Book Summaries

Figuring out People: Reading People using Meta Programs

By L. Michael Hall, Bobby B. Bodenhamer

Figuring out people is something we all do. We want to know what makes people behave as they do, what their intentions are, and more importantly, to predict what they are likely to do. This important book about Meta Programs goes beyond slotting people in categories.

Check out Figuring Out People: Reading People Using Meta-Programs at Amazon

It may come as a surprise, but our personality is a mental construct developed as a coping mechanism. It is a stable way of perceiving and behaving. Personality is a description of a set of behaviors and states that get evoked in particular contexts.

Meta Programs

Meta Programs describe our habitual style of noticing, thinking, emoting, sorting, valuing, choosing and behaving. They tell us what to delete from our awareness and what to attend to. They are the basis of our strategies and the roles we play.

Thinking in terms of traits makes things static and unable to see how we create our personal reality.

Meta programs reflect our values. We come to value a particular way of thinking and devalue its opposite.

Knowing Someone’s Meta programs

Understanding others and their world can increase our ability to influence and persuade, but also prevent them causing us trouble. We can make informed guesses about someone’s Meta programs in a particular context by paying attention to certain cue words, body language.

Modeling expertise and best practice discovers which Meta programs are vital for particular types of tasks. For instance, quality control needs the ability to work with detail/specifics also known as Global Specific or Chunk Size Meta Program (program 3) to mismatch also known as the Relationship Filter – Sameness and Difference (program 4) and be pessimistic (program 6)


By understanding our own Meta programs, we can change processes and strategies that aren’t working for us. By making a conscious choice, and directing awareness to what we normally delete we can use a different style.

Dr Hall gives six different patterns for changing Meta programs, including the use of Time Line Therapy and NLP Anchoring

Maps of reality

We relate to the world indirectly through our maps. Research has shown that only 20% of the information we use to create perception comes from the outside. That 80% of information the brain works with is already present.

We delete,distort and generalize both with our senses and with our language. It’s the meanings and interpretations we make of events, not the events themselves that cause us to think and feel like we do.

Mental Meta Programs

Attending, thinking, representing, sorting, perceiving and conceptualizing. We create our understanding of the world by inputting, processing and outputting.

  1. Representational SystemsVisual System Processing,Auditory System Processing,Kinesthetic System Processing,Gustatory System Processing,Olfactory System Processing
    This is our most central Meta program.
  2. Sensing Intuiting
    Sensing uses our senses as we gather and process information. Intuiting moves through the world mind reading and using meaning to determine facts.
  3. Scale: General to Specific
    We can package information in various sizes.
  4. Relationship Comparison: Sameness (matching) and Difference (mismatching) 
    Is how we work with and compare data. Do we notice how things are the same, or how they are different?
  5. Information staging: Counting and Discounting
    Is what and how we foreground and background things.
  6. Direction – Optimistic and Pessimistic
    Is a powerful pattern, which can affect us significantly in all areas of life.
  7. Classification Scale: Either/or and Continuum
    As kids we think broadly and not in either/or terms.
  8. Nature: Linear and Systemic
    Linear thinking sees change as rare, hard and painful. Non-linear thinking uses systems thinking to think operationally.
  9. Screening and Non screening
    How much of the environment are we able to screen out?
  10. Philosophical and Practical
    Philosophical why focuses on origin and source. The practical how is purpose, use and solution focused.
  11. Communication Channel: Verbal and Non-verbal
    Do you pay attention to what people say or how they say it?
  12. Durability: Impermeable and Permeable
    This is about how we process ideas, beliefs and values in terms of their influence on us.
  13. Causation
    These are our different explanations about how things come to be. It is what kinds of causation we notice.
  14. Closure/Non Closure
    Can we live comfortably with the unfinished?
  15. Information kind: Quantification and Qualification
    Do you favor measurements or meaning?.
  16. Stream of consciousness: Focused or diffused
    Do you focus in a direct concentrated way or scatter attention?
  17. Conventional: Conformist and Non Conformist
    How we think about fitting in with groups and getting along with people
  18. Deliberate/Slow and Witty/Quick
    Do you make up your mind quickly or deliberately?

Emotional and Social Patterns

This group of patterns is about emotional states and power.

  1. Convincer representation: Looks right, sounds right, feels right, makes sense
    How do we become convinced about the value, importance or significance of something?
  2. Movie Position: Associated (feeling) and dissociated (thinking)
    Do we step into the pictures we create, or observe them?
  3. Exuberance and Intensity: Surgence and Desurgence
    Experiencing the movie doesn’t tell us how much we will feel it or the degree we will surge forth with energy
  4. Stress Coping: Aggressive and Passive
    How do you cope and think/feel when stressed or challenged?
  5. Authority: Internal and External
    Do we look inside or outside ourselves for permission to do things?
  6. Attention: Self Reference and Other Reference
    Do you mostly put your attention on the needs of others, or your own needs? Do we focus our attention on we think, feel and want, or on what others want?
  7. Emotional Containment: Multi directional and Uni-directional
    This is how we experience and express emotions in terms of focus or diffusion
  8. Rejuvenation: Introvert Extrovert
    How do we recharge our batteries when we are tired or stressed?.
  9. Somantic Response: Reflective to Inactive and Active to Reactive (Action Filter)
    This program relates to our level of activation when talking or listening.
  10. Social Presentation: Artful and Artless
    Artful is shrewd and socially correct. Artless is genuine with fewer social ambitions.
  11. Dominance: Power, Affiliation and Achievement
    From David McClelland’s model. How you adapt to the power moves of others?
  12. Work Style: Independent, Team Player, Manager, Bureaucrat
    How we get tasks accomplished and work with other people.
  13. Change adaptor: Closed or Open to change; Late-Medium-Early Adaptors
    Do we embrace change, or fight it?
  14. Attitude: Serious and Playful
    These are two very different ways to filter life, self, others, work, hobbies and the world
  15. Persistence: Impatient/Reckless and Patient/Persistent
    Patience leads to persistence, while pressure frequently induces impatience, which undermines persistence.

Conation – Choosing, Willing and Deciding

Will is the sense of choice, awareness of options and the ability to choose. There are two aspects, that of intending (what we want and value) and attending (focusing on the object of our desire)

  1. Convincer Demonstration: Number of times, Length of time
    How long does it take to become convinced (pattern 19)? How many times does someone have to see, hear, do or read something before she is convinced it looks, sounds, feels right or makes sense?
  2. Motivation Direction: Toward and Away From
    Moving both toward and away from can increase our choices and motivational power.
  3. Operational Style: Options Procedures
    How do we move through life, handle things – organize and orient ourselves?
  4. Judging Perceiving
    How do we adapt ourselves to life?
  5. Modal operators: Necessity, Possibility, Desire, Impossibility
    What kind of personal world do you live in? Is it one of rules, obligations and prohibitions, or desires and possibilities.
  6. Preferences: People, Place, Things, Time, Activity, Information and Systems
    These are our preferences for what we like and want to do. They show up as our peak experiences, primary interests and motivations.
  7. Goal striving: Skepticism, Optimization and Perfectionism
    How do we think about and choose goals?
  8. Buying: Cost, Time and Quality
    Our buying strategy typically involves tradeoffs between cost, time and quality.
  9. Social Convincer: Distrusting Suspicious and Trusting Naïve
    What are our concepts about trusting people?
  10. Interactive: Competitive and Cooperative
    Do you see interactions as win/lose or win/win?
  11. Directness: Inferential and Direct
    How much context do you need to understand the meaning of a communication?
  12. Management: Control, Delegation and Collaboration
    How do we get something done that involves others?
  13. Risk Taking: Fearful and Embracing
    What is your awareness and experience of risk, your response to novelty and potentially dangerous things?
  14. Decisions: Cautious and Bold
    How do you make decisions? How much do you weigh the pros and cons?

Semantic or conceptual Meta Programs

These are higher-level Meta programs. They determine how we perceive reality.

  1. Self Experience: Mind, Emotion, Will, Body, Role, Spirit, Dis-Identified
    How do you experience or define yourself? What do you identify with?
  2. Self Instruction: Compliant and Strong Willed
    How do you respond when someone tells you something, give orders or instructions?
  3. Self Confidence: Low and High
    Self-confidence relates to our competence, faith in self, skills, behavior and actions. See Dragon Slaying
  4. Self Esteem: Conditional and Unconditional
    Self-esteem refers to our belief in our sense of worth. It is the appraisal of our value. See Transforming Your Self – Becoming who you want to be
  5. Self Integrity: Conflicted and Integrated
    How well do you live up to our ideal self?
  6. Responsibility Sort: Over and under responsible
    Responsibility is the ability to respond.
  7. Ego Strength: Stable and Unstable
    This involves the strength of our sense of self to face reality and cope with things as they are. It is our inner resources, sense of power and confidence.
  8. Morality: Conscientious and Unconscientious
    How do we evaluate behaviors and actions in terms of right and wrong?
  9. Self Monitoring: Low external and high internal
    How well do you know yourself? Do you understand your emotions, intentions, needs and wants?
  10. Time Zones: Past, Present and Future
    Time is a construct; we represent and then compare events in our mind.
  11. Time experience: In-time – Experiencing Life in the Present (random) and Thru-time – learning from experience(sequential)
    How do you code your sense and duration of historical time?
  12. Quality of life: Doing, having and being
    Is your life more about doing, having or being?
  13. Values – what is significant and meaningful
    What are the ideas we believe in? We appraise things and give them value. Our values underpin our Meta programs and frames. We learn to value the things that give us pleasure and pain.

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