If you've ever been confused when someone says, "This is much better" then here's why.


If you've studied NLP then you will have seen Meta Model, the questioning structure that enables us to uncover information hidden in a client's words.

One of the first Meta Model patterns is the Comparative Deletion - words such as more, better, easier, less, faster, slower and so on. Here's an example:

"This is better"

If you've attended NLP training, you were probably taught to respond with,

"Better than what?"

If this is familiar to you, then your trainer was one of the great majority who simply don't understand Meta Model. To ask, "Better than what?" is a trivial use of Meta Model.

Asking, "Better than what?" will essentially get the same level of response as the question, "Why?" in that the speaker will give a reply which sounds like a reason but is in fact a justification or proof of their world view.

This more analytical approach to Meta Model is much better.

What did you just say to yourself when you read that last sentence? Did you think, "Hmmm, yes", or "Better than what???!!!", or "Better for me...", or, "Better than that rubbish trainer who ran my Practitioner course", or, "No it's not!"

The point is this: Information was missing, and you filled in the gaps from your own experience. Hence, used as an instruction, the Comparative Deletion is a Milton pattern. It's better to relax. It's easier to ease yourself into the chair. You might find it more valuable after you've read this article.

Let's consider three levels of Meta Model analysis.

Level 1, the trivial, we can ignore. It's clumsy, it doesn't flow in the natural conversation and it doesn't tell us much.

Level 2 takes us to the two missing pieces of information.

In order for the word "better" to be grammatically correct within the sentence, we need to insert the missing reference, for example, "This is better than watching paint dry". So the point of reference is the first missing piece of the puzzle. The reference is not an 'it', it can also be a 'where', a 'whom' and, most importantly, a 'when'.

The second piece of the puzzle is the criteria for the reference. Take a moment right now to look at your hands. What differences do you see? Which hand is better?

Immediately, a question comes in to your mind: "Better for what? Better at what?"

Noticing a difference only requires perception. Giving that difference a bias requires judgement, a cognitive process. What is the judgement based on? An unpleasant previous experience? A preference for chocolate? A desire to get home early? An intention to save money? When we ask about the criteria, we discover the very narrow set of features which are being compared, and the judgements used to make those comparisons. We can explore those judgements further.

So level 2 takes us to the deleted reference and the deleted criteria which makes one of the elements being compared preferable to the other.

That sounds pretty good, yes? That's certainly a lot of information to explore. So what is level 3? What more could there be?

Level 3 is about time. Take a moment to look at your hands again. Compare them. Notice some details or sensations and compare them. Do you find yourself looking from one hand to the other? Of course, you must do, because your focus of visual perception is extremely narrow. You can't read these words out of the corner of your eye, you must look straight at them. The cells on your retina are not uniformly distributed. Outside of your focal area, the cells and their neural connections are optimised for detecting movement, which is change over time. In the focal area, the cells and their neural connections are optimised for picking out real time details.

You can't look at both hands at the same time, so your eyes move from one to the other. Which means that when you look at 'this' hand, you are not comparing it to 'that' hand, you are comparing it to your memory of 'that' hand, and one thing that we know for certain about our memories is that they are faulty. In fact, they're dreadful. It's amazing that we remember our own names.

We know that, in order to cope with the volume of sensory data available, we delete, distort and generalise, before we become consciously aware of what we are noticing. By the time we know that we've encountered something, we're already experiencing a distorted version of it.

Right, so what does this tell us about Comparative Deletions?

When a person says, "This is better", they are comparing an extremely narrow facet of their current sensory experience to a past experience, and that past experience will be distorted. It's not distorted randomly, it's distorted to prove their current judgement.

I was in Dubai last week. I first went to Dubai in June last year. Last year I hated Dubai. It was a big, expensive, hot, dusty building site. I hated it. I regretted going there.

Last week, the weather was much more pleasant, I saw different parts of Dubai, and most importantly, I wasn't feeling ill.

Dubai had not changed in those few months. Well, they built a dozen more skyscrapers, and opened some new shopping malls. But apart from that it was exactly the same. What had changed was my experience of Dubai.

It wasn't Dubai that had changed. It was me.

What the Comparative Deletion tells us is that the person has distorted an experience in order to fit their expectation, or to explain an exception to their expectation, so that they can be right, then that experience has become a reference so that they can maintain their rightness in the future.

"My way is better"

How do you know? You haven't tried any other ways!

"I just know"

So what you really mean is that you deviated from your routine once in the past and had a bad experience, and now you're afraid to try again? And because of that, you're missing out on opportunities to improve, and you're giving control to your fears, and you know where that road leads to, don't you?

(Sound of cogs whirring)

When we understand what the Comparative Deletion tells us about the client's inner world, their experiences, their distortions of those experiences and their future expectations, we can explore those reference points with far greater tact and dexterity, and what's even more important, instead of a Meta Model interrogation, we can actually have a normal conversation with them.