The Milton Model

The Milton Model is in many ways the inverse of the Meta Model. As we covered in that lesson, through three processes, Deletion, Distortion and Generalization, we can speak and be artfully vague. That is, we can speak in a manner that’s vague enough that the listener can “fill in the blanks” with their own details. This is relevant because we want to establish firm rapport, connecting on many levels so that we can influence our subject’s experiences. If we were instead very specific as we spoke with the subject, there is every chance we would not effectively “match” the subject’s experience, thereby breaking rapport.

We mentioned in the Meta Model lesson that we’d later discuss how these three dynamics can actually be used to HELP people and here we are!

When we say “influence”, we imply “with integrity”, as this powerful model can help people to empower themselves, heal trauma, learn new skills and so much more. By not supplying the specifics, we invite the subject’s unconscious mind to supply those details, and when done with integrity, this can be powerfully healing as well as potentially generative.

Let’s look at examples of the Milton Model language patterns to make better sense of this “artful vagueness”. Most of these are going to feel very familiar and comfortable, having already studied them in the Meta Model, albeit from another direction—vague to specific.

First of all is Mind Reading. This includes statements which claim to know what someone else is thinking or feeling. Examples could include “You’ve noticed that many people have realized the powerful changes NLP can bring about in their lives” and “People are coming to realize that we can’t just continue as we had without making some really big changes.” The point is that the speaker can’t truly know that the other person has in fact noticed such a thing, or for that matter, that “many people” have realized anything at all. Likewise, with the second example, the speaker couldn’t know what “People” are “coming to realize”. It would seem to be a guess at the very least, hence it being Mind Reading.

The second is Lost Performative. This includes statements that express beliefs or judgments expressed such that the judge is not explicitly named. Examples of this might include “It’s been verified that developing unconscious competence with NLP language patterns leads to improved satisfaction in all areas of life,” or “This software-as-a-service platform is going to make enormous productivity changes in your company.” To the first statement, you might say, “says who?” or “verified by whom and how?” because the person making that judgment, that determination, is not identified. In the second example, once more the person making the judgment is not named. Is it based on other customers like me? Is it data- or metrics-supported? Or is it just the opinion of some unnamed individual (or Marketing department!)? 

The third process, Cause and Effect, states or suggests that between two things, there is a cause and effect relationship, when there isn’t any proof or even logical argument to support it. For instance, someone may say, “Once you identify that you have room to grow, indeed room where you NEED to grow, you become ready for this seminar,” which does nothing to explain specifically how my need to grow prepares me for this particular seminar.

Next, let’s look at Universal Quantifiers, which refer to absolutes, including words like always, never, every, all, none, every, etc. An example might be, “Every piece you’ve been missing as your firm goes to market is yours with this workshop!” or “I have everything you need in this one handy package!” Notice how the speaker wraps up “every piece” of what that company had lacked is now packaged neatly in his offering. How could he know it’s truly everything? Does he know my business that well? If so, who gave him our company secrets? Very similarly, how could that package know what to include such that “everything” is included?

The next one is Modal Operators. This is interesting as it includes words that suggest necessity or possibility, and define the boundaries of a person’s model of the world. Words or phrases to look for include: “must”, “can”, “may”, “try”, “intend to”, “have to”, “should”, “able to”, “pre- tend to”, “ought to”, “possible to”, “have to”, “supposed to”, “decide to”, “wish to”, “got to”, “need to”, “let”, “allow”, “want to”, “could”, “permit”, “choose to”, “would”, “will”, “won’t”, etc. To use these, we might say something like, “So we’re clear that you must become more successful at getting results on customer calls—this course will help you achieve that.”

Next is Nominalizations, which you may recall is converting a verb to a noun. By converting a process to an event, we abstract the movement and action from the action we intend the subject to take. An example of this could include, “Having a happy marriage is a very important thing,” as there is little focus on the actions required to “have a marriage”—such as “getting married,” “being a good partner,” “keeping your agreements,” and so on. All of those necessary actions get nominalized into “having a happy marriage.”

Unspecified verbs comes next, which is where we refer to verbs that don’t have specifics regarding how or upon what an action is performed. For instance, if someone says, “In this weekend course, you can begin to make changes.” Make WHAT changes? How specifically will that be accomplished? These are only two of many possible questions that are unanswered by this artfully vague statement.

Lack of Referential Index is the penultimate and it refers to “the use of a noun or pronoun to refer to” an ambiguous category or group. “The person receiving the action is deleted.” An example could include, “It leads to greater company success that employees learn to persuade more effectively.”

Comparative Deletions is the final example. This refers to a statement that doesn’t state how a comparison is being made, only that it is being made. For instance, “My company’s Persuasion in the Workplace workshop results in more measurable and positive results than any other training program you could send your employees to.”

Now that we’ve covered the inverse of the Meta Model, let’s do a quick demonstration before we do a group exercise. Rick, why don’t you come up here? You wanted to demonstrate the Meta Model a few sessions ago, so this would be very similar. Thanks.

(Rick demonstrated to the attendees what they would do during their group exercise, though with myself providing the “seed Milton Model statement”, and he having to develop two additional examples using the same process. Where I offered an example of “Lack of Referential Index,” he did the same.)

The purpose of the demo as well as the exercise to follow is to familiarize the group with creating these statements “on the fly” as artfully vague language is powerful in its effect when you are well-versed in its creation. I did it again—did you catch that?

(After the demonstration concludes, I answer any questions that might otherwise have prevented attendees from successfully doing the exercise. Then we broke into groups so we could each practice this in real-time.)

Great, now we’ll take a few minutes to discuss the Milton Model, answer any questions about the language patterns, and ensure that everyone is comfortable both using and identifying the patterns.

Generalization, will seem a little more familiar. Also as with the other two processes, when used well, Generalization can help us deal with a complex world where massive amounts of information routinely threaten to inundate us. Generalization helps us to organize data into general categories where it may be more easily managed. However, as with the others, it can and often is misused. The basis is this: a person has learned something to the extent that he trusts it is “true”—some individual aspect of the world. So far, so good, right? Then the person then applies that same belief about that ASPECT to the larger whole. For instance, the person is robbed at gunpoint by a man with a US-Southern accent. From this understanding, which seems unassailable in its truth, the person concludes any of a number of Generalizations. Such as “All men are criminals” or “All Southerners are cruel.” Note that while the individual example upon which this was based may seem indisputably true. Though where the person takes it next in our examples is almost certainly not. One example does not prove a universal truth for a larger group.

The key with all three processes is permitting them where they serve the person but challenging them where they do not.

The Meta Model enables us to challenge them effectively when appropriate. Overall, there are nine “distinctions” within this model: Deletion, Unspecified Referential Index, Unspecified Verb, Nominalization, Mind Reading, Modal Operators, and Cause and Effect, Universal Quantifiers, and Lost Performative.

First, let’s look at Deletion. An example might be “You don’t care.” To challenge that Deletion, we could respond with, “You think I don’t care ABOUT WHAT?” The speaker has made a statement about me, the receiver, though omitted relevant information. Our use of the Meta Model attempts to invite the speaker to fill in those missing pieces.

Next, let’s examine Unspecified Referential Index. Here, the speaker deletes the subject, the person performing the action he’s describing, and that information may be relevant, even necessary. Pronouns are often used here as they facilitate that. An example would be, “They don’t appreciate you,” which fails to specify who “they” are. We could counter this with responses like, “Who are ‘they’?” or “What don’t they appreciate about me?”

Next, “Unspecified Verb”, is where we don’t specify a verb, and the process can seem incomplete or unclear. It can also be done by removing the verb, its object, or both. For instance, if someone says, “You never make me feel loved,” the verb would appear to be “make”. Though the lack of specificity can pose issues. We could challenge this by responding, “Make you? How?” In this, we are requesting more detail about the verb and what the speaker is trying to express.

The next one is Nominalization. This is where a process has been converted into an event. Simpler put, it turns a verb into a noun. Which removes the action and process from the statement altogether. An example would be “My employees need more training,” which we can challenge this by responding, “In what areas do you need to train them, and how much?” Here, we’ve taken the nominalization and returned it to a process which lends itself well to taking action.

We follow this one with three forms of Modal Operators. First we’ll look at Modal Operators of Necessity, which refers to words like, “must, got to, have to, must not, which assert absolutes without mention of the implied consequence. A good example of this is “I must earn a million dollars.” Very simply, a challenge to such statement could be “What would happen if you didn’t.” Or even more simply, “Or else WHAT?”

The second form of this is Modal Operators of Possibility, which refers to words such as can, cannot, could, could not. The difference between the other form of Modal Operators is that where the other pertains to terms that denote need, this one pertains instead to words that denote possibility. An example of this would be “I can’t hack this challenging job.” Someone could challenge that with a question like, “Can’t? What would happen in you could?” Again, we are challenging the modal operator because it isn’t serving the person, so it’s a limiting generalization.

The third form of this is Modal Operators of Judgment, which refers to words and phrases such as should, should not, or ought to. Like the other forms of Modal Operators, this one may be focused on ethical or moral questions—but is often used to denote mere preference. For instance, if someone said, “Americans should be more vigilant when confronted with conspiracy theories,” we could challenge this with something as simple as, “According to whom?” or the more open “What would happen if they were?”

Awesome, that’s a lot, which is why the Meta Model has been called the biggest or most comprehensive model in NLP. Notice what I did there?

Being “vague” isn’t enough. Being artfully vague is the key. Used ethically and appropriately, it’s an incredibly powerful means of increasing your effectiveness and your influence. Beginning with this moment.

Copyright © 2013 Chris Gingolph

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