Meta Model ‘Distortions’ (2): Lost Performatives

(Or ‘Value Judgements’ in Everyday English)

This continues the series on Meta Model ‘violations’ and the questions you can ask to investigate them. The series starts here.

Another distortion that we humans introduce is putting things into categories, such as: good or bad, useful or useless, great or terrible, effective or ineffective, helpful or harmful.

Why is that a distortion? Well, those categories are not there in the physical world; they are subjective evaluations that our mind makes, based on our own values and prejudices. Which means, of course, that some people will make different evaluations than we do. Is the music of Barry Manilow great, or awful? The answer depends on whom you ask.

But people often pronounce these judgments as if they are absolute objective truth, forgetting that judgments are always a matter of opinion. If we knew what standards they were using to judge, we might agree with them, or we might not; at least we would understand how they arrived at that judgment, and might be able to present new evidence to change their minds.

Notice that judgments like ‘brilliant’ or ‘hopeless’ are just opposite ends of a spectrum, and there are all kinds of shades in between. When people are in a strong emotional state, those nuances disappear; they might say “He is a hopeless salesman” or “She is a terrible manager” when a cooler, more objective assessment might place the person being judged nearer the middle of the spectrum. Value judgments matter, because they become part of your mental filters, and can influence the views of other people. If it becomes generally accepted that “she is a hopeless manager”, anything good in her performance is probably going to be screened out by confirmation bias.

So the question that you might ask yourself when you hear a value judgment is “By what standard are you judging?” or “How has this judgment been arrived at?” Those questions get the speaker to look again at the evidence criteria for their judgment, and may perhaps open the possibility of change. Notice the way that “How has this judgment been arrived at?” is less personal and so less challenging than “How have you arrived at this judgment?” so that’s the form I would go for in most cases.

The standard response question you will see in most NLP books to a value judgment is “Who says?” or “According to whom?” Remember that Bandler and Grinder originally modelled these patterns from a therapy context. Therapy clients sometimes inherited value judgments from their parents that they had never really examined, just parroting them as if they were universal truths. They didn’t say, “My father always said that I was good for nothing”, they just said “I’m good for nothing” – the original ‘performer’ of the judgment had been lost from their statement.

I must say that even in a therapy context, whenever I’ve asked that “Who says?” or “According to whom?” question, the client usually thinks for a bit and says, “Well, according to me!” So I’ve found “By what standard are we making this judgment?” to be a much more useful question, and even more so in a business context.

In a therapy context, reflecting back or paraphrasing the belief statement in a way that invites the person to take responsibility for it can be helpful: “So you’re saying that you’re good for nothing?” This can form a platform for further investigations or challenges; for example, in Richard Bandler’s Guide To Trance-formation he follows up the “So you’re saying that” paraphrase by asking the client the client “How do you know that?” – inviting the client to re-examine the belief against sensory experience.

Next in this series on Meta Model patterns: Cause and Effect

This is an extract from the book Practical NLP 2: Language: How to use presuppositions, chunking, the Meta Model and the Milton Model in practice. Check out all the 5 star reviews on Amazon!

© 2024, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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