Meta Model ‘Distortions’ (4): Complex Equivalence

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

How to Identify Complex Equivalences

Remember our mind-read example, where a prospective client says “I know you’re just trying to manipulate us into buying something we don’t need” and we ask, “What gave you that idea?” or “How do you know?”

In answer to that question, the prospective client might say: “As soon as you started using that NLP jargon, I knew I couldn’t trust you.” Now first of all, you would never find yourself in this situation, because why would you use NLP jargon with anyone who isn’t trained in NLP? But more importantly, they’re giving you an insight into their thought processes. In their minds, there’s an equivalence that says something like “NLP is manipulative”, or “Using NLP jargon means this person is trying to bamboozle me”. Complex equivalences usually come out in the form “A is the same as B” or “A means B” – where A and B are two different things. The giveaway is the word ‘is’ or the word ‘means’ – though sometimes in the real world, as in the example of “As soon as you started using that NLP jargon, I knew I couldn’t trust you” they don’t make it easy for you by resolving it into exactly that format.

By the way, if you question a mind-read, the answer will usually come as some form of complex equivalence. One question usually won’t clear everything up – you listen to their response, check for any Meta Model patterns, and use an appropriate question in response.

How to Question (or ‘Challenge’) a Complex Equivalence

The question that should be occurring to you here is “How is A equivalent to B?” or “How does A mean B?” So in this case, “How does using NLP jargon mean you can’t trust me?” Of course you probably wouldn’t ask it straight out like that – you would add softeners like “If you don’t mind me asking…” or “Help me out here, I need you to explain…” or just not ask the question out loud at all, but just file it away as useful information about the person.

What this pattern gives you when you hear it is an idea of how this person categorises things, or the meaning they place on particular events – in other words, how some bit of their map of the world is put together. If someone says “Time is money”, they’re telling you pretty much all you need to know about their attitude to time.

People’s complex equivalences are set up by experiences they’ve had at different points in their lives, by what they’ve been taught, and people they’ve met, books they’ve read, even films and TV shows they’ve seen that have made a big impact on them.

Complex Equivalences Can Affect Relationships

In the context of relationships, you can get problems when people have different complex equivalences. If one person in the relationship might be thinking “He never brings me flowers, he doesn’t love me”; to the other person, love might mean keeping them safe and working hard to put food on the table. Love is a ‘nominalisation’, an abstraction, and there are many different ways of expressing it. Flower, chocolates, romantic cards to one person; protecting and providing to another person. So people in a romantic relationship need to find out what the complex equivalences for being loved are for their ‘significant other’, and make sure that from time to time they remember to do the things that make that person feel loved.

The same principle applies for working relationships. I used to have a boss who was a big fan of the bestselling business book The One Minute Manager. When he wanted to show me I’d done something well, he used to pat me on the shoulder and say “Well done!” Unfortunately, for me, getting that from him was a complex equivalence for being patronised. So if you want to show your colleagues or direct reports that you value them in a way that’s meaningful to them, you need to find out what their complex equivalences for being valued are, rather than just using your own and hoping they will work. How will you know if it is working? Pay attention to the other person’s response.

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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