      "Hmmm. OK, that makes better sense."

      "This can come into play immensely in business settings, such as corporate consulting & or when a sale is bring made, when businesses try to hide the decision maker in the room. They can't hide them from me, but they do so try!"

      He moved in towards me and jumped on that one. "Why can't they hide the decision maker from you?" I'd apparently engaged my student's towards response. Which I thought was useful since he began the conversation mired in away-from language.

      "Well, businesses know that if the decision maker is in the room, they're the only ones who'll get the attention from a consulting team. The rest of the group doesn't matter to the team. But to the decision maker, the rest of the group does matter -- how they respond to what's being offered is of paramount importance to the decision maker. So they often like to be present at key meetings, but remain silent or uninvolved."

      "Oh, hell yes, I've seen that happen. Makes sense."

      "So, they try a number of things to hide the decision maker. Sometimes the decision maker is introduced as a VP from another department (who later magically gets a transfer to that department!). Sometimes they're NOT introduced at all. Either way, it's obvious. You see, they want to hide the decision maker, not lie about him. If they lie about him, then hire you, they'll be seen as having been duplicitous, and they usually don't want that. They don't want to think of themselves as liars after all, just... sneaky."

      My student laughed. "You mean, like I do."

      "Something like that." I answered. "OK, let's move on to ..."

NLP Metaprogram: Procedures vs. Options.

      "How the hell would you ever be able to tell that nonverbally???"

      Jonathan: "Well, it's really obvious, if you know what to look for. And you've already seen this time & time again, but -- you probably paid absolutely no attention to it. Ever see someone thinking to themselves, but showing external signs of it? Like, for example, they're running down a set of instructions in their head, touching each fingertip on their left hand with their index finger from their right? Or what about when they look upward in mild confusion, look to the left, then the right, then back & forth again, and finally, oscillating real fast between the two positions? These are examples of procedures vs options. People who are highly options-oriented in any given setting, do not have any particular sequence of things they like/have to do. So they have some number of options, and they have to weigh those options until one choice stands out. They'll show signs of 'weighing' multiple choices. Like pointing to (or looking to) multiple places in space as they think, and bouncing back & forth around those positions. Or, having one choice in one hand, and the other choice in the other, and actually pretending to weigh them. That's options. Lastly -- if they go downward through a list, it's not a list of options, it's a procedure. Sometimes it won't use both hands, it'll be touching their thumb to their index finger, then middle finger, then ring finger, then pinky... followed by a nod. These are all signals of someone running through a procedure in their mind."

      "That is so cool. I've probably seen that hundreds of times."

      Jonathan: "What did I tell you?"

      Student: "Excellent."

      Jonathan: "And I phrased it all that way because you let me do so."

      Student: "Huh?" He didn't know what I meant.

      Jonathan: "Well, no matter how much of an expert you are at other things, no matter how much you're sure about things in other contexts, no matter how strong your 'internal frame of reference' is elsewhere, in this context, you allowed yourself to have an 'external frame of reference' with respect to learning NLP skills."

      Student: "OK, but... why is that significant?"

NLP Metaprogram: Frame of Reference.

      Jonathan: "That's another meta-program. Internal vs External frame of reference. Do you think it's useful for me as a trainer to spend much time training people with a highly INTERNAL frame of reference?"

      He started to grin.

      Jonathan: "In trainings, I want people to begin with a highly external frame of reference (i.e., the answers will come from external to themselves). Then I want them leaving for home at the end -- with a substantially greater reliance on an internal frame of reference."

      He grinned more.

      Jonathan: "So what do you think? What kinds of signals do you think indicate where someone's frame of reference is?"

      He said "I don't know yet, but I feel strangely good that you're asking me what I think."

      And it was my turn to smile, since I'd already begun adjusting his metaprogrammed response back to internal. "Well, it's pretty straightforward. Highly externally-framed people do not rush to judgement on what they're taking in. They just sponge from a source they view as an expert. Whereas highly internally-framed people will constantly evaluate what they're hearing as matching or mismatching what they already know or believe. So, tell me what kinds of signals do you think indicate where someone's frame of reference is?"

      Student: "I suppose... if they're constantly nodding yes or shaking their heads no or shifting their body language a lot as they listen to someone, they're probably internally framed."

      Jonathan: "Well done. And the other side of the equation?"

      Student: "I'd guess... if they maintain mostly a constant posture, either showing interest or not -- but not showing signs of rapid & premature judgement... then I'd guess they're willing to use an external frame of reference for at least a while."

      Jonathan: "Excellent."

      Sure enough, he'd learned enough to internalize the understanding that people cannot not communicate -- and that even while they're observing or listening to others -- they're usually "leaking" the signals that can tell us their current metaprograms.

      And that information, if interpreted correctly, can help us design appropriate language for their brains to absorb most readily.

So... in terms of the NLP meta-programs discussed herein...

      In the case of small chunkers, they'll appreciate the nitty gritty patterns & signals in this article.

      In the case of towards people, you'll all be wondering where you can use this to great effect! And in the case of away-from people, you'll all be grateful that you can change all those less-powerful or problematic circumstances into more empowering ones!

      In the case of procedural people, I've given you a series of things to look for in sequence (or not), within the context of a storyline (procedural). And in the case of options oriented people, you don't have to use that sequence, you can pick & choose which metaprograms to measure, according to what information is present at the time (options).

      In the case of big chunkers, they'll appreciate that bubbles work better AFTER conscious full-body-rapport training, and, they'll enjoy the higher view that all communication (verbal and nonverbal) has meaning that we can acquire & use.

      And in the case of highly internally-framed people, they'll either agree with everything I'm saying if they already know what I said is true, or, their limiting beliefs will convince them that I'm wrong, or, they may have found even more powerful ways than I know to use these observations, in which case they'll agree with what they know and disagree with what they already know is different. In the case of highly externally-framed people -- they'll all be floored at having a whole new way to gether information that can help tune their language towards others.

      I hope you've enjoyed this little journey into our minds... and how they work!

      Jonathan Altfeld

      P.S. If, as you've read this article, you know what I said is true -- but may not be sure as to why -- then I would encourage you to consider that I used "sleight of mouth" language patterns of persuasion to move my student from a self-limiting set of beliefs... to an empowering set of beliefs... and perhaps -- you might have taken some or all of that same ride along with the student in the story. Much of the work we do is most elegant, when it operates at the beliefs and belief system level. Often, changes made at the belief level... allow hosts of other difficult changes -- to occur almost magically. If you'd like to know more about these kinds of communication and these kinds of changes, please visit the following webpage to learn about.... BELIEF CRAFT.


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Hi Archibald,

Thanks for your feedback and I'm glad you loved the article.  I'm also glad you noticed the congruence between demonstrating while describing.  To me, that's a baseline.  A requirement for training.

I may be misinterpreting what you're asking, but questions like this are typical of self-learners (i.e., from home), or people who've attended trainings by trainers who couldn't really lead students to integrated mastery of the skills.  None of these patterns exist as solo filters or as a one-at-a-time analysis -- either in terms of a skilled NLP'ers awareness, or in terms of what we notice in other people's behavior.  They only exist as as a holistic composite of multiple things going on concurrently.  And to do blazingly effective NLP, they really can't be taken apart like this.

There is no one mindset, for example.  And people aren't just visuals, or auditories, or kinesthetics.  There is sometimes a "currently dominant" modality, but not everyone has this or displays it, and it's not always the same from context to context.  Some people are highly synesthetic (using multiple modalities at once), and if you're operating from an assumption that everyone has this one thing, then you will get lost or confused trying to find it.  Great NLP begins when awareness ramps up through the roof, and rules of thumb are thrown out, allowing us to calibrate to the person in front of us.

People sometimes respond to me by saying, well, at some point we have to have specific conscious understanding, and we need rules of thumb.  And I'd agree.  But expecting those rules of thumb to appear consistently is an enormous problem, because they pollute our experience of a real live person in front of us.  It creates the self-training dilemma:  You may never know what you're missing.

Case in point: procedural or options.  We can track how people seem to be, or what they prefer -- in the moment -- by listening to their style of communication.  Or by watching nonverbal behavior.  Do they tell stories?  With time as an important organizing factor?  They're more procedural.  Do they give you unordered lists?  Like bullet points?  Or choices which don't seem to be prioritized?  They're more options oriented.  Ever gotten confused by someone who gives you several different procedures (options FOR procedures)?  Or a procedure for picking amongst options (Procedures for Options)?  That happens too.

Online NLP courses utterly disappoint, because they're enabling wonderful people with great intentions, to think that absorbing these rules of thumb by themselves, is somehow going to make them a great NLP'er.  And I don't mean to diminish self-learners' efforts thus far -- and maybe they've taken live training, and maybe they plan on it at some point.  Maybe they have, but it was disappointing -- that happens too sometimes.  I would say to self-learners reading this:  keep seeking better & better live training experiences with people who can see past the apparent marketing need to keep oversimplifying our amazing art of conversational change and influence.

Eye access cues are amongst the most misunderstood and misapplied skills out there.  Often completely misinterpreted.  If you're using the very first eye glances that occur in a fraction of a second, that may actually be an eye access cue.  If the eyes bounce around and then fixate, that is NOT an eye access cue and may indicate visual accessing of pictures that have been placed in a certain (normally auditory or kinesthetic) spot.  Frequently misread by people who've taken online courses or who are avowed "self-study" enthusiasts.  And every time that standard chart is taught, as to what looking in each of those 6 directions is supposed to mean, bad trainers are propagating incompetence.

For more effectively connecting with people, I virtually never use eye access cues as useful indicators.  I use posture.  Breathing rate.  Speaking rate.  The words people use.  The amount of gestures people use and the type and speed of their gesticulation.  Any head tilt?  All these things and more can indicate which sensory modality is most dominant at the moment.  Sometimes many of those channels of information will agree, and one of the usually more accurate ones will be utterly in conflict.  And if you're only looking for one such signal, you're missing the big picture, and you'll never know when the one signal you're tracking is part of the fudge factor.  But those darn rules of thumb... those online courses giving simple tips... they try to make it sound so EASY!   But it's not easy, and rules of thumb lie like thieves.  The more easy it seems, the more people are missing.

Rules of thumb are good, going into exercise drills.  Students rapidly learn during exercises how many exceptions to those rules exist -- and only after mastering the exceptions do people start doing NLP more effectively in real-world scenarios.

For more of what you're asking about, yes -- I'm biases -- of course I recommend a live course with someone who will actively mentor you throughout; who runs a lot of exercise drills where they watch and listen and sense your performance, giving feedback throughout.  Not a big course where trainers talk AT you from a distance.

I'm sorry I don't indulge much in the way of requests for simple rules of thumb.  I will share in my own way, generously, here -- and will attempt to demonstrate and exemplify an artistic use of NLP communication skills and people-reading skills to help us succeed more through and beyond the complex multi-level experiences we have of and with other people.

Here's another way of saying it.  Our brains are limited to tracking 7 + or - 2 different signals or chunks of information within every organizing chunk.  So when we're tracking another person... we can keep track of a maximum of 7 (ish) details IF we're sorting for one thing or another.

Most self-taught NLP'ers (or badly trained NLP'ers) are sorting for 1 or 2 things at a time.

I'm saying, you have to work it up to 7 or more, before any of this is going to become profoundly effective and easy -- and THEN you have to take the leap to learning to use and trust your unconscious awareness and sensory acuity.  Going beyond the impoverished limit of just ~7 conscious bits of awareness.  That's when NLP becomes more like second nature.

Extraordinarily skilled NLP'ers have to expand their sensory awareness massively, and then learn to train and trust their unconscious minds... so they can track more like hundreds of bits of information, and know they're doing it well, and that important patterns will emerge if and when they occur.

And lest the "woo-woo police" jump on my comments about the unconscious mind -- I'm not saying taking a leap early will get anyone there.  We have to do the drills to get the skills -- hundreds, maybe thousands of times, with feedback and tuning from more experienced eyes & ears as often as possible.  THEN, and only then, does the brain chunk up on that skill-set -- to where we can trust our unconscious minds will take over and perform.

Not quite what you've been asking for, but then... I misread your question.  I interpreted it as asking for ways of mastering this material.  And that's a different sort of question than you asked, requiring a different sort of answer than you may have been hoping I'd give.

Best regards,

- Jonathan