I watched the big TV election debate that was held last Wednesday with my NLP/ coaching hat on rather than as a voter deciding where to put my cross on June 8. It was an interesting experience.

What did I learn?

Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon got that one wrong – they both sent deputies along instead. Cheap shot, maybe, but, especially for Mrs. May, her absence has genuinely damaged her campaign. Being present really does matter.

Using the Metamodel

Political debates can often descend into a series of what NLP calls Metamodel
violations. These are ways of speaking in a confusing or unconsidered manner, behind
which therapists often find damaging and self-limiting assumptions.

Metamodel violations fall essentially into three categories.

Generalisations – are pretty self-explanatory. ‘Everybody thinks this.’ ‘Our party always does that…’
Deletions – are more about vagueness, asserting things without evidence.
Distortions–  are a broader category, in which reality is twisted in some way – a common example (in
therapy, but also in politics), is that of Mind-reading, where the speaker assumes they
know what someone else is thinking or that someone else should know what they are
Many relationships suffer with this. ‘You should have known what I wanted.’

In the debate, the Metamodel violations began straight away. Leanne Wood from
Plaid Cymru opened with a classic Mind-read, telling us why Theresa May had called
the election. Next up, the Greens’ Caroline Lucas fired off a series of ‘Lost
Performatives’ (a type of Deletion), moral judgements with no supporting evidence.
UKIP’s Paul Nuttall then completed the set with a collection of ‘musts’:
Generalizations without any evidence of why we had to do what he suggested. And
we hadn’t even got on to ‘strong and stable government’!

In defence of Rhetoric

Defenders of the speakers can argue that Rhetoric is its own kind of speech, designed
to whip up support for the speaker rather than convey information. If we met these
people one-to-one and they started haranguing us in this manner, we’d be (quite
rightly) offended. (Queen Victoria once complained of Gladstone that he talked to her
‘as if he were addressing a public meeting’.) This is a fair defence – up to a point. But
the worst offenders take it all too far. Slogans can ask more questions than provide

  • Strong and stable government. Who defines those things?

  • For the many, not the few. Who are the many?


Odder still, perhaps, was the way the speakers engaged with the audience – or rather
didn’t. I don’t want to go on about it, but look at the clip of Bill Clinton I mentioned
in an earlier post. That’s engagement with the audience. Our candidates hardly
engaged with the speakers at all.

Amber Rudd, answering the first question, thanked the questioner while still looking down at some notes, then gave a kind of speech, at several points referring to ‘Nicola’ (the woman who had asked the question) in the third person, almost as the woman had left the room. They all, of course, soon drifted off the actual questions asked, and soon became embroiled in arguments with each other.

If I were engaged to coach the participants, what would I suggest they do?

I would want them to answer questions more precisely – both in terms of looking at the person
who asked the question, and in giving concrete answers in facts and figures rather
than generalizations. I’d also suggest they smile more.
It was somewhat artificial for them, being penned behind those lecterns (Clinton just walked straight out from
behind his, but his debate was only with two other people), and they all looked
strangely defensive and nervous. I found this odd, given their experience.

An NLP exercise such as the Circle of Excellence, to set the right, positive intention – maybe
to put forward positive ideas rather than relapsing into bad-mouthing opposition –
before going onstage, could have worked wonders.



The Meta Model–  A tool for spotting and challenging certain types of limiting thinking. (Not, as one might think, a model that belongs to a higher logical category than other models. It’s just another model.)
NLP Presuppositions – NLP is loosely based on a number of presuppositions, statements about the world and about human psychology

Share this

What is NLP?

What exactly is neuro linguistic programming? Can it work for me?

learn more

Events & Courses

Find out more about our courses for beginners, professionals and experts.

enrol today

Enjoy this blog?

Read more articles from NLP School's Robbie Steinhouse.

read more