Glossary of Terms


Accessing Cues – Subtle behaviours that will both help to trigger and indicate which representational system a person is using. Readily identifiable accessing cues include eye movements, voice tone and tempo, body posture, gestures and breathing patterns.

Analogue or Analogical – Any process which is continuous in nature. For example, an analogue sub-modality is like a continuum, varying continuously from one end to the other. A digital sub-modality operates as either off or on, e.g. we see a picture in either an associated or dissociated way.

The majority of the Meta Programmes (Filters) are also analogue in their nature. For example, an extreme conceptual preference (Big Chunk) at one end, through to extreme detail (Small Chunk) at the other.

Analogue Marking – Using a tonal or non-verbal characteristic to emphasise certain words when speaking with someone. The marked out phrase gives an additional embedded message.

Anchoring – A process whereby a single stimulus will evoke a fuller (usually historical) experience. Anchors can occur naturally and in any representational system.

As-If Frame – A way of presupposing that something is true or changed so that new options for action are generated. It works in much the same way as the Outcome Thinking process by acting as if the desired circumstances exist.

Association – The opposite of being “Dissociated”. Usually means experiencing something fully and in the moment – i.e. intellectually, physically and emotionally.

Auditory – The representational system relating to the sense of hearing.

Auditory Digital – Some observers regard this as a separate representational system, others as a sub-set of the auditory system. Best recognized by the use of non-sensory specific words (e.g. “business speak”) often combined with an auditory posture.

Behavioural Flexibility – The ability to vary ones own behaviour, beliefs and/or overall approach in order to elicit or secure a different response from another person.

Beliefs – Assumptions and convictions that are held to be true by an individual or group, regarding concepts, events, people or things. Beliefs do not have to be based on fact to seem real to the individual. Often closely linked to our Values.


Calibration – The process of identifying and tracking another person’s unconscious, non-verbal responses by pairing observable behavioural cues with a specific internal response.

Cause / Effect – Part of the Meta Model: A distortion pattern where a stimulus is deemed to cause a particular response. Basic structure is “X causes Y”. A typical challenge would be “How does X cause Y?”

Chunking – Organising an experience into bigger or smaller pieces. “Chunking up” involves moving to a larger, more abstract level of information. “Chunking down” involves moving to a more specific, concrete level of information. “Chunking laterally” involves finding other examples at the same level of information.

Complex Equivalence – Part of the Meta Model – A distortion pattern where two or more pieces of information appear together in the same sentence as if the one means the other. An example would be “He’s crossed his arms, he’s obviously feeling defensive.” Has the basic structure of “X means Y”.

Congruence – When all of a person’s internal beliefs, strategies and behaviours are fully in agreement and oriented towards securing a desired outcome.

Content – The specifics and details of an event, situation, discussion, etc.

Context – The framework or wider system surrounding a particular event. This framework will often determine how a particular experience or event is interpreted.

Criteria – The values or standards a person uses to make decisions and judgments.

Criterial Equivalence – The evidence by which we know that a particular criterion is being met behaviourally.

Critical Sub-modality – These are the sub-modalities that are unique to a specific context.

Cues – Information that provides clues to another’s subjective structures, e.g. eye accessing cues, predicates, breathing rate and apparent position, body posture, gestures, voice tone and tonality, etc.

Deep Structure – The full linguistic representation from which the words actually spoken (Surface Structure) are derived. The conscious and unconscious sensory maps that organise and guide our behaviour.

Deletion – One of the three main language groups in the Meta Model whose main characteristic is that something fundamental is missing from the sentence. The missing portion of an experience, either linguistically or representationally.

Digital – Varying between two states – a polarity. For example, a light switch is either on or off. Auditory digital refers to thinking, processing and communicating using non-sensory specific words, rather than in the five senses.

Dissociation – Not actually being “in” an experience, but seeing or hearing it as if you are looking in from the outside. The opposite to Association.

Distortion – Part of the Meta Model. The process by which we inaccurately represent something in our understanding or language. The patterns within this group are Cause / Effect, Complex Equivalence, Mind-Reading, Lost Performatives and Nominalisations. Note the latter are sometimes included in the Deletions group although Grinder and Bandler themselves included them in Distortions (See Structure of Magic).

Dovetailing – Aligning your desired outcomes with those of the people most likely to be affected by the achievement of your own goal.

Downtime – Not in sensory awareness, but “down” inside one’s own mind, seeing, hearing and feeling thoughts, memories, awarenesses; a light trance state with attention focused inward.

Driver Sub-modality – In sub-modalities work, a driver sub-modality is one where, if it is changed, it causes a subsequent sequence of other changes. For example, merely changing the brightness of an internal image causes an immediate increase in an adverse feeling.

Ecology – Concern for the overall relationships within the self, and between the self and the larger environment or system. Internal ecology: the overall relationship between a person and their thoughts, strategies, behaviours, capabilities, values and beliefs. Can also be thought of as the law of consequences or the dynamic balance of elements in a system.

Environment – The external context in which our behaviour takes place and what is perceived as “outside” of us. It is not part of our behaviour but is something we react to or act within.

Epistemology – The theory of knowledge; how we know what (we think) we know.

Filters – Often used as a substitute for the phrase Meta Programmes. Describes the (usually unconscious) patterns that determine what we pay attention to, and what we ignore.

First Position – Perceiving the world from your own point of view; associated. One of the three main perceptual positions.

Four-tuple or 4-tuple – A shorthand method used to notate the structure of any particular experience. The concept of the 4-tuple maintains that any experience must be composed of some combination of the five primary representational classes where V = visual, A = auditory, K = kinaesthetic, O = olfactory and G = gustatory.

Frame – Context, environment, meta-level, a way of perceiving something (for example as an Outcome Frame, “As If” Frame, Backtrack Frame, Ecology Frame).

Future Pacing – The process of mentally rehearsing some future situation in order to help ensure that the desired behaviour will occur naturally and automatically. Can be thought of as an anchor placed in the future.

Generalisation – Process by which one specific experience comes to represent a whole class of experiences. One of the three modelling processes in the Meta Model – includes Universal Quantifiers, and Modal Operators of Necessity and Possibility. The common characteristic of all generalisation patterns is that there is an implied limitation to the speaker’s world.

Gustatory – Relating to taste or the sense of taste.


Identity – Our sense of “I” or “We” which organises our beliefs, capabilities and behaviours into a single system.

Incongruence – A state of being “at odds” with oneself or having “parts” in conflict with each other. Indicators can include

  • Having reservations or hesitating about something
  • Not being not totally committed to an outcome
  • Small non-verbal “tics”
  • Lack of alignment or matching between verbal and non-verbal parts of the communication
  • Saying one thing and doing another

Installation – The process of facilitating the acquisition of a new strategy or behaviour. A new strategy may be installed through some combination of anchoring, accessing cues, metaphor and future pacing.

Internal Representations (IR) – Meaningful patterns of information we create and store in our minds; combinations of sights, sounds, sensations, smells and tastes.

In Time – Being present in the moment. Having a time line that passes through your body. Where, typically, the past is behind you, the future is perceived in front and “now” is inside your body.


Kinaesthetic – Relates to body sensations. In NLP the term kinaesthetic is used to encompass all finds of feelings including tactile, visceral and emotional.

Lead System – The representational system we use to get access to information.

Leading – Changing some part of your own behaviour or language (after establishing rapport) so that another person follows shortly afterwards. Being able to lead is a test for having good rapport.

Logical Levels – One of the easiest ways of thinking about logical levels is that, firstly, they are increasing levels of abstraction and, secondly, that no individual level can include itself as a member of that level. In NLP they are often thought of as an internal hierarchy in which each level is progressively more encompassing and impactful. According to Robert Dilts these levels are (in order of importance from low to high): Environment > Behaviour > Competencies / Skills > Beliefs / Values > Identity and, finally, Purpose / Spirituality. They are, however, all interlinked.

One downside of the Dilts’ model is that the levels do not actually fit the definition of Logical Levels: i.e. each level is not a true sub-set of the subsequent level. Despite this, most business people find the model to be useful in coaching and as a way of dealing with the barriers to organizational or cultural change. As a general principle, intervene at the lowest possible level that enables the particular change to occur. When dealing with any kind of change process, we in Vievolve have found it very useful to substitute the level of “Spirituality” by the term “Systems” and to include the term “Purpose” in the “Identity” level. This approach works because it avoids the potential difficulty of people perceiving religion at this level, rather than where it belongs at the level of Beliefs and also helps to simplify what can be tedious debate over the possible differences between Mission, Purpose and Vision.

Logical Levels of Learning – a model proposed by Gregory Bateson. He originally described 5 levels of learning, of which the first four are most useful to us in the business world. These are his words:

  1. Zero Level Learning is characterised by specificity of response, which – right or wrong – is not subject to correction.
  2. Level One learning is change in specificity of response by correction of errors of choice within a set of alternatives.
  3. Level Two is change in the process of Learning I, e.g. a corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made, or it is a change in how the sequence of experience is punctuated.
  4. Level Three is change in the process of Learning II, e.g. a corrective change in the system of sets of alternatives from which choice is made.

Some of this language is quite dense so, in the learning and development environments that most of us inhabit, the levels can be described more simply as follows:

  1. No learning has occurred. For example, a trainer asks “How did that go?” to a group returning from an exercise and gets the answer “Yes, very good, thanks.”
  2. A new idea, behaviour or strategy is formed and can be applied to a specific context or situation.
  3. We learn something new about the process of learning itself.
  4. The level of … learning how to learn about how to learn. In other words, creating a change at Level II.

Logical Types – Dr Wyatt Woodsmall states that “Type” is often used synonymously with class or category and refers to “a number of things or persons sharing a particular characteristic, or set of characteristics, that causes them to be regarded as a group, more or less precisely defined or designated.”

Loops – A circle, cycle, story, metaphor or representation that goes back to its own beginning, so that it loops back (feeds back) onto itself. An open loop: a story left unfinished. In strategies: loop refers to getting stuck in a set of procedures that have no way out, i.e. no Exit in TOTE terms.

Lost Performative – Part of the Meta Model. A distortion – usually a value judgement or an opinion stated as if it is a fact.

Magic Number 7 +/-2 – Refers to original work done by George Miller to describe the usual number of chunks of information that we can handle at any one time.

Matching – Adopting the specific characteristics of another person’s posture, gestures, words, etc to establish or enhance rapport. See also Mirroring.

Meta – Above, beyond, about, at a higher level, sometimes a logical level higher.

Meta Levels – The abstract levels of consciousness we experience internally. For example, thinking about how you’re feeling rather than feeling a particular emotion or sensation.

Meta Model – A representation of a representation of something. In NLP, a model developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler that identifies categories of language patterns that can be problematic or ambiguous and therefore get in the way of clear meaning. The model contains three major naturally occurring patterns – Deletions, Generalisations and Distortions together with a series of questions to challenge each pattern where appropriate.

Meta Programme – A level of mental programme that determines how we sort, orient to, and chunk our experiences. In other words they influence what we pay attention to, and what we ignore. Our meta programmes are more abstract than our specific strategies for thinking and define our general approach to a particular issue rather than the details of our thinking process. See also Filters

Metaphor – The process of thinking about one situation or phenomena as something else – for example: stories, parables and analogies.

Mind Reading – A Meta Model distortion. Purporting to know the mind of another person.

Mirroring – Very similar to Matching except that in this case the posture or gesture is a mirror image of the other person, not the same. The initial phase of a rapport building process.

Mismatching – Offering different patterns of behaviour to the other person’s. Although some people mismatch naturally, it can also used to deliberately break rapport for the purpose of redirecting, interrupting, or terminating a meeting or conversation.

Modal Operators – Linguistic distinctions in the meta-model that indicate the “mode” by which a person “operates”: the mode of necessity, possibility, desire, obligation, etc. Includes the predicates “can, can’t, possible, impossible, have to, must” etc) that we utilise for motivation.

Modelling – The process of discerning the sequence of internal representations, strategies, beliefs, values and external behaviours that enable someone to accomplish a task. The intention of any modelling process is to replicate the successful actions and behaviours of others, provided you have the appropriate physical and mental make-up.

Motivation Direction – One of the most important Meta Programmes. It relates to how we become motivated to do something: Either … “Moving Towards” – what we want but do not have or, “Away From” – what we have but do not want, or what we’ll get if we stay as we are.

Multiple Descriptions – The process of describing the same thing from the different perceptual positions.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) – A behavioural model and set of explicit skills and techniques founded by John Grinder and Richard Bandler at the University of California Santa Cruz in 1975. Richard Bandler defined it as “An attitude of insatiable curiosity about human beings with a methodology that leaves a trail of techniques behind.” Robert Dilts later defined it as “The study of the structure of subjective experience.”

Nominalisation – A linguistic distinction in the Meta Model, a hypnotic pattern of trance language, a process or verb turned into an (abstract) noun, a process frozen in time. It is sometimes listed as being one of the Deletion patterns although Grinder and Bandler originally showed it under the Distortions heading.

Olfactory – Relating to smell, or the sense of smell.

Outcomes – Goals or desired states that a person or organisation aspires to achieve. An effective Outcome Thinking process can be applied to both short and very long-term goals.

Pacing – The second phase in establishing and maintaining rapport after Matching or Mirroring has occurred. Rapport is enhanced by respectfully following certain aspects of the other person’s posture, gestures, breathing, language and approach.

Parts – Describes apparently independent programmes or strategies of behaviour occurring within any one person. Easily identified when someone says “Part of me … and part of me …” or “On the one hand … and on the other …”

Pattern Interrupt – Any intervention designed to disrupt or stop a particular behaviour.

Perceptual Filters – Unique ideas, experiences, beliefs, values, meta-programmes, decisions, memories and language that shape and influence our model of the world.

Perceptual Position – A particular perspective or point of view. In NLP there are three basic positions one can take in perceiving a particular experience. First position involves experiencing something through one’s own eyes, associated in a first person point of view. Second position involves experiencing something as if we were in another person’s shoes. Third position involves standing back and perceiving the relationship between ourselves and others from a dissociated perspective. Two further positions can also be considered: Robert Dilts suggests fourth position being from the perspective (best interest) of the system and Marilyn Atkinson proposes a “universal perceptual position” (a meta position to everything; over-viewing through time).

Positive Bi-Products – See Secondary Gain

Predicates – Process words (like verbs, adverbs, and adjectives) that a person selects to describe a subject. Predicates may identify which representational system a person is using to process information.

Preferred System – The representational system that someone typically uses most in thinking and organising their experience.

Presuppositions – Naturally occurring presuppositions are ideas or assumptions that we take for granted for a communication to make sense. For example, when we hear “The cat sat on the mat” we can reasonably presuppose that there is a cat, and that there is a mat.

NLP Presuppositions (or Empowering Beliefs) are beliefs that we adopt as if they are true (even if they are not) because they will lead to more flexibility in our approach and, usually, better outcomes.

Primary or Predominant System – The representational system we use to process information and decide.

Quotes – A linguistic pattern in which a message that you want to deliver can be embedded in quotations, as if someone else had given the message.

Rapport – A process of establishing and maintaining a relationship of effective communication and potentially co-operation. A sense of connectedness with another person. Empathy. Rapport is achieved through matching and pacing behaviour, beliefs, language etc. and can be tested by attempting to “lead” the other person.

Reframing – A way of changing meaning based on the idea that all meaning is contextual. Grinder and Bandler described two categories of reframe: Content and Context. A Content Reframe is where you attribute a new meaning for a particular behaviour, and a Context Reframe is when you identify a new context where that behaviour could be useful.

The 6-Step Reframe process used in NLP separates a problematic behaviour from the positive intention of the internal programme or “part” that is responsible for that behaviour. New choices of behaviour are established by having the part responsible for the old behaviour take responsibility for implementing other behaviours that satisfy the same positive intention but don’t have the problematic by-products.

Representational System – How we mentally code, process and store information using the sensory systems: Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory.

Representational System Primacy – Where an individual systematically uses one sense over the other to process and organise his or her experience. Primary representational system may influence many personality traits as well as learning capabilities.

Requisite Variety – An NLP Presupposition which is a simplified version of W Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety. The NLP version states: In any system or relationship, the person with most flexibility and choice of behaviour will ultimately control the outcome, if they choose.

Resources – Any means we can bring to bear to achieve outcomes. Can include physiology, states, thoughts, strategies, experiences, people, events or possessions

Satir Categories – The five body posture and language styles described by Virginia Satir which indicate specific ways of communicating: Leveller, Blamer, Placator, Computer (sometimes called Super Reasonable) and Distracter,

Secondary Gain (or Positive By-Product) – Where some seemingly negative or problematic behaviour actually carries out some positive function at some other level. For example, smoking may help a person relax or help them fit a particular self image; failure to commit to a new outcome may keep one comfortable

Semantic – The study of meaning.

Semantically Dense or Semantically Packed Words – Words that are emotionally charged for a particular individual. Can be cultural and are often Value words.

Sensory Acuity – Detailed awareness of the outside world – in particular, noticing changes in someone’s posture, gestures, breathing patterns, eye movements and language.

Sensory-Based description – Information directly observable and verifiable by the senses: see-hear-feel language that we can test empirically, in contrast to evaluative descriptions.

S.O.C.R.A.T.E.S – Vievolve’s version of the well-formedness conditions in Outcome Thinking

  1. S – Specify the goal in positive terms, i.e. what you want.
  2. O – Own it. Ensure that it is within your control to make happen. If not, what can you bring within your control?
  3. C – Check your evidence for having achieved it. What are you seeing, hearing and feeling?
  4. R – Recall how you’ve achieved this, from the perspective of having done it.
  5. A – Add in your higher level interests. In other words, what’s important to you about having done this?
  6. T – Test against the needs of others most directly affected by your achievement of this outcome?
  7. E – Evaluate the ecology and wider consequences of the achievement. Who and what else is affected by it?
  8. S – Step out and start once you’ve identified the first few steps towards achievement. Then, test your commitment to them. Give it a score out of 10. If 8 or 9 then ask “What else does the outcome need to have to make it a 10? If 7 or less, ask “What do you get out of not achieving this outcome (the positive bi-product of the present state)?

State – The total ongoing mental, emotional and physical conditions from which a person is acting at any moment.

Strategy – Any sequence of explicit mental and behavioural steps that lead to a specific, consistent outcome. The basic structure of a strategy is the T.O.T.E.

Sub-Modalities – Sub-modalities were identified by Richard Bandler and are the fine distinctions we make in our thinking. For example, Visual sub-modalities include colour, shape, movement, brightness, depth, etc; Auditory sub-modalities include volume, pitch, tempo, etc. and Kinaesthetic sub-modalities include such qualities as pressure, temperature, texture location, etc.

Surface Structure – The words or language someone uses to describe or stand for the actual primary sensory representations stored in the brain. Can be thought of as what is actually said compared to the Deep Structure which is known only to the speaker.

Synaesthesia – In NLP it is the overlap between representational systems characterised by phenomena like “see / feel circuits” in which a person derives feelings from what they see and “hear / feel circuits” in which a person gets feelings from what they hear.

In neuroscience, the term synaesthesia includes a huge range of clinical conditions that seem to have their source in a lack of separation in normally distinct parts of the brain.

Syntax – In language, the study of the order and patterning of words and phrases.

Through Time – Having a time line where past, present and future are in front of, and separated from you.

Time-Line – A metaphor for how we store our sights, sounds and sensations of memories and imagination; a way of coding and processing the construct “time”.

T.O.T.E. – Developed by George Miller, Eugene Galanter and Karl Pribram, the term stands for the sequence Test / Operate / Test / Exit, which describes the basic feedback loop used to guide all behaviour. Wyatt Woodsmall has expanded the model to turn it into a very useful way of considering Strategies in real time:

  • Trigger – create a representation of the desired outcome
  • Operate – do something
  • Test – compare the results of that intervention with the original desired state. If they are the same then Exit to the Outcome. If not, repeat the Operate / Test phase until the conditions for the desired outcome are met.

Transderivational Search – The process of going back through one’s stored memories and mental representations to find the reference experience from which a current behaviour or response was derived.

Translating – The process of rephrasing words from one representational system to another.

Universal Quantifiers – A pattern in the Meta Model. Generalises from a sample to the whole population – e.g. every, all, never, none etc. A statement that allows for no exceptions.

Unspecified Nouns or Referential Index – A Deletions pattern in the Meta Model – nouns or pronouns that do not specify to whom or to what they refer. For example, “They didn’t come to the meeting.”

Unspecified Verbs – A Deletions pattern in the Meta Model where the “how” of what is being described is missing – they do not describe the specifics of the action, how it is being performed or where an adverb has been deleted. For example, “She hurt herself this morning.”

Uptime – State where attention and senses are directed outward to the immediate environment with all sensory channels open and alert.

Utilisation – A technique in which a specific strategy or pattern of behaviour is paced or matched in order to influence another’s response.

Values – What’s important to you in a particular context. Your values (criteria) are what motivate you in life. All motivation strategies have a kinaesthetic component. What you’re prepared to invest time, energy, money and other resources in to achieve … or to avoid.

Visual – Relating to sight or the sense of sight.

Well-Formedness Conditions – The set of conditions something must satisfy in order to produce an effective and ecological outcome. In NLP a particular goal (outcome) is well-formed if it can be

  • Stated in positive terms
  • Defined and evaluated according to sensory based evidence
  • Initiated and maintained by the person who desires the goal
  • Preserve any positive by-products of the present state
  • Appropriately contextualised to fit the external ecology




Sources: John Grinder and Richard Bandler
Dynamic Learning Center NLP Master Practitioner Booklet 1990 – Robert Dilts & Todd Epstein
The User’s Manual for the Brain – Bob G Bodenhamer and L Michael Hall, Crown House Publishing, 1999
Additional material by Dr Wyatt Woodsmall and Ian Ross

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