Meta programs

Relationship Filter – Sameness and Difference

The relationship filter is also known as the sameness difference filter or matching mismatching. This filter is an important part of our personality, together with our attitude to, and need for, change.

It influences how we compare information. With sameness or matching, we search for what things or situations have in common. With difference or mismatching, we notice how things are dissimilar.


relationship filter scale

The effect on personality can be dramatic. Do you know someone, who no matter what you say seems to disagree? When you suggest it is white and they insist it is black? Sometimes known as a polarity response, this can be frustrating at times, if you don’t know how to deal with it.

This filter is an important aspect of motivating others or yourself to change.

Eliciting the Relationship Filter

In this diagram, what is the relationship between the 3 rectangles? Do you notice how they are different or how they are the same?

relationship filter test

Another way is to find out how often things change things in a particular context. How often do they change jobs or houses for instance? What one person thinks is radical change may not be for someone else. I might stay at the same address, but completely redecorate every 2 years.

An extreme mismatching or matching filter deletes a great deal of information to notice only how things are different or what they have in common.

Sameness or Matching Relationship Filter

Someone who notices how things are the same looks for similarities and patterns. They might look at the test above and say, “They are all rectangles in primary colors.

In conversation, they will find similar examples, and seek agreement, and are therefore generally good at rapport. They have low tolerance for change and will do so slowly. They will feel the need for major changes in any given context every 15 to 20 years. Change can therefore be quite stressful.

One way to make change easier or to gain rapport is to emphasize the things that will stay the same. For example “Sure it’s a new school, but you will have the same subjects, the teacher has blond hair and is friendly like your other one and you can walk there in 10 minutes like you do now.”

In learning situations, analogies are useful. You are linking ideas with something they already know. When influencing, use words such as like, alike, same as, similar, identical, equally.


Extreme matchers can be very resistant to change, or not notice when circumstances have changed drastically. They can stay in unhealthy relationships or jobs “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know”.

Fear and the need for security usually underlie this pattern, so you need to make them (or yourself) feel safe and comfortable. Some cultures and families do not permit healthy disagreement.

Difference or Mismatching Relationship Filter

Shelle Rose Charvet suggests that 20% of the population use this pattern. Difference values revolutionary change, variety and newness. They have a low tolerance for, and resist stable or static situations. They need major change in any particular situation every 1 to 2 years and will often change for the sake of it.

They notice how things are different. They would look at the test above and say things like “The shapes are differently colored, the red one is in the top left, the yellow on the right hand side, and the blue one at the bottom. The yellow one looks thinner and is upright.”

Comparison words such as better, more, faster are indications of someone using a difference relationship filter.

A mismatching frame can be a very creative filter to put on, particularly if the task needs a revolutionary approach. Entrepreneurs are often the people who see how things can be different. It is great when you need a critic or devils advocate.

It can insert a reality check into an “everything is going to be wonderful” scenario. Depending on other filters, and how you frame things, it may not be so useful when ideas are not fully developed.


When combined with the specific end of the Global Specific or Chunk Size Meta Program, this is the nitpicker pattern. An extreme mismatcher might only see problems or focus on why things aren’t going to work. This is especially true if everyone else is in favor. They can ruin the most promising idea.

Always responding to the opposite of what others are doing or saying can make them open to manipulation (as well as unpopular). Not being blinded by popular opinion is one thing; swimming against the tide for the sake of it can be draining and counter productive.

Sameness then difference

Those who filter this way might look at the test above and say, “There are 3 shapes the same size, all in primary colors. 2 are lying down and one is standing up.” They first notice the similarities then what is different.

They prefer gradual change – improvements and evolution over a longer period. They need change every 5 to 7 years.

Difference then sameness

Those who filter this way might look at the test above and say” The shapes are different color, one is standing up and 2 are lying down. They are the same shape and size”

This filter likes change and variety. They are happy when they believe things are noticeably evolving. They dislike routine and will need major change in any particular context every 3 or 4 years. They do not like revolutionary change.

Changing the Relationship Filter

Consider that you need to be able to stand back to compare things (be dissociated). All Meta program preferences evolve from imprinted experiences and decisions about these. You can loosen extremes with Time Line work and NLP Anchoring to resolve negative associations or expand positive ones.

NLP Reframing can overcome the need to change the filters. It is the perception that things are changing radically (or staying the same) not the reality.

If you are looking for variety and noticing how things are different, they don’t seem so static. If you are standing back far enough (metaphorically), sorting globally, or using longer periods, even very dynamic situations can seem stable.

Change many small things instead of making large disruptive changes. Make change itself a stable habit. For example “Every day is the same, I change 3 things”.

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