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Metaprograms: The Key to Persuasion and Influence

Updated on December 3, 2012

What are Metaprograms?

Metaprograms are unconscious filters that affect the way we process information and they have a big influence on the way we think and act.

When you know someone’s metaprograms, you can more easily understand, predict and influence their behavior.

It’s important to bear in mind that there are no right/wrong or good/bad metaprograms. They simply show that people think in different ways. Understanding your own metaprograms is also useful as this helps you operate more effectively.

In addition, everyone fits on a scale between the extremes. Few people are at one end or the other. 

The metaprograms are based on the work of psychologist Carl Jung and the four basic metaprograms share many similarities with the work done to develop the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and these cover:

  1. Our source of energy: In this category, people might be introverts or extroverts. Introverts typically enjoy their own company when they want to relax while extroverts re-energize in the company of larger groups.
  2. The way we gather information: People are described either as ‘sensors’ or ‘intuitors’. Broadly speaking, sensors are people who really need a lot of detail about things. Intuitors are people who are generally only interested in the big picture.
  3. How we make decisions: Where people are either ‘thinkers’ or ‘feelers’. Thinkers tend to be cool and rational about decisions whereas feelers tend to rely more heavily on their emotions.
  4. Our lifestyle orientation: In this category, people may be labeled ‘judgers’ or ‘perceivers’. If they are going on vacation, for example, a judger would have a detailed itinerary planned in advance while a perceiver would just turn up and go with the flow.

There is a larger group of around 15 – 20 more complex metaprograms and examples of some of these are as follows:

  • Direction: This determines whether someone is primarily motivated towards a positive outcome or negatively away from an undesired outcome.
  • Chunk Size: This is an indication of whether someone needs specific detail about a subject or just a big picture.
  • Frame of Reference: This is based on whether someone relies on their own judgment for a decision or seeks reassurance from others.

We look at these three in more detail below with some examples of how you can use them to communicate more effectively.

Metaprograms: Direction Filter

This category is based on how people are motivated.

  • ‘Towards’ people always strive to achieve an outcome - they want to move towards something. They focus on what they will get when the outcome is achieved. They are moving towards pleasure, motivated by a ‘carrot’.
  • ‘Away from’ people want to avoid a certain situation. They don’t want to experience loss or discomfort and want to move away from something. They are moving away from pain, motivated by a stick.

To discover which category someone falls into, ask them a question like this: What will having ‘x’ give you? What do you want in ‘x’?

  • ‘Towards’ people will tell you what they want.
  • ‘Away from’ people will tell you what they don’t want.

How to influence them

Towards people: Work out what their goals are and what you can do to help them achieve these goals. Focus on the outcome and what it will give them. Offer incentives, i.e. an outcome. Emphasize their goals and what and how they can achieve them.

Think of 10 ways someone can gain from buying your product or service.

Influencing Language: Get, achieve, attain, include, obtain, have, want

Away from people: Work out what you can do to help them avoid what they don’t want. Work out and anticipate potential problems and assure them that these can be minimized or avoided. Be aware that ‘away from’ people are usually the ones to bring up problems.

Think of 10 ways someone can suffer from not buying your product or service.

Influencing Language: Not have, avoid, don’t want, keep away from, get rid of

Metaprograms: Frame of Reference Filter

This metaprogram is about how people evaluate things.

  • Internal’ people stand true to their opinion and evaluate on the basis of what they think is appropriate. They make all decisions themselves and can have difficulty in accepting other people’s feedback and direction.
  • External’ people evaluate on the basis of what other people think is appropriate. They need others to guide, direct and motivate them. Since they cannot decide for themselves, they need external references.

To find out what category someone is in, ask them this type of question: How do you know that you have done a good job?

  • ‘Internal’ people will tell you that they decide when they’ve done a good job.
  • ‘External’ people tell you that they know because other people or outside information sources tell them.

How to influence them:

Internal: Emphasize to the person that they will know inside that they are right. Say that they have to decide. Don’t bother about external factors or what other people think, they will not be interested in this.

These people may have difficulty in accepting feedback or praise. They like to decide for themselves and don’t like to be told what to do. They do best when they have little or no supervision. So, give them some freedom. Don’t try to force your opinion down their throat.

Influencing language: You know best, you’ll know when it’s right, only you can decide, it’s up to you

External: Emphasize what others think. Give them data and information to back things up. Give them feedback and reassurance. These people need close management.

They need constant feedback and re-assurance about how well they are doing. They need to be told what to do, how to do it and how well they are doing it. Be supportive and encouraging to them.

Influencing language: Can I give you some feedback, I will let you know, the facts show, other people think that

Metaprograms: Chunk Size

The need for details in life throws two categories of people at us:

  • ‘Specific’ people like to work with all the small details. They like to understand and go into pieces of work with the minutest of detail.
  • ‘Global’ people like to talk in big pictures and are not interested in details at all. They are conceptual and abstract. They’d rather give you the overall framework or summary of what is happening than go into details.

You know when someone is ‘Specific’ and when someone is ‘Global’ just by asking them any question and analyzing their response.

  • Specific people will give you all the details and go to great lengths to explain everything when you ask questions. ‘Specific’ people become frustrated with ‘Global’ people because there is no detail in what they say.
  • Global people give you an overview without details. They tend to use large generalizations. ‘Global’ people become frustrated with ‘Specific’ people because they go too far into detail.

Alternatively, just ask them “If we were going to do a project together, would you want to know all the details or just a general picture.” They’ll tell you.

How to influence them

Specific: Avoid generalizations and vagueness. Break things down into the detail and be specific. Present things in logical sequences. Tell the person in detail what needs to be done and ensure that there is a logical sequence. Do not expect them to think about the bigger picture

Influencing Language: Next, then, precisely, exactly, specifically, first, second, details

Global: Avoid details and present the bigger picture. Give the person a broad overview. Tell them what the end game is and let them fill in the rest.

Influencing Language: Big picture, framework, in brief, result, generally, overview


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