What is Meta-Model Coaching

~By Michael Hall and Shawn Dwyer~

If you’re going to use the Meta-Model in coaching, you have to know what it is. So, what is the Meta-Model? In short and simple, it is a set of linguistic distinctions and questions. Therefore the distinctions identify particular kinds of semantic structures and the questions gives you a way to recapture the inner essence of meaning regarding what the person is trying to say. Most importantly, the distinction reveals a pattern in how the speaker is speaking. As you learn to recognize and identify that pattern, you now know what to ask to facilitate the meaning-making process. That is to say; to know, learn, and effectively use this model, simply think- distinction & question.

Transformational Grammar

Now the Meta-Model was developed from the much more formal Transformational Grammar (TG) model that Norm Chomsky invented in 1956. And this was the dominant model in Linguistics for many years. Then it was replaced. In fact, the very year that NLP made its public appearance, 1975, was the very year that Chomsky himself said that the TG model was inadequate to explain linguistics. After that he then gave it up … others, like George Lakoff, carried it on for awhile and also eventually rejected it. In other words, it was a nice stepping stone from the old Behaviorist view of Linguistics to the newer ways that have developed, the Cognitive Linguistics Models.

Anyway, that’s where it came from and that’s the origin of a lot of the weird names and terminology in the Meta-Model. In the same vein, John Grinder can be recognised for adding those! He was the one who has a speciality in TG and bring over into NLP such terminology as derivational search to referential index, lost performatives, nominalizations, etc. The good news is that you do not have to use that terminology and lose all your friends!

The Structure

The structure of the Meta-Model involves three categories: deletions, generalizations, and distortions. Using Korzybski’s metaphor of a map and the fact that the map is not the territory, think of these three categories as mapping processes. Certainly, when you make a map- you leave things out, you cannot put everything on the map (deletions). You also make broad strokes to represent the smaller details, you generalize things into categories (generalize). You also twist things around as the map you create is more of a caricature than a realistic representation (distortion). Here then is a summary of the distinctions.


1. Simple Deletions (characteristics left out)

2. Comparative and Superlative Deletions (unspecified relations)

3. Unspecified Referential Indices: Unspecified Nouns and Verbs

4. Unspecified Processes – Adverbs Modifying Verbs.

5. Unspecified Processes – Adjectives Modifying Nouns.


6. Universal Quantifiers (UQ)

7. Modal Operators (MO)

8. Lost Performatives (LP)


9. Nominalization (Nom.)

10. Mind-Reading (MR)

11. Cause-Effect (C-E)

12. Complex Equivalences (CEq.)

13. Presuppositions (Ps.)

For many, these distinctions sound like grammar. They are not! This is not even the field of Linguistics. This is neuro-linguistics. “What is the difference? What is neuro-linguistics?”

Neuro-linguistics is how language affects your neurology; therefore it is how your neurology processes your language.

So that means as you use language, you are deleting things, you are leaving all kinds of things out of your statement. After that, you are generalizing things, creating mental categories in which you are ignoring details. Above all you can be distorting what you are representing, sometimes usefully and sometimes harmfully. We all do. Your clients do. And because we do- when you meta-model your client, you help him express his meanings more fully and more precisely.

Semantic Patterns

As you know and recognize the linguistic distinctions, you recognize semantic patterns and you can then ask questions that facilitate a fuller expression of the person’s meanings. When you do this in coaching, both you and your client develop a fuller and more precise understanding of the meanings being expressed. In other words, clients often discover what they really mean. They come to know themselves better; they become better communicators. To clarify, you enable them to manage the different levels of communication more effectively.

In conclusion, the power of the Meta-Model is that when you become skilled in using it, you make language your servant rather than being a servant (and victim) of language. Now language can do your bidding. By way of contrast, most human beings are victims of their language. In other words what’s worse, they don’t even know it!

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