Meta Model ‘Distortions’ (3): Cause and Effect

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

We have met the cause and effect relationship before in linguistic presuppositions, and the tip-off words are exactly the same: the verb ‘to make’, or other words that mean the same thing. Essentially this is a sign that someone is not ‘at cause’.

People will sometimes say things like “He makes me angry”, or “She upset me”, or “That woman’s bangles clicking as she types are driving me nuts.” They feel, for that moment at least, like the ‘locus of control’ is outside of them, and other people or external events are responsible for the way they feel. Since the cause is outside of them, in their map of the world they can’t do anything to change it, so they feel powerless and stressed.

In coaching for anger management, where people seek help because they don’t have much control over their impulses, you get client statements like “I had to hit him… because he looked at me.” The emotional reaction and the behavioural response are so automatic that the person feels as if what the other person did caused their action.

So if we were coaching that person, or even challenging our own internal dialogue if we say things like that to ourselves, what could we ask that could widen the gap between the stimulus of the external event and the response?

Try this: “How did that external event cause you to respond in that way?” – or more simply, “How does A cause B?” Answering that question will get people to examine their own processing, and maybe realise that they do have some choices.

This cause and effect pattern doesn’t just crop up in a personal development or therapy context. It shows up in a work or business context where alternative responses have been ruled out, or have never been considered: “Market conditions have forced us to cut back production” or “We won’t be trying anything new until sales improve.”

In effect, the speakers have narrowed down their focus to one little bit of their map of the world, possibly excluding other viable choices that are available in other parts of their map.

Again, answering the question “How has this caused that?” can get the person to re-examine how they got to the conclusion that this is the only choice, and maybe get them to consider some other options that they had missed.

Notice how the cause and effect relationship is sometimes presupposed rather than explicit: “We won’t do B until A happens”, As long as A, then B”, While A is true, we will do B”. Sometimes that implicit cause and effect is worth questioning, to open up more choices: “How is B dependent on A?” or “What’s the relationship between B and A?”

Want to know all about NLP language patterns? This is the book you need: Practical NLP 2: Language

© 2024, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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