How To Understand the Way People Respond



“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Peter Drucker

Have you ever noticed how some people always argue, while others seem to always agree?

Have you noticed how some people seem to always over-react?

For yourself, have you noticed whether you automatically try to find ways to agree or disagree?

For example, do you try to find examples of how something might be true, or do you look for exceptions by default?

Welcome to NLP Meta-Programs

These default responses are NLP Meta-Programs in action.

NLP is simply Neuro-Linquistic Programming.  Think of NLP as the way you program your nervous system to behave.

Meta-Programs are patterns or tendencies.  They help us understand how people function in any given context.

You can also think of them as the primary programs that govern a person’s mental processes.

That’s what makes them “Meta.”  They are above and beyond.

Learn Meta-Programs to Understand People

You can improve your communication skills by learning NLP Meta-Programs.  They’ll help you understand the ways that people respond to people, data, things, and situations.

They’ll also help you understand why you respond the way that you do.

Worst case, they’ll help you keep your sanity, once you understand the patterns you see around you.

By developing an awareness of the patterns of how people tend to respond, you can develop your tolerance and appreciation for other communication styles, as well as develop your own flexibility.

In The Big Book of NLP, Expanded, Shlomo Vaknin shares more than 50 NLP Meta-Programs that help us understand our own Meta-Programs and the Meta-Programs other people use to make sense of their world.

In this post, I want to focus on the Competitive, Cooperative, Polarity, and Meta Meta-Program.  Once you understand this pattern,

you’ll gain tremendous insight into how you respond to information, as well as how those around you respond, and you can better blend your style as appropriate.

Competitive, Cooperative, Polarity, and Meta

We tend to have default responses when interacting with other people.  It might be competitive, where we play a game of “one-upmanship”, or to prove somebody wrong.

It might be cooperative, where we try to find ways to agree, or help somebody make their point, and explore it with them.

We might have a pattern where we polarize people, by taking the opposite position.

Or, we might take a more meta approach and look from the balcony view.

Vaknin writes:

“Meta-Programs represent tendencies of behavior and responses along a continuum, fluctuating and changing over time depending on the situational context.   We express ourselves in relation to people, data, things and situations on a number of ways.  These styles of expression include competitive, cooperative, polarity, and meta.

If a company that you worked at for a number of years announced their intention to merge with another, would you have no problem going with the flow and embracing the inevitable change?

Would you be opposed to the changes imposed on your life?

Perhaps you’d look beyond the facts and details of the merge and contemplate the reasons or factors that lead to it taking place?”

Competitive Response

According to Vaknin, people who adopt a competitive response:

  • Process the relevant thoughts, experience and feelings in terms of competition and comparison.
  • Tend to ask questions like, “Who do I consider to be the best, the first, the strongest …”, etc.
  • Can display a sense of excitement regarding any situation which they may be able to turn into a competition.
  • Have a Win/Lose mentality.

Cooperative Response

According to Vaknin, people who have a cooperative response:

  • Have an attitude of helping those around them to share the experiences at hand.
  • Tend to ask questions like, “What can I do to make this experience more meaningful for everyone involved?”
  • Do their best to secure a Win/Win outcome.

Polarity Response

According to Vaknin, people who adopt a polarity response:

  • Base their choice or response on opposing those that are presented to them … flipping to the opposite end of the relevant behavioral spectrum.
  • Will tend to respond with stress and tension in a calm environment for example.
  • Will find or create reasons why the situation they are presented with isn’t real or cannot possibly last, therefore choosing the other direction.
  • Enjoy competing and will therefore often adopt a competitive mode of behavior.

Meta Response

According to Vaknin, people who attempt a Meta response:

  • Evaluate situations at a higher logical level as a result of having thought about the situation at hand, and not just responding to it.
  • The more adaptable we become in our behavioral strategies, the more efficiently we will be able to switching between these various modes of communicating and emoting at will.

You can improve your ability to connect with others and communicate more effectively through self-awareness and flexibility.

To put this NLP Meta-Program into practice, see if you can notice other people’s style or preference: Competitive, Cooperative, Polarity, and Meta.

See if you can notice your own.

Play around with your style and see if you can get better results by adapting your style with different people.

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