by Arielle Essex

Charisma and understanding people

Understanding people and maintaining good working relationships begins with knowing a little bit about the different ways in which people think. It’s tempting to believe that people are all the same. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Research reveals that there are specific programmes – meta programmes – that show up as patterns in people’s behaviour. These preferences are like computer software programmes that structure the way people perceive reality and therefore how they respond to certain situations. People form such habitual pre-dispositions that these programmes rarely change. So when you identify someone’s preferences, you can also predict with great accuracy how they will react in different situations. People reveal their meta programmes by the way they talk, through their body language and how they behave.

Here are two short lists of some of the most common meta programmes that determine people’s preferences. As you read through these lists, you might notice that the ones that describe you fall more into one column than the other.

Meta programmes
Proactive Reactive
  • Moves ‘towards’ an objective
  • Refers internally for decision making
  • Likes lots of options and new choices
  • Likes change, new things, difference
  • Prefers the big picture overview
  • Dissociates from emotions
  • Highly independent
  • Highly goal oriented
  • Mismatches, likes debate
  • Attention focuses on self
  • Moves ‘away from’ problems
  • Refers externally for opinions
  • Prefers known procedures
  • Prefers sameness, certainty
  • Likes detail and sequences
  • Associates with emotions
  • Team player
  • Highly people oriented
  • Matches, likes agreement
  • Attention focuses on others

There are over a hundred different meta programmes that govern people’s choices, but the surprising fact is that, to a large degree, these programmes tend to cluster together into two main groups. Studying the two different camps, it also becomes clear that the two types of preferences will naturally yield very different nonverbal body language. By simply watching how a person behaves, you can determine which group they are likely to fall into.

A leader is a dealer in hope.

Napoleon Bonaparte

It is important to remember that every person varies in the preferences they express from moment to moment, as well as in different contexts. For example, looking at the above lists, you may select very different options depending on whether you are thinking about being in a work situation or being at home. These behavioural traits are not meant to help you to pigeonhole people. However, when you correctly identify what channel the person has currently selected, it’s easy to choose the appropriate response. This leads to clearer communication, better understanding, and greater rapport.