Listening with Meta Programmes – the key to successful communications

How many times do you, or those around you, complain that people just don’t listen or that they ignore requests and instructions? It seems to be a common source of stress and conflict in the workplace and at home, and a problem in public places where signage about use and safety are needed. So often, messages just don’t get through to the intended recipient.

Most of the time, the blame for the miscommunication is placed on the ithe listener (or reader) and so little thought is given to the original communication itself. However, very often the problem would be resolved if the wording of that communication were changed. If the focus moved from wishful thinking about the audience suddenly changing their response, to ways in which the communicator could change their messaging so that it would be heard by more people, then perhaps success would be more likely. It is also an important thing to consider when producing marketing materials for anything from business services to health advice.

One way to do this is to review the communication for the Meta Programmes that are behind it and then consider versions which come from other Meta Programmes. Here are some examples that come to mind:

  • Please put your refuse in the correct recycling bins”. This comes from a Matching Meta Programme, so risks not being acknowledged by those with a strong Mis-matching thinking pattern. Simply adding something like : “Putting materials in the wrong bin prevents proper recycling” might address this.


  • If possible, avoid calling between 1 and 2 pm as this is our busiest time”. This will be heard more by those with an Away From thinking pattern than a Towards. Therefore adding “To receive a faster response, please call before 1pm or after 2pm” might reach more callers.


  • Contact us now to book your holiday” is very Proactive. Using the phrase “Call us to discuss how we can find the ideal holiday for you” will attract the Reactive thinkers.


  • Similarly “Call us now for information” might appeal more to those with an Internal Locus of Control, whereas “Call us now for advice” might attract those with a more External Locus of Control.


There are, of course, many other examples, and this exercise can be done with any communication. The more that is known about the audience for a communication, the more it can be refined. Understanding the Meta Programmes of the audience can make communications so much more effective.

I commonly came across these sorts of mis-communication when managing complex projects, particularly between the policy people (General, Activity) and the mathematicians (Specific, Information). Often it was as if these two groups spoke entirely different languages, so common were the mis-understandings.

This doesn’t mean that every sign and communication has to be written in a lengthy and multi-optional way, just that consideration of the audience is vital, particularly when miscommunication is occurring frequently.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this problem, or have observed it in your environment. I’d love to hear of examples and possible solutions – so let me know in the comments box please.

Procrastination – not just about Reactive versus Proactive

Procrastination – it affects virtually all of us at some time and I find that it’s a particularly common problem for those who seek a coach. In fact, it’s often the reason why someone finally decides to hire a coach – to help get them moving on ambitions and plans that they’ve had for years.

At the surface, procrastination seems to be predominantly about the person being overly reactive rather than proactive and so not stepping into the actions needed to take them forward.

However, the more I’ve looked at the clients’ behaviours in the context of the MindSonar profile, I’ve begun to notice just how many of the Meta Programmes can contribute to their procrastination. That is to say that I think that being overly Reactive is, in some cases, a result of other Meta Programmes that are in operation. Here are two examples that I’ve come across:

Example 1: A client had relatively recently become self-employed after being in his profession for over 20 years. He loved his profession and was keen to be his own boss. He had always worked hard and had always been happy working on his own initiative . To minimise business costs he had set up an office at home, equipped it well and had everything in place. He soon had a good flow of clients as he already had a good reputation in his field. He was excited by his prospects.

Within a year he found himself constantly procrastinating. He was finding a million things to do before starting his work. He had never experienced this in all his years of working for someone else. He had become demotivated and was rapidly losing his belief that he could be successfully self-employed. Before finally giving up, he decided to hire a coach to help – that’s when he came to me.

What was going on? When talking with this client, it was clear he had not lost his love of his profession, nor had he lost the desire to be self-employed. However, it became evident that in the past, although he had worked independently, he had liked the knowledge that there were others around him. They did not need to be others in the same profession, just people who were nearby with for support. He worked best with a proximity Meta Programme. Without others around he found he couldn’t get into what he called “work mode”. At his home office he needed to work well with solo, and he found he could not.

His solution? He decided to rent an office near to home in a building occupied by other self-employed professionals. He very soon found that he was back on track, enjoying building both his business and his professional reputation. His change from reactive to proactive happened naturally as a consequence of a change from solo to proximity.

Example 2: A client had recently been promoted from a role in which she was a technical expert into a managerial role in a similar team. She had been with the employer for a number of years and had a reputation as a hard worker and an excellent problem solver. She was excited about her new role as it provided a chance to influence senior management and have her say about policy at key meetings in which she had previously only attended as a technical advisor. Shortly after starting her role she found she was getting behind in some areas due to a new habit of frequent procrastination. She came for coaching to help her get over this.

In this client’s case it became clear that she had not previously had to argue her case at meetings, or had ever needed to direct other team members. In her current role she needed to do both. Her procrastination resulted from her being worried about what others would think of her if she disagreed with them or if she had to actively manage a member of her team. She was highly externally referenced which was not a helpful Meta Programme in her new role.

Her solution? Through coaching for assertiveness and confidence alongside employer-led management training she developed her internally referenced Meta Programme and was able to end her procrastination at work.

The lesson for me from such clients is to not simply focus on coaching to change from reactive to proactuve , but to look across a full MindSonar profile and see where the root of the problem is. That way the client is likely to move to reactive quite automatically.

In your experience, what other Meta Programmes might lead to procrastination? I’m very interested to know, so do please comment below.

Seven Proven Ways to Drive Yourself Crazy with Meta Programs

Most people are already pretty good at crashing relationships and goofing up communication. Different people have different thinking styles. And people usually like their own thinking just fine, it’s the other people they have trouble with. Look around you, and you will see plenty of irritation, anger, frustration and conflict. How do they do it? How do they succeed in creating all this trouble? Or even more important: How do you do it? Let’s have a look at seven effective and time-tested ways to get frustrated through thinking styles. Seven proven ways to drive yourself crazy with Meta Programs.

What are Meta Programs?
Meta Programs are elements of your mindset, things like ‘towards’ (focus on goals) versus ‘away from’ (focus on problems). Your mindset is a combination of Meta Programs and values. Your mindset often determines what you do and how you feel.

MindSonar Meta Programs

1. People with a different thinking style suck
Let’s start with one of the most effective ways to get frustrated: believe that your own thinking style is the best one in the world. If not to say the only one. So for instance, let’s say you think in terms of the future and you like options. You could then simply call anyone who thinks in terms of the past and procedures an ‘old-fashioned coward’. This is a great technique, because it guarantees that you will meet old-fashioned cowards everywhere.

Guiding Principle: My Meta Programs are the only sane Meta Programs there are.

2. Mismatch proactively and in great detail
Let me explain the jargon here: ‘mismatching’ means that you focus on what’s bad or wrong. Its counterpart is ‘matching’: looking for what is right and good. If you mismatch proactively, that means that you do it without thinking about it much. You just simply do it all the time. And if you mismatch on all the details, you have a huge number of things you can find fault with. Everywhere you go, you will notice lots of things that are bad or wrong or incorrect or just simply ridiculous. Especially when you are an emotional person, this can be a perfect self-despairing technique.

Guiding Principle: Use the Meta Programs ‘mismatching’, ‘proactive’ and ‘specific’ in combination with each other.

MindSonar Meta Programs

3. If it doesn’t work, do it some more
Your thinking style is great for some things and not so great for other things. It may be great for designing buildings but not for playing with children. That’s why some people are flexible in how they think. So here is another great frustration booster: if your thinking style is not working, do it some more! For instance, if you feel strongly responsible for things and you are exhausted, do it some more of that: start taking even more responsibility.

Guiding Principle: Stick to your Meta Programs no matter what.

MindSonar Meta Programs

4. Find derogative words for other thinking styles
If you are a very practical thinker, you like to ask: what are we going to do with this? How can we use this? And if you work or live with someone who is more of theoretical thinker, they like to ask: what is the essence? Now watch out! You might be tempted to appreciate them for their different thinking style. Don’t! Instead, call them ‘cerebral’ or ‘vague’ or ‘pedantic’. Finding derogative words for their thinking style works great as a relationship destroyer!

Guiding Principle: People with other Meta Programs are dumb, ugly and [fill in negative qualification here].

MindSonar Meta Programs

5. Try to motivate people without understanding them
Sometimes you want to suggest to people what would be a good thing to do. And their thinking style usually differs from yours. And this provides you with yet another great opportunity for self-frustration! Lets say, for instance, that you think in terms of goals you want to achieve, and they think in terms of problems they want to avoid. So you vividly describe the things they can achieve with your plans. And they respond with a blank stare. An awesome self-frustration technique!

Guiding Principle: Everybody has the same Meta Programs I have.

MindSonar Meta Programs

6. Explain to people what is wrong with them
You have probably had someone, a friend, a co-worker, a family member, whoever, come up to you and start complaining to you about you. You were not doing things right, you wanted the wrong things, you didn’t treat them right, and so on. Remember: if they can do that to you, you can do it to them! For instance, if you are focused on the future and they are focused on the past, explain to them – in great detail and at great length – how much better it would be if they focused on the future more. Just like you do. And if they protest? That’s because they are so focused on the past. Explain that to them.

Guiding Principle: Clearly explain to others why they use the wrong Meta Programs.

MindSonar Meta Programs

7. Surround yourself with people who think just like you
This last technique can defeat not only individuals, but whole organizations; whole countries even. And yet it is quite simple to do. Just select people who have the same thinking style you have. And then simply refuse to talk to anyone else. Do you think in terms of goals? Only work with goal oriented people. Avoid anyone who thinks in terms of problems, they just make things difficult. Do you focus on feelings? Only work with other feeling types. Avoid anyone who focuses on pictures or stories, they just confuse things anyway. And so on. The beauty of it is: you can use all of the other techniques I described above to support this one!

Guiding Principle: Find people with the exact same Meta Programs and talk only with them.

The Career Coach and MindSonar: Inseparable!

As a career coach, I often work with people who are afraid to lose their job. Looking at the economical situation in Holland, this is a real fear. But how to handle this fearful feeling of insecurity?

Barbara, almost 58 years old, came to me because she didn’t know how to act in her work situation anymore. Her employer told her to look for a different position inside or outside the organization. She was working there for more than 20 years.

Her most significant meta programs were ‘reactive’, ‘away from’, ‘external reference’, and ‘mismatching’. Also kinesthetic had a high score.

In the sessions Barbra showed the behavior that matched the profile. She was constantly stressed and mentioned what could go wrong. She didn’t take action at work, apart from asking a whole team of people around her what to do. She asked advice from me as a career coach, from a psychologist, from the HR-manager at her company and someone from the works council.

She totally fell into the pitfalls, matching her profile. Her high kinesthetic score made here feel everything that happened, she was not able to develop a vision on her future, nor to say the right things to herself to handle the situation. She was still working, though now and then she called in sick, overwhelmed  by her feelings.

You can imagine she was deeply shocked and wasn’t able to climb out of the stress all by herself.

I did a lot of exercises with her to let her associate in different meta programs and asked a lot of solution focused questions. What if everything turned out better than she expected? What if she decided by herself what was good for her future? What if she said to herself: “I have enough in me that can help me decide? I also did an timeline exercise to discover when her less helpful meta programs were installed. This was very helpful to her, as well as the discovery that she had a lot of people around her to support her. She wasn’t aware of that, using the meta programs “mismatching” and “away from” too much.

During our sessions she became a little bit more at ease. A bit more convinced that sooner or later there would be a solution. Her humour came back bit by bit, and she was able to look at herself instead of being overwhelmed by her feelings.

We finished, and some weeks later she let me know she quit the job to get the rest she needed. And that she was at ease with her decisions.