What are Thinking Styles (Meta Programs)?

Meta Programs are thinking patterns. For instance: Are they focussed on the details or on the big picture? Or: Do they want to achieve things, or do they want to avoid problems? You can recognise people’s meta programs in what they talk about and how they talk about it.

Meta Programs combined with values make up someone’s mindset. Their mindset determines their  behaviour and their emotions. And those, in turn, determine their results.

Synonyms for ‘Meta Program’

  • Meta Programs
  • Thinking patterns
  • Thinking Style Qualities
  • Ways of thinking
  • Mindset elements
  • Cognitive-perceptual preferences

List of Meta Programs measured by MindSonar

Set 1: Proactive versus Reactive
Proactive = a preference for acting quickly and taking the initiative.
Reactive = a preference for waiting, considering, and reflecting.

Set 2: Towards versus Away from
Towards = a focus on achieving goals
Away From = a focus on avoiding problems.

Set 3: Internal Reference versus External Reference
Internal Reference = using one’s own standards in evaluations.
External Reference = using other people’s standards in evaluations.

Set 4: Options versus Procedure
Options = a preference for many different possibilities.
Procedure = a preference for step-by-step planning.

Set 5: General versus Specific
General  = a focus on the broad overview
Specific = a focus on the small details.

Set 6: Matching versus Mismatching
Matching = a focus on what is good and correct.
Mismatching =  a focus on what is bad and incorrect).

Set 7: Internal locus of control versus External locus of control
Internal locus of control = a focus on how someone influences their circumstances)
External locus of control (focus on how someone’s circumstances influence them).

Set 8: Maintenance versus Development versus Change
Maintenance = a preference for things staying the same.
Development = a preference for gradual change.
Change = a preference for fast and radical change.

Set 9: People versus Activity versus Information
People = a focus on people and what moves them
Activities = a focus on activities being done
Information = focus on information; facts and figures.

Set 10: Concept versus Structure versus Use
Concept = a focus on essentials and principles.
Structure = a focus on relationships between elements.
Use = a focus on practical applications.

Set 11: Together versus Proximity versus Solo
Together = a preference for working closely together with shared responsibility.
Proximity = a preference for mutual support with individual responsibility.
Solo = a preference for working alone).

Set 12: Past versus Present versus Future
Past = a focus on past events.
Present = a focus on the “here and now”.
Future = a focus on future events.

Set 13: Visual versus Auditory versus Kinesthetic 
Visual = a focus on images and movies.
Auditory = focus on sounds and words.
Kinesthetic = focus on feelings and movement.

If you want to see examples of these patterns in famous quotes, click here.

How do thinking style, filters, feelings and actions work together?
There is a dynamic relationship between thinking (meta programs and Graves drives), perception, emotion and behaviour.

  • How your mindset influences your perception and vice versa
    Mindset, consisting of thinking styles (Meta programs) plus motivational types (Graves drives), determines perceptual filters; what someone does or does not notice. And it works the other way around too: once in place, these filters tend to strengthen the thinking style and the motivational type they are based on. For example: someone uses the meta program ‘Procedure’. They think in terms of sequences that need to be run in a certain order. So when they look at a desk they will notice a stack of manuals. Manuals are full of the kind of procedural information that they like. If they would have had the meta program ‘Options’ active, they would probably not even have noticed these manuals.

  • How mindset and perception determine your how you feel
    Mindset plus the resulting perceptual filters affect somebody’s mood and emotions and vice versa. For example: Someone is working with a particular household appliance and they are focused on ‘Procedure’. They encounter a problem. They feel frustrated. Then they find the appliance’s manual on the kitchen drawer. They start to feel better: “Ah, there must be a solution somewhere in there!”

  • How your mindset, perception and mood determine your behavior 
    In the same example: The person sees the manual. Because they are focusing on ‘Procedure’, a manual with step-by-step how-to information makes them feel better. So with a sigh of relief they take it off the shelf and start reading (behaviour). They figure out how to solve the problem. Now they feel satisfied. At the same time this emotion reinforces their meta program (Procedure) and their Graves Drives (Blue for ‘doing things as they ought to be done’  and orange for ‘Being successful and winning’).

Meta programs and NLP
Meta Programs originated from NLP (‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’), a model for studying and transforming subjective experience. NLP was developed from the late seventies of the last century in the USA, by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. For the development of NLP they borrowed concepts from: 

  • Fritz Perls (Gestalt Therapy)
  • Milton H. Erickson (Hypnotherapy)
  • Virginia Satir (Family therapy)
  • Alfred H. Korzybski (Linguistic Philosophy)
  • Vaihinger (Philosophy of ‘As-if’)
  • Miller, Galanter and Pribram (Cybernetics)
  • Gregory Bateson (Human evolution)

Helping a Professional find their Dream Job

Sometimes talented professionals don’t fit in a given corporate culture. A common response is to doubt oneself and try to fit in. Fortunately, this professional did a MindSonar profile.

During the intake he told the MindSonar professional that he had had previous jobs that ‘fitted like a glove’. He felt happy, appreciated and was able to contribute. His last two jobs, however, had not been a great success. He felt his managers didn’t trust him and he was making a lot of mistakes. Overlooking his previous job experiences, he noticed the ‘missing ingredient’: the feeling that there was a safety net while learning.   

In his MindSonar profile he focused on a previous job when he had a 100% ‘safety net experience’. He discovered that ‘autonomy’ and ‘positive feedback’ were very important criteria for him to feel proud of his professional abilities. MindSonar helped him to understand the unique combination of meta programmes that supported his “100% safety net experience”. A combination, that immediately explained why he didn’t fit in with the present corporate culture: this was not their dominant way of thinking. 

He rewrote his resume, reconsidered his job outlook and found  an authentic way of presenting himself during job interviews (focusing on his uniqueness). He was successful: he found his dream job within a few weeks!

The MindSonar professional running this project was Jascha Kamstra (Netherlands). Look her up in the Registry.    

Supporting a Bank developing an Entrepreneurial Attitude

A large Belgian insurance bank defined a new corporate strategy, in which it was important for their insurance brokers to develop a more entrepreneurial attitude.

A central factor in this development was the relationship between the insurance brokers and the local insurance agents in the community. The company defined a list of key competencies for their brokers related to dealing with these agents.

All brokers were profiled with MindSonar. Surprisingly, after a statistical analysis, it turned out that there was no significant relationship between thinking style, criteria, and key competencies on the one hand and sales volume on the other hand. Further analysis revealed that this had to do with the targets that were being set. Because targets were set at a relatively low level, their MindSonar profile did not make a lot of difference. It did not matter much how brokers thought or what they found important. The volume of sales was determined mostly by demand from the local insurance agents and the efforts of the brokers seemed to have little to do with it.

This finding led the company to change the system of setting targets. After targets were adjusted, thinking style did make a difference. A training program was developed in which brokers were trained in those competencies that their MindSonar profile showed them to be lacking in.

For this project the company won a prestigious training award.

The MindSonar professional running the project was Chris Minne (Belgium). Look him up in the Registry.

How a Mining Company Solved an Internal Conflict

A mining company had serious communication problems in their community relations team. This problem persisted, even after several group trainings and coaching sessions. The majority of the team members had great difficulty with one person. This person had even been nicknamed “Don Pesimo” (“Mister Horrible”) because every time they proposed a solution, he would disagree and point out everything that could go wrong with that proposal.MindSonar was filled out by all team members and a workshop was organised explaining Meta Programs and Graves Drives. At the end of the workshop the team scores were discussed. The team and the leader of the company, who was also present, could clearly see that their predominant Meta Program was ‘matching’ (focusing at what is good and correct), except for “Don Pésimo”, who scored very high on mismatching (focusing at what is not good and incorrect).Simply explaining to them that their teammate was not a negative person, but rather using a different thinking style, was very helpful. He was relabelled as an internal consultant, being the one person with the ability to show them the dangers and pitfalls they could not see.

Today this person sits at the head of the board of directors when they meet. He has an important role in evaluating both team decisions and team processes.  The MindSonar professional running this project was Mónica Castañeda (Peru). Look her up in the Registry.

Debt Collectors getting Results in a Socially Responsible Way

Flanderijn is a major debt collection agency in the Netherlands. In recent years debt collection has changed. Creditors used to only be interested in getting their money as quickly as possible. Today most creditors feel a social responsibility too. So there has been a change from “When do I get paid?” to “What’s happening with my customer?”

Debt collection is done most successfully by phone. At Flanderijn, on a daily basis, almost 400 employees have telephone contact with the customers of their clients. It is not an easy job. Most people and companies pay their bills. If they don’t, there is some kind of problem. So most of the time the employees work under stress and sometimes they face aggression. That’s why debt collectors are trained frequently. 

Mindsonar is used to get an alignment with the wishes of the client. Every two years Flanderijn management selects their best debt collectors. The ones that not only have a good collection results, but also have a high score on customer satisfaction and debtor satisfaction. These experts are modeled and the Mindsonar results are used to sharpen the content of the trainings.

For example in recent years we have noticed a shift in meta programs from highly internally referenced, very proactive, and procedural to more externally referenced, more reactive and more options oriented. In general criteria changed have from ‘results’ to ‘contact’.

The MindSonar professional running this project was Kees Over de Vest (Netherlands). Look him up in the Registry.

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Enabling a Famous Automobile Brand to ind Good Sales People

Selling automobiles in the top segment usually involves several hours of personal contact between a salesperson and a customer. In this segment, personal relationships are an even more important factor than in many other sales situations .

All Dutch salespeople of one a top automobile brand were profiled with MindSonar. A benchmark profile was developed using statistics. Their meta programs and criteria were related to the number of cars they sold per year. The benchmark profile— where different Meta Programs were given different weights — correlated highly with the number of cars sold.

From then on, all candidates for sales positions were profiled with MindSonar. How similar their profile was to the desired profile partly determined whether or not they were hired. Also, in the current sales force, salespeople who diverted from the desired profile were offered a training course, tailored especially to develop their underdeveloped Meta Programs.

Subsequently, benchmark profiles were developed for location managers, and service managers too, to be used in hiring and training.

The MindSonar professional running the project was Johan Hoevers (Netherlands). Jaap Hollander did the benchmarks for the location and service managers. Look them up in the Registry.

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