Book Review

Figuring Out People
Design Engineering with Meta-Programs
Reviewed By
Judith Pearson, Ph.D.

In almost every area of life, whether business, personal relationships, family, children, etc., getting along well with others plays an important role. It plays as important a role as does intelligence, skill, aptitude, etc. in succeeding. And "getting along well" with people, in part, necessitates some ability in figuring people out. (p. 25)

Figuring Out People, by Dr. L. Michael Hall and Dr.Bob Bodenhamer, is the quintessential text on meta-programs. It constitutes an excellent reference manual for NLP practitioners who want to widen their knowledge-base on this topic. According to Wyatt Woodsmall, who wrote the foreword, "Meta-programs are probably the greatest contribution the field of NLP has made to understanding human differences." Figuring Out People is the greatest contribution the field of NLP has made to understanding meta-programs.

Meta-programs describe constructs about behavioral, cognitive, and emotional processes that reveal how people sort and process information, make decisions, carry out plans, and relate to others and to the world around them. Meta-programs describe characteristics that make each human being a unique and individual self throughout time. Figuring Out People is not, however, about how people "are" in terms of static traits, but about how people function in given contexts. Meta-programs reveal one's model of the world that creates his or her inner reality.


Leslie Cameron Bandler introduced the concept of meta-programs, basing her observations on individual distinctions in the context of therapy with her clients. She began presenting her observations in NLP training programs. Roger Bailey and Ross Steward later applied the concept to human behavior in business activities. In the 1980s Roger Bailey developed the Language and Behavior (LAB) profile, a questionnaire that elicits 14 predominant meta-programs, divided into two categories: Motivation Traits and Working Traits. Wyatt Woodsmall integrated meta-programs with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, as described in Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality (Meta Publications, 1988). Edward Reese and Dan Bagley applied meta-programs to sales in Beyond Selling: How to Maximize Your Personal Influence (Meta Publications, 1988). Shelle Rose Charvet wrote Words That Change Minds (Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1995) to explain how an understanding of meta-programs can increase one's influence in occupational settings.

Figuring Out People expands on these existing works. This book breaks new ground by identifying several new meta-program distinctions and by grouping meta-programs into five categories: Mental, Emotional, Volitional, Response, and Meta Meta-Programs. While it would be impossible to create a definitive list of meta-programs, or even an all-purpose classification system, Bodenhamer and Hall have gone beyond the call of duty to define 51 meta-programs in this book.


Figuring Out People consists of three parts. The first part is an introduction to the concept of meta-programs. The second part describes the 51 meta-programs, divided among the five categories. The third part describes design engineering with meta-programs.

In Part I, "Introduction," the authors describe meta-programs as "distinctions of consciousness" and "processes of mind" that provide operational frameworks for how people sort and perceive sensory inputs, and how they process thoughts and feelings. The usefulness of any meta-program depends on the task at hand and what one wants to accomplish. Meta-programs do not explain; they describe. Some meta-programs act as "drivers" of the mind, operating consistently across contexts, while other "non-driver" meta-programs allow for flexibility and shifting across contexts. When we combine meta-programs with mental strategies, we have, as a result, the process we commonly call personality. Thus, meta-programs provide a model for figuring out people.

As soon as we do figure out people, another problem arises. After we discover just how different they think, feel, value, choose, act, etc. we have to handle our differences. Learning to recognize how others differ from us comprises step one. Step two involves learning how to accept, appreciate, and validate those differences....Then comes step three, utilizing those differences in such a way that we don't let them get in the way of communicating and relating. (p. 25)

Understanding another's meta-programs allows us to identify his or her map of reality, so that we can pace that reality, and more profoundly motivate, understand, persuade, and relate. The authors put forth six presuppositions for working with meta-programs:

1) Meta-programs create a general direction for consciousness.

2) They are conceptually dependent.

3) Each one operates on continuum.

4) They operate in a "state dependent" way.

5) Meta-programs are not true or false, or moral or immoral, or good or bad.

6) They change over time and context.

We can learn to recognize meta-programs by maintaining sensory awareness of others' behaviors and expressions, attending to linguistic markers, developing a comprehensive knowledge of meta-program patterns, and gathering our impressions from a calm state of observation. A familiarity with meta-programs can help reduce interpersonal conflicts, increase appreciation of human differences, enhance communication flexibility, facilitate empathy and rapport, and lend accuracy to our predictions about human behavior.

In Part II, "The Meta-Programs," Hall and Bodenhamer describe the 51 meta-programs and the five categories. Here are few examples of meta-programs in each category:

Mental meta-programs deal with how people process information. Examples are:

Chunk Size (General/Specific; Global/Detail)

Relationship Sort (Matching/Mismatching; Sameness/Difference)

Information Gathering Style (Uptime/Downtime)

Emotional meta-programs describe how cognitive processes affect emotions. Examples are:

Stress Response Pattern (Passivity/Aggression/Dissociated)

Frame of Reference Sort (Internal/External; Self/Other)

Convincer or Believability Sort (Looks, Sounds, or Feels Right; Makes sense)

Volitional meta-programs have to do with the attention of consciousness or conation. This terms refers to choosing, willing, and intending. Examples are:

Conation Choice in Adapting (Options/Procedures)

Adaptation Sort (Judging/Perceiving, Controlling/Floating)

Reason Sort of Modal Operators (Necessity/Possibility)

Response meta-programs refer to the products or outputs of states of consciousness. Examples are:

Rejuvenation of Battery Sort (Extrovert/Introvert/Ambivert)

Affiliation and Management Sort (Independent/Team player/Manager)

Work Preference Sort (Things/Systems/People/Information)

Meta meta-programs are those meta-programs that occur at a level meta to other meta-programs. They describe how people process information about primary experiences and states. Examples are:

Temper to Instruction Sort (Strong-will/Compliant)

Self-esteem Sort (Conditional/Unconditional)

"Time" Experience ( In time/Through time)

For each meta-program, the authors provide a description that explains the concept, gives guidelines for elicitation and identification, discusses the personality traits found on the continuum, addresses possible origins of the traits, and makes suggestions for further reading.

An example from the text is "Philosophical Direction," a mental meta-program. The meta-program distinctions are Why and How. Those with a Why orientation think about causation, source, and origins, while those with a How orientation think about use, function, direction, and destiny. Why people sort for the philosophical past, based on the assumption that "If I can understand where something came from, I can gain mastery over it." They tend to get stuck in mentally reliving trauma, because they keep looping back to it, asking "why?" How people sort for purpose and maintain a solution focus, by asking "How can I respond to, or use, this?" A Why person tends toward philosophical approaches, while a How person tends toward pragmatic approaches. Why and How orientations are usually acquired from one's parents and teachers. Trauma may encourage people to search for causation and reasons.

Part III, covers "Utilization: Design Engineering with Meta-Programs." The authors explain that meta-programs function as frame-of-reference contexts for thinking, not only in terms of the environment, but also in the roles we play. Use global thinking, and you become a philosopher. Use detailed thinking and take on the role of scientist. Your thinking context will induce you into certain roles. Conversely, the roles you have played can create your meta-programs. The way people describe their histories reveals their meta-programs.

We can expand our personal frames-of-reference by modeling another's meta-programs, or by renovating our own stories from the perspective of meta-programs other than our own. We can change meta-programs by studying their origins from a meta position above the time line or by reimprinting significant emotional events of the past.

When we become adept at identifying meta-programs in others, we can conduct profiling. Profiling people according to their meta-programs is useful in understanding another's skills and where they fit in, as well as predicting how they may respond to given circumstances. With profiling, we can begin to theoretically construct the combinations of meta-programs that make up certain diagnostic categories. The authors provide an easy-to-use checklist (which readers can copy) for profiling.

After figuring out a person's meta-programs, comes the task of using that information for effective communication and rapport-building, as well as strategic leveraging. Leveraging means identifying driver meta-programs which, if shifted, cause everything else to shift as well. The driver meta-programs are those with the most pervasive impact on personality and behavior. When we know another's meta-programs, we can confront them in a way that best allows them to receive the information. We can understand how they arrive at their self-esteem. We can access the values that will draw them toward self-improvement. We can predict whether they will match or mismatch advice and instructions. Such information is of value to supervisors, teachers, therapists, and those in leadership positions.

The authors provide a fascinating table describing the non-verbal behaviors that possibly indicate each meta-program distinction. For example, with the Scenario Thinking meta-program, Pessimists may tend to shake their heads, and their eye accessing could be kinesthetic (down and to the right). Optimists may tend to nod their heads, smile, lean forward, and eye access visually. The authors caution that these descriptions are speculative and not yet validated by research. It is still best to calibrate each individual.

Meta-programs become meta-states when they lend meanings to primary emotional states. This can happen because meta-programs determine what kinds of information we attend to, the meanings we attach to the information, and the way we represent the information internally, which induces us into corresponding states. Thus, some meta-programs function as states that create and maintain other states.

...the procedure person not only sorts for "step-by-step processes," but also values such and believes in the importance of such, etc. To get him or her to shift to "options" might, in fact violate some of the person's beliefs and values. It would interrupt and contradict some of their most frequently experienced "states." Thus, to the extent that we have over-valued and/or over-used a particular meta-program, we will develop a tendency to view everything through that particular filter. (p. 230)

Figuring Out People is written in an articulate manner. It is effectively organized for easy access to the main concepts and the individual meta-programs. An excellent glossary, an index, and a comprehensive bibliography make this book a highly usable reference for research, training, and clinical applications.


Drs. L. Michael Hall and Bob Bodenhamer are well-known to the readers of Anchor Point. They are two of the most prolific authors on the NLP scene today, consistently expanding the limits of what we know about changing human states. These two masterful theoreticians are accomplished authors, known for their integrity, creativity, dedication to detail, and conscientious research. They have co-authored and published three other books: 1) Mind-Lines: Lines for Changing Minds (1998), 2) Time Lining: Advanced Time Line Principles (1997), and 3) Patterns for Renewing the Mind (1996).

L. Michael Hall, has masters' degrees in Psychology, Human Resources, and Biblical Language and Literature, with a doctorate in Cognitive Behavioral Psychology. He is a Master Practitioner and Trainer of NLP (trained under Richard Bandler). A frequent contributor to NLP journals, such as NLP World, NLP Connection, and Anchor Point, Michael writes about how to integrate NLP with cognitive psychology. He publishes Metamorphosis - The Journal. Since 1985 he has published 16 books (including those mentioned above) such as NLP: Going Meta to Logical Levels (1997), The Spirit of NLP (1997), and Languaging: How Language works Psychotherapeutically (1996).

Bob G. Bodenhamer has an education in Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, and Ministry. He is a Master Practitioner and Trainer of NLP. He directs NLP of Gastonia, North Carolina, maintains a private practice, and teaches NLP at Gaston College in Gastonia, North Carolina. He is also serves as pastor of a mission church, Christ Fellowship Community Church in Gastonia, NC.


Figuring Out People invites us to enhance our abilities to recognize meta-programs, so that we can understand another's basis for operating in the world. As we increase our understandings of others, we can improve rapport, and expand our ability to guide and influence them. We can validate others in meaningful ways. A familiarity with meta-programs expands our possibilities for relating to the world around us, while giving us additional perspectives on the complexity and diversity of what we often refer to as "human nature."

This cognitive model of how people manage consciousness provides us with not only a reason why we so frequently seem to live in different worlds -- but also how we come do to so. It also offers a beacon light of insight about what we can do about it. As men and women who inevitably map out and construct the realities we live in, we structure our conceptual worlds, then habituate those structures into our "meta-programs." But no law exists that demands that we always, and only, structure information this way. We can choose to use different perceiving patterns. We can choose to create and live in different worlds! (p. 24).

Ordering Information Below:

Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Judith Pearson is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a psychotherapy practice in Northern Virginia, specializing in Hypnotherapy and NLP. She has been in private practice since 1987. She is a Master Practitioner of Clinical Hypnosis and Executive Director of Certification for the National Board of Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists. She is a Certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and an instructor for the American Hypnosis Training Academy and the Mid-Lantic Institute for NLP.

Dr. Pearson speaks on the uses of NLP and Hypnosis for personal growth, healing, motivation, and self improvement. She has published extensively in association magazines and professional journals. She makes frequent appearances on local television talk shows, both as a speaker and as a guest host. She is a member of Toastmasters International where she has earned the title of Distinguished Toastmaster and in which she has won many awards for her speaking and leadership skills. Dr. Pearson is available to write guest articles and for speaking engagements on topics such as:

Maximize Your Motivation!
Relax and Reduce Your Pain.
Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking
Develop Empowering Beliefs
Love Who You Are and Get What You Want.

To contact Judith:

E-mail: judy @
Web Site:

Mailing Address: 6089 Guildhall Ct, Burke, VA 22015

1998 Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

Figuring Out People $25.00 + $5.00 S&H = $30.00

Online Ordering E-mail me a list of the products you want including your name, shipping address and telephone number and I will send you an invoice with the full cost of the products including shipping charges. Within the invoice that I will send you will be a link to PayPal where you can use your own PayPal account to pay for the products or you can use your own personal charge card. You may launch your e-mail program by clicking on the "Order Now" button to the right:   

Shipping and Handling in the USA is generally $5 for the first book plus $2 per each additional book. For orders outside the USA, send an E-mail to us with the books you wish to order plus your shipping address and we will notify you promptly of the shipping charges. Air mail charges vary dramatically from country to country.




Pay with your own personal PayPal account.

Additional Options

Send your payment to:


You can contact me via phone, fax, email, or snail mail and I can accept your personal Master Card, Visa Card and/or Discover Card directly.

MasterCard.jpg (2235 bytes) DiscoverCard.jpg (2643 bytes)

Send check or money order to:

Bobby G. Bodenhamer
1516 Cecelia Dr.
Gastonia, NC 28054
Fax: 704.864.1545