04 Nov Do you really understand the people you work and live with?








Most of us don’t want a life characterized by disharmony and angst in our personal relationships. If you think for a minute about the people that you live and work with you’ll realise that some folks are really easy to have a rewarding relationship with and others just drive you crazy.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to understand people better and think on your feet when dealing with them?

The question is, how do you work with people so you can get the most out of each other and enjoy positive relationships?

In a quest to better understand yourself and others perhaps you’ve completed some form of psychometric testing such as MBTI or DiSC. Regardless of whether you agreed with your profile at the time or not, you will agree that we are all different. Another tool for characterizing or describing the differences in our personalities is the NLP Meta programs.

The NLP Meta programs are either filters through which we see the world, or sorts that allow us to categorise our choices.

Every experience, situation, conversation is taken through these filters and ‘sorts’. In this article I will outline a number of these filters, to show you and to explain how they create the opportunity for us to perform well or they facilitate us performing poorly. They give us remarkable insight into why we do what we do. Why is it that we continue to do what we do even when we know what we know? Why is it that we continue in patterns of behaviour that limit us or make us unhappy even when we know there is another choice at hand?

If you work out the filters you have, you will have greater choice over whether you continue to use them or not. Additionally, understanding the filters of your family, friends, clients and colleagues will help you to make robust choices around your own communication style and approach. Understanding these filters allows us to decide what we are going to do and how we are going to do it.

In this article I will explain six of my favourite filters for you to help you reduce your frustration with people who seem so completely annoying and so you improve your relationships at home and at work.

1. Primary Interest

The first interesting sort is that of Primary Interest. It is suggested that we pay attention to those areas in our life that are of interest to us. This program determines what we pay attention to, what we find interesting and what we find boring. This program is divided into 5 categories: people, place, activity, things information.

What do the categories mean?

People Preference
A people preference means your focus is on relationships and relating. These people are generally outgoing and friendly. They remember people’s names and personal stories.

Place Preference
A place preference means you have a strong awareness of your location. Where you are going to do something is important to you.

Things Preference
A things preference means you are focused on having, owning or collecting things. These could be tangible things like possessions, money and food which is important for many that even get their own gas pizza ovens to prepare pizza for their family or themselves, or could be intangible things like certificates, status and power.

Activity Preference
An activity preference means you focus on what you or others are doing. This person likes to be active, experiencing moments, and doing things. They can find it a chore being still. These hands on people tend to like sport, projects and making things. They are often involved in physical trades. They like to keep busy and will tend to focus on tasks rather than relationships.

Information Preference
An information preference means you are focused on ideas, learning and analysis. Facts, details and dates are easily stored in your memory.

What to do with this information?

People are engaged by their primary interest. Although we use all these primary filters to some degree, there are one or two that are used in preference. If you want to persuade your family, friends and colleagues or just have better relationships, try to work out their primary interest, and tailor your communication to their filters!

2. Introvert/Extrovert/Ambivert

When we are sad, tired or have good news we either enjoy experiencing other people and social environments or we prefer solitude, private space and quiet. Why is this so? We have one of three preferences: Introvert/Extrovert/Ambivert.

What do they mean?

Introvert: is a term to describe someone who likes quiet and private space for concentration. They tend to be comfortable working on one project for a long time without interruption. Introverts generally think before they speak, dislike interruptions of any kind and reflect deeply before taking action. These people go off by themselves (retreat into their cave) when they need to deal with stress, or other negative emotions. It is not that they are shy. They need time to process their ideas before deciding or revealing their opinion. It is often difficult for them to think on the spot and team members will find it hard to draw them out if they do not feel a degree of trust or ‘safety’ in the team.

Extrovert: is a term used to describe someone who likes having others around them when they work. They are typically enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, and gregarious. They act and speak quickly and often without thinking first. They develop their ideas by discussing the options with others and are generally comfortable with interruptions as they occur. These people need the attention of others and derive energy from being with others when they are dealing with both their positive and negative emotions. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups.

Ambivert: is a term used to describe someone who uses both preferences depending on the scenario.

Dealing with these types

Manage extroverts in a team or family unit by asking them lots of questions to help them form their ideas properly. Encourage them to take some time to think before they speak. Give them time to socialize and connect with others.

Manage introverts by developing trust and encouraging them to put their ideas forward even though they may not have thought it through to their fullest degree. Give them time to be alone and introspective.

How can you determine this program?

If someone says they feel energized and alive when surrounded by others they are probably an extrovert. If someone says they need space to reflect on their own thoughts and ideas and re-charge their batteries they are probably an introvert. If they say it would depend on the context they may be an ambivert.

3. Internal/External Frame of Reference

Have you ever wondered why that staff member keeps on asking you for your opinion on the way they should complete a project or address a task or issue? Perhaps you have found yourself asking ‘don’t they know how to do their own job?’ Or was there ever a situation where you gave instructions to a colleague and they went off and completed the task in their own way with no reference to your initial instructions? Why is this so? The Internal/External frame of reference can provide us with some clues.

What do they mean?

Internal Frame of Reference: Someone with an internal frame of reference goes inside themselves to reference whether they’ve done a good job, whether they’ve made the right decision, whether it’s the appropriate action to take. They tend to check their internal barometer to know whether something is appropriate or right for the situation. You could call these people ‘self contained’. If someone is strongly internal you will often find that they make decisions or take action without truly considering the needs or wants of others. They can also be difficult to give feedback to because they know in themselves they’ve done a good job and don’t need or value input from others. These people need reasons, evidence, rationale about the job they’ve done or they won’t listen.

External Frame of Reference: Someone with an external frame of reference seeks feedback from others regarding the best way forward. These people have no internal barometer. They have no sense of whether they have done a good job, whether it’s a good decision, whether it’s the best action. They have no measurement criteria on how to assess the situation. For this reason, they will seek other’s opinions and then behave accordingly. The external frame of reference needs a lot of reinforcement, acknowledgement and recognition and a lot of appreciation for the job they are doing. These people need to be encouraged to check inside before they look externally for feedback.

Now you can also have two other aspects within the Internal and External Frame of Reference.

Internal Frame of Reference with External Check: You can have an internal frame of reference with an external check. This means the person can check inside (internal frame of reference) and then before they actually make their decision they have a quick check to confirm it’s the best thing to do.

External Frame of Reference with Internal Check: The external frame of reference with an internal check will often check externally first to see if it’s the best thing to do and then they will reflect and ponder on the benefits for themselves.

The people in the last two groups tend to be more functional or balanced. Let’s talk about the extremes though. If someone is strongly internal you will often find that they make decisions or take action without truly considering the needs or wants of others. They can also be difficult to give feedback to because they know in themselves they’ve done a good job and don’t need or value input from others. Why would they be interested in what you say when they already know what a good job they’ve done. These people need reasons, evidence, rationale about the job they’ve done or they won’t listen.

The external frame of reference on the other hand can often be the person who needs a lot of reinforcement, acknowledgement and recognition and a lot of appreciation for the job they are doing. You need to constantly tell them, ‘yes, you’ve done a good job’, ‘yes, that’s excellent’. The external frame of reference can sometimes appear as if they have low confidence because they don’t take the time to ‘go inside’ to measure actions they look externally for verification or external indicators they are on the right track. These people need to be encouraged to check inside before they look externally for feedback. Eventually they will develop some internal frame of reference.

Overall it is good to develop some flexibility on this continuum. In business both styles are very useful – when planning a pitch or presentation to a client for example, it would be very useful to get feedback from others regarding the best way forward (external frame). Whereas some roles such as police officer demand a high internal frame. They just need to know if it’s the law or not.

How might you determine this program?
Try asking the following question: “How do you know it something is the right decision?”

4. Judger/Perceiver

Have you ever felt frustrated by a team member who continues to resist tight deadlines? They drive you mad because they seem more interested in options and opportunities than getting the job done, and expect you to adapt to last-minute changes and situational requirements. Or perhaps you are frustrated by a team member who seems rigid in their determination to make decisions and stick to them, only discussing results and achievements and concentrating on task completion at the expense of a more flexible approach? The Judger/Perceiver profile assists us to understand these two types of people and their preferences.

How does it work?

Judgers: try to control, make order and regulate life’s events. They approach life in a structured way, creating plans and organizing their world to achieve their goals and desired results in a predictable way. People who judge can be described as ‘organised, focused and regulated’ people. They seek closure in decisions and enjoy being the expert. These people work best when they can plan their work and prefer to ignore interruptions. They are motivated by organising and finishing tasks, they make decisions quickly due to a need to get on with the task, and use lists to ensure they take action on specific tasks. They get their sense of control by taking charge of their environment and making choices early. Perceivers may see them as inflexible and opinionated.

Perceivers: adapt to life by accepting life as it comes. They are often spontaneous and get their sense of control by choosing to operate on an ‘as needs’ basis rather than follow a plan or schedule. These people want flexibility in their work. They enjoy starting tasks and then often leave them until the last minute to complete. They are motivated by not wanting to miss out on anything so keep their options open and only use lists as a reminder of tasks that could be done ‘if there is any spare time’. They are generally curious and like to expand their knowledge, which they will freely acknowledge as being incomplete. They are tolerant of other people’s differences and will adapt to fit into whatever the situation requires.
Judgers may see them as aimless, indecisive and unproductive.

How might you determine this program?
Ask the following question: “Do you prefer to live life spontaneously or according to a plan?” “Do you have a diary and do you use it properly? Do you enjoy using lists?”

5. Closure/Non-closure

Have you heard the saying “life’s a journey not a destination’?

Do you know people who appear to be ‘driven’ to complete tasks, close off projects? Or do you work with people who seem to be completely satisfied within themselves even if a job is not complete? The closure/non closure program will help you understand why this is so. It deals with the existence or lack of existence of a strong need to finish a task.

How does this work?

Closure: People with a closure focus must complete the tasks they begin. Their focus is on the end product or the result, and the feeling of achieving a goal is motivation to continue something until it is all done.
Non-Closure: People with a non-closure focus enjoy and perform better in the beginning and middle of tasks and do not need closure as much as those who enjoy and feel satisfied with completing something. They are typically more comfortable with ambiguity, confusion, things being suspended.

How might you determine this program?
Do you need to have everything neatly wrapped up at the end of the day? If you were in the process of studying something and you had to leave it, would you feel OK, or would you feel disconcerted? Which part of a project do you most enjoy: the beginning, middle or end? In sport, if you were training for a race or game, would you most enjoy the competing or the finishing stage?

6. Team Roles

Do you love working in groups? Or would you say in truth you’re not keen on group work and prefer to work on your own? Do you love being part of a team? Do you enjoy meetings and having people around all the time with lots of group involvement? Or are you more likely to find meetings an unnecessary time waster? Or maybe, do you prefer to check in with a team at times (because you enjoy some social involvement) but then prefer to get your work done on your own? The team roles program will help you understand this preference.

Independent: These people prefer to work alone and be granted sole responsibility for getting the job done. They are very self-directed. If they have to work with others or share responsibility, their productivity can decrease. They prefer to work with their office door closed or in isolation and do not readily consult other people. They are easily distracted by open-plan offices and/or noisy workplaces where it’s difficult to focus. The disadvantage of this preference is they often reinvent the wheel and do things that have already been tried and tested by other team members, which ultimately slows the team down. If you have independent players in your team – it’s not that they are anti-social, it’s just how they work best. To influence these people, make sure you check in with them sporadically so they don’t go off and reinvent the wheel. Otherwise, give them total responsibility and make it clear that they alone will work on this task and be responsible for the outcome. At times you may want to encourage these people to be involved in the team in a way that doesn’t make them feel they have been ‘swallowed up!’ or answerable to the team.

Proximity: In the middle of the continuum is the Proximity Player who drops in and out of the team. They like to meet with the team to discuss tasks and then they like to go away and work on the task independently. They then re-group with the team to check performance when necessary. To motivate these people, talk about shared responsibility, and use words such as ‘we’ and ‘us’. These people are ideally suited to a team environment that requires sharing of responsibilities and work tasks. To motivate these people put them in charge and provide them with subordinate staff to direct. This is a good attribute (with a small dose of co-operative) for managers.

Team: These people they like to be part of the team, like to have people around them and like to discuss things, get people’s feedback, and work together. They enjoy working with others where responsibilities and control are shared with others and where everyone takes turns leading or sharing the lead and responsibilities. These people use words like ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ and ‘team’. They thrive where responsibility and any accomplishments are a result of everyone’s contribution. To motivate these people, talk about shared responsibility, we are all in this together, and use the words ‘we’ and ‘us’. These people are ideally suited to a team environment that requires sharing of responsibilities and work tasks. Team players can be encouraged to think for themselves a bit more and work independently at times.

How can you determine this program?

Try asking the following question: “Talk to me about a work situation where you were fulfilled, happy, content. What was it about that situation that made you feel that way?”
These filters put labels on our difference and help us to understand why people act the way they do. From there, provided we are open to being more flexible in our approach and style, we can make a plan to improve our relationships and outcomes.

About Michelle Bowden
Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the PRSI (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best selling internationally published author (Wiley), editor of How to Present magazine, producer of Michelle Bowden TV, and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media. www.michellebowden.com.au

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