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.

Organisational Thinking Styles in Recruitment and Practice – Sometimes a Contradiction

The culture of an organisation can be a major factor in the sort of people that are attracted to belong to it. This is true whatever the organisation – whether an employer, a club or an educational establishment. I was thinking about this recently after reminiscing about an incident that occurred at the senior school I attended. I attended a school which set out as its values the expectation and encouragement of high educational and personal achievements for every student. The school’s prospectus and other materials made it clear that it aimed to produce future leaders, business owners and other forward and independent thinkers. The governors and staff clearly wanted to attract pupils with ability, initiative, and creativity and who had the same aspirations and the potential to achieve them.

However, the school also had very strict policies on uniform, hair styles, jewellery and suchlike. Pupils who wore the wrong style of skirt, shirt or coat or who had an “extreme” hair style or wore jewellery to school would be reprimanded. The argument given by the school was that pupils needed to give a good impression of the school as a whole, and show both loyalty to and pride of being a part of it. They also expected the pupils (and their parents) to take their word for it that this would make a difference to the pupils’ success in life.

These policies resulted in frequent bouts of rebellion, sometimes supported by the parents. One such incident escalated to the point where coats were confiscated en masse, and many parents writing in to say that they had no intention of forcing their teenager to wear the dowdy prescribed coats. I can’t remember the formal outcome, but I do recall that many pupils continued to wear non-uniform coats generally with the compromise of getting a coat in the school colour.

Such group rebellions were generally small ones, and the overall academic achievement of the pupils remained high.

Thinking about this now in terms of thinking styles, I can see that such clashes were highly predictable. The school was deliberately attracting pupils from families which valued independent thinking and creativity, and so they and their children were likely to have a high level of Internally Referenced thinking and a high Internal Locus of Control. However, the school’s uniform rules were based on an expectation of high level of conformity, a concern about how others perceived the school as a whole, and a belief that they (the school) knew best about how the way a pupil dressed for school would impact on their eventual success. That required a high level of Externally Referencedthinking and an External Locus of Control. This mis-match made some clashes inevitable.

I see similar disjoints in many organisations. Some advertise for strongly independent innovators, creative thinkers and yet have a culture of conformity, especially around dress and appearance. This can result in the employees feeling constrained and restless – and is likely to impact upon performance and retention.

Interestingly, many years after I’d left the school I heard of a pupil whom had been sent by a class teacher to the (new) head teacher because of an “extreme” hairstyle. The head sent her back to the class and told the teacher that, if they wanted pupils who would go on to become leaders, they should encourage independent and creative thinking, not suppress it. What a change from when I was there!

I’d love to hear from anyone else who has seen this, or other contradictions in the thinking styles recruited and the ones best suited to the actual organisational culture. It’s certainly something to look out for when called in to discuss management issues with clients.

As always, please let me know your thoughts on this in the comments below.

Improving Business Partnerships

Working with small businesses, I often come across partnerships in which the two partners are experiencing some conflict about their business. Recently, I worked with such a partnership using MindSonar to shine a light on the thinking patterns behind the differences. This understanding led to them being able to review the way worked so that each played to their strengths and were able to cover each other’s blind spots.

The partners (whom I shall call Peter and  Carol – not their real names) wanted the following question answering through their MindSonar session:

How can we best use our different approaches to develop a more efficient business model”.

They described recent disagreements which were mainly down to two things:

  1. Division of the administrative side of the business, particularly record keeping and the organisation of accounting records.
  2. The future direction and growth strategy for the business.

Each partner completed a MindSonar profile in this context.


IWe explored their profiles, noting both the main differences in their thinking patterns as well as the areas in which they shared the same blind spots. Two particular examples of this were:

  1. A large difference between the partners’ approach to change. Carol had a preference for change (spilt between Developmentand Change), whereas Peter had a very strong preference for Maintenance.
  2. They had similar (very strong) scores for the Optionsmeta programme. This was strengthened by neither scoring highly for the BLUE Graves drive.  However, in his criteria Peter had added a caveat about options of “where appropriate”

The partners recognised their profiles as accurate and could identify a number of things which were contributing to their conflict.  In particular, they could see that their different approaches to change created disagreements around the future direction and growth strategy of the business.

They also both recognised their high OptionsMeta Programme and acknowledge that they were good at identifying and constructing procedures, but not at following them. They agreed that this explained the tension around administrative work. However, Peter could identify areas outside business in which he did use a Proceduremeta programme.

After exploring those and other differences in their profiles, the partners identified a number of  actions that they would take immediately. Two key ones were:

  1. Peter would be responsible for identifying the areas of the business that were currently successful and determine procedures to build on this and which could be applied to any new areas (using his MaintenanceMeta Programme and “stepping into” the Proceduremeta programme that he used in other areas). Peter was open to options about some areas of the business, but not his own speciality which he felt was right where it needed to be.  Therefore, Carol would have responsibility for identifying possible options for general business development, including new areas in her area of specialty that she could take forward (Using her OptionsandChangeMeta Programmes).
  2. For administration and other procedural activities, they agreed that they would consider out-sourcing these, recognising that neither of them particularly wanted to spend the time in the business doing these. Again Peter would “step into” the Proceduremeta programme in the meantime.

Following the session, the clients said they were impressed with the accuracy of the profiles and the usefulness of the exercise in which they identified their own and each other’s strengths and blind-spots.  They felt that they now had a great understanding of how they could work to make the most of each one’s strengths.  They expressed an interest in further coaching to develop other areas identified.

Of course, this is a brief summary, and the partners discovered many other things during the session which they felt would enable them to work better as a partnership, leading to greater personal and business success.

If you work with partnerships or very small teams, you should definitely consider using MindSonar to really optimise your working relationships and team efficiency.  You can find a MindSonar Professional near you in the Registry on this site.

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.