NLP Language Hierarchy and Thinking Continuum
We use words as tools for putting forth our ideas, explaining concepts or expressing feelings and emotions. The words we use can be extremely specific in nature or most general, or can be in the continuum in between. Neuro-linguistic Programming defines the Meta model, where precise, detailed language is used to convey information.
In contrast, the Milton model of Neuro-linguistic Programming is ‘artfully vague’ and uses more broader terms to interpret the internal map. However, in our daily lives, our language is not restricted to these models, but rather exists in the continuum between these two extremes. We keep switching and moving across this Neuro-linguistic language scale, employing various degrees of abstraction or exactness.
The Neuro-linguistic Hierarchy of Ideas
In our daily conversations, we adopt a hierarchy of abstraction or exactness. We keep changing levels within the hierarchy depending on the context of the communication. For example, we can say that ‘Tim is trustworthy’. This is a vague statement and has a general meaning. However, we can make it more precise by saying that ‘Tim is faithful to his wife.’ We can even make the statement more precise by adding more details or giving examples. This is how a hierarchy can be created for any quality, and extended to any level of preciseness. The more the precision, the deeper will be the structure of its meaning.
Neuro-linguistic courses represent this Neuro-linguistic hierarchy of ideas in terms of chunks. Bigger chunks are used for abstract or general ideas, whereas smaller chunks are used for more detailed and precise information. The process of going up the hierarchy is called chunking up in Neuro-linguistic training. The process of going down the hierarchy is called chunking down in Neuro-linguistic training. If you are chunking sideways or laterally, you stay on the same level. For example, if you are talking about ‘pasta’, you can chunk up to ‘food’. You can chunk down from ‘pasta’ to ‘penne’ or ’spaghetti ’. You can chunk sideways from ’pasta’ to ’burgers’ or ’pizza’. Depending on the context of the communication, you can chunk up for a generalized concept, or chunk down for more detailed information. Chunking up lets you see the bigger picture of the conversation and get a better perspective. Chunking down helps you focus on and tackle the minute details.
The Neuro-linguistic chunking method is particularly useful during negotiations. Chunking up is performed to reach a common agreement between different parties. Once a common goal is found and agreed upon, chunking down is done to isolate the problems to the agreement. These particular obstacles can then be handled separately so that the common agreement can be met. The details become important once a common goal is understood. You can chunk laterally by comparing the current situation with another deal or another example of the issue at hand. These techniques are included in several Neuro-linguistic courses.
It is best to employ all three directions of chunking for any conversation. In order to chunk down, try to find an example of the given information, and go as deep as you can. For chunking up, try to find the purpose or epitome of the available detail. In order to chunk laterally, try to cite another example of similar information. By exploring the Neuro-linguistic hierarchy of ideas, you can gain remarkable insight into the problem at hand.
As per Neuro-linguistic courses, chunking up is used mainly to take the focus away from minor issues and gain a mutual, general consensus. Once this is done, chunking down becomes less problematic, and it is easier to see the insignificance of minor problems and reach a compromise. The Neuro-linguistic chunking method is especially useful for regaining rapport and reaching a consensual state of mind. In addition to this, different people prefer different approaches for handing a problem. Some people are detail oriented, whereas some like to see the big picture first. By understanding their preferred approach, you can chunk up or down accordingly to match their attributes.
Uptime and Downtime
Our thoughts can be expressed over a continuum as well as a hierarchy of ideas and language. There is no definite degree or level required for any conversation, but a continuous switching between levels and degree of vagueness and preciseness. The conversation can be put in terms of black or white. Instead it involved a continuum of thinking over a hierarchy of ideas. Our thoughts are representations of the external world, and our inner world. The inner world includes our memories, values, beliefs, imagination and sensory representation. These thoughts also range over a continuum of the thinking spectrum. For example, in the external world, we concentrate consciously when in a conversation and are alert and focused. This is termed as uptime as per Neuro-linguistic courses. On the contrary, in the internal world, we engage in day dreams, wandering thoughts and inner reality. This is termed as downtime as per Neuro-linguistic courses. The extreme of downtime can be a dream sleep or a coma.
We are constantly going up or down this thinking spectrum, with uptime at one end and downtime at the other. One particular instant, we might be responding consciously to our sensory representations by being aware of the surroundings. The next instant, we might find ourselves lost in thought, recalling a memory, imagining the future, pondering on the circumstance or reflecting on an event. This is when the mind is in the downtime. As per Neuro-linguistic programming, we are constantly switching between these states. Even when performing an activity such as driving a car or chopping vegetables, which supposedly requires a lot of concentration, we might find ourselves entering the world of downtime. In such cases, the body is running on an autopilot mode, depending on the unconscious, habitual behavior. Sometime the person is so lost in thought, he realizes that the activity has been performed after he reaches his destination or finishes cooking.
Most often, we exist in a world that lies between uptime and downtime. We are partially aware of what is happening around us, and occupied with a certain number of thoughts. By managing our uptime and downtime, we can gain control on what and how we achieve things. The Milton model given in Neuro-linguistic training use downtime by associating it with a state of trance. It uses vague language to enable a person to enter trance, which is nothing but being completely occupied by ones own thoughts. On the other hand, the Meta model of Neuro-linguistic programming, uses specific language to bring us back to the present. It uses language patterns for investigating the structure of the language and finding out specific meanings. This Neuro-linguistic training technique brings the person to the uptime end of the thinking spectrum.
In some cases, we need to be present in the uptime mode. This is when we are alert and using our sensory acuity skills. We are able to notice and register the events happening around us, and respond accordingly. Uptime mode is required when a person is working or is in a meeting. In case of a presentation, acute listening skills are required, which requires a high level of concentration, which is usually tiring for the conscious mind. On the other hand, the state of downtime, as per Neuro-linguistic programming, is related to relaxation of the mind. The state of downtime is more pleasurable and natural for the mind, since there is no forced thinking process occurring. When we are daydreaming, or imagining an event, the unconscious mind is in charge, resulting is the outburst of creativity and originality.
The primary concept taught in Neuro-linguistic training is choice. We have a choice to think what we want to think, the way we want to imagine things or look at experiences. Choice remains our fundamental right, which generates a plethora of other options. You can choose where your mind lies in the personal thinking spectrum, and you can enter the states of uptime and downtime at anytime. Thinking management involves knowing where to guide your mind to be, and how to use language to convey your thoughts.
The Neuro-linguistic presupposition states that people make the best choices available to them. If we give ourselves more number of choices, we can achieve a better outcome. Since people reach a decision based on their internal representation or map of the world, it is important to extract and understand this internal map. By using the tools such as chunking within the hierarchy during a conversation and moving across the thinking continuum, we can try to establish rapport and understand the personal point of view of others. The Milton and Meta models are based on the extremities of the continuum, and can be used to understand the internal map of the person, or precise understanding using language patterns. We can then change our behavior and language patterns in order to expand the number of choices available, and reach an agreement.