How To Use the NLP Precision Model to Cut Through Fluff



“Concision in style, precision in thought, decision in life.” — Victor Hugo

The precision model is a tool for overcoming some of the most common language pitfalls.

When your language is fluffy or when somebody else’s language is fluffy, it can be difficult to take effective action, because you don’t really understand what the problem is.

Using the precision model, you can clarify people’s distortions, deletions, and generalizations, while keeping rapport.

In Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement, Anthony Robbins writes about using the precision model to improve your ability to cut through fluff and get more actionable insights in any situation.

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Generalizations get in the way of effective action. If you don’t have the specifics, it can be tough to really collaborate on the problem or identify relevant, effective actions.
  • Use precision to improve sharing mental maps. If you can create a similar mental map to the person you’re communicating with, you improve your chances of effective collaboration. The closer the map approximates the real territory, the more valuable it is.
  • Precision helps reduce ambiguity. I regularly have conversations with people that are using generalizations, but they actually have something specific in mind. These generalizations create ambiguity. I find that if I ask the right questions, I can very quickly find the source of the issue and move forward. In other cases, I find that the person doesn’t actually have a clear picture. Exposing this helps them start to think of more concrete examples. This reduces their own ambiguity and helps them get unstuck.
  • Only use it when you need to. While the precision model is effective, you don’t want to create friction with others by questioning their every statement. This is an important distinction. The precision model isn’t for proving other people wrong or exposing their ignorance; it’s to help you better understand another person’s mental map, or clarify your own. It’s a way to cut through fluff and turn insight into action.

The NLP Precision Model as Shared by Tony Robbins

You can use your right and left hand to remember the keys to precision. Robbins outlines the roles your fingers play:

Finger Left-Hand Right-Hand
Pinky All? Every? Never? Universals.
Ring-Finger What would happen if you did? What causes or prevents? Should, Shouldn’t, Must, Can’t.
Middle-Finger How specifically? Verbs.
Pointer-Finger Who or what specifically? Nouns.
Thumb Compared to what? Too much, Too many, Too expensive.


Common Types of Imprecision:  Deletions, Distortions, and Generalizations

These are some common types of imprecision:

  1. Universals. Universals are fine when they are true. For example, you might say that all people need oxygen. Universals aren’t good when we go from a limited truth to a generalized untruth. For example, you might hear noisy kids in the street and say that kids today have no manners. It’s a generalization to imply all kids have no manners.
  2. Should, Shouldn’t, Must, Can’t. These statements are limiting and paralyzing. Worse, they are often generalizations. Generalizations get in the way of effective action. For example, if you tell yourself you can’t do something, you give yourself an excuse not to try.
  3. Verbs. Clarifying verbs can reveal useful information about underlying actions. For example, if somebody tells you they feel depressed, they are just describing their state. That’s not very actionable. It’s more actionable when you find out what they do that makes them feel depressed. For example, their depressed state may be from the way they carry their themselves and/or their very specific thought patterns.
  4. Nouns. If you hear unspecified nouns (people, places, or things), that’s fluffy language. For example, somebody might say, “they never understand me.” That’s not very actionable, if you don’t know who “they” are. You need to know the “who specifically” and the “what specifically.”
  5. Too much, Too many, Too expensive. These phrases are a form of deletion.

How To Use the Precision Model

To use the precision model, you bring your two fingers together and you ask clarifying questions:

  1. Universals. When you hear a universal statement that’s fluffy, such as all or every or never, bring your right and left pinkies together. Your right pinky is “Universals.” Your left pinky is “All? Every? Never?” Ask clarifying questions such as, “Are all kids ill-mannered?”, “Is every situation really the same?”, “Do you employees never work?” … etc.
  2. Should, Shouldn’t, Must, Can’t. When you hear limiting statements, either your own self-talk or somebody else’s, bring your ring-fingers together. Your right ring-finger is “Should, Shouldn’t, Must, Can’t.” Your left ring-finger is “What would happen if you did? What causes or prevents?” Ask clarifying questions such as, “What would happen if you could?”, “what prevents you from doing that?” … etc.
  3. Verbs. When you need clarity on what actions lead to the end state, bring your middle fingers together. You right middle-finger is “Verbs.” Your left middle finger is “How specifically?” Ask clarifying questions such as, “How specifically does that happen?”, “What specifically do you do that causes that?” … etc.
  4. Nouns. When you aren’t sure who or what is performing the action, bring your pointer-fingers together. Your right pointer-finger is “Nouns.” Your left pointer-finger is “Who or what specifically?” Ask clarifying questions such as, “Who doesn’t understand you?”, “who specifically are they?”, “what specifically is causing that concern?” … etc.
  5. Too much, Too many, Too expensive. When you don’t know what the basis of comparison is, bring your thumbs together. Your right thumb is “Too much, Too many, Too expensive.” Your left thumb is “Compared to what?” Ask clarifying questions such as, “My vacation is too much time away from work compared to what?”, “My project is too expensive compared to what?” … etc.

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  1. JD,

    Great article. I am ceaselessly amazed at the power of words and context in which we use them on others. Nonetheless, most of us are unaware of language that we use to its fullest power. Ignorance is the biggest risk to have.


  2. JD,

    You recently left a comment on my blog,so I came to see yours. Very impressive. I just finished reading this post, and am subscribing in a reader so I can catch up on your older ones.

    I like how your using your blog to teach.

  3. Hey JD,
    Do you also provide some thing on how to learn other language like french…??
    afterall you said that knowledge is power!!

  4. Hey James —

    Tim Ferriss has an interesting post on learning languages

    I think there’s a key difference whether you want to be great at writing it, reading it, speaking it, …etc. For example, flash cards will help you spell and recognize words, but not speak it. Immersing yourself in it, such as reading comic books in the language will help you read it in context. You can join a club or find friends that speak the language to get better at speaking it.

    More tips:
    – Friends I know swear by RosettaStone software for learning languages.
    – If you want to develop a foreign accent that blends in, model from actors/actresses. They use training that you can get from bookstores.
    – To dramatically speed up your learning time, spend time where they speak the language. (trial by fire)

    If you can find an effective tutor, that’s the way to go. Nothing beats a personal mentor.

  5. Thanx a lot j.d,
    that was some useful tips.
    My friend also gave me few resources among which i picked up the best one. Learn french
    But dont you think that without a personal tutor also one can learn something new.?

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