Metaprogram #3: Who Comes First, You, or Others?

We’re looking at metaprogams — the filters to your communication and influence.  In post one of this series, we asked the question of whether individuals are moving toward or away from things; in the second post we looked at external vs. internal frames of reference. Today we’re going to examine how people sort themselves.

Some people look at human interactions primarily in terms of what’s in it for them personally, some in terms of what they can do for themselves and others. Of course, people don’t always fall into one extreme or they other. If you sort only by self, you become a self-absorbed egotist.

If you’re involved in hiring people, wouldn’t you want to know where an applicant fits on this scale?

Not long ago a major airline found that 95 percent of its complaints involved 5 percent of its employees. These 5 percent sorted strongly by self; they were most interested in looking out for themselves, not others. Were they poor employees? Yes and no. They were obviously in the wrong jobs and obviously doing a poor job, though they might have been smart, hardworking, and congenial.

It goes back to building a team that works. They may have been the right people, put in the wrong slots.

So what did the airline do? It replaced them with people who sorted by others. The company determined this through group interviews, in which prospective employees were asked why they wanted to work for the airline. Most of the individuals thought they were being judged by the answers they gave in front of the group, when in fact they were being judged by their behavior as members of the audience. That is, individuals who paid the most attention and gave the most eye contact, smiles, or support to the person who was doing the speaking at the front of the room were given the highest rating, while those who paid little or no attention and were in their own world while others were talking were considered to be primarily self-sorting and were not hired.

The company’s complaint ratio dropped over 80 percent as a result of this move. That’s why metaprograms are so important in the business world. How can you evaluate a person if you don’t know what motivates him? How can you match the job you have available with the correct person in terms of required skills, ability to learn, and internal makeup? A lot of very smart people spend their career totally frustrated because they’re doing jobs that don’t make the best use of their inherent capabilities. A liability in one context can be a valuable asset in another.

In a service business, like an airline, you obviously need people who sort by others. If you’re hiring an auditor, you might want someone who would sort by self. How many times have you dealt with someone who left you in a confused state because he did his job well intellectually but poorly emotionally? It’s like a doctor who sorts strongly by self. He may be a brilliant diagnostician, but unless you feel he cares about you, he won’t be totally effective. In fact, someone like that would probably be better off as a researcher than as a clinician.

Putting the right person in the right job remains one of the biggest problems in American business. But it’s a problem that could be dealt with if people knew how to evaluate the ways that job applicants processed information.

At this point, it’s worth noting that not all metaprograms are created equal. Are people better off moving toward things rather than away from them? Perhaps. Would the world be a better place if people sorted more by others and less by self? Probably. But we have to deal with life the way it is, not the way we wish it were.

You may wish your son moved towards things rather than away. If you want to effectively communicate with him, you have to do it in a way that works, not in a way that plays to your idea of how it should work. The key is to observe a person as carefully as possible, listen to what he says, what sort of metaphors he uses, what his physiology reveals, when he’s attentive and when he’s bored.

People reveal their metaprograms on a consistent, ongoing basis. It doesn’t take much concentrated study to figure out what people’s tendencies are or how they are sorting at the moment. To determine if people sort by self or others, see how much attention they pay to other people. Do they lean toward people and have facial expressions that reflect concern for what others are saying, or do they lean back and remain bored and unresponsive?

Everyone sorts by self some of the time, and it’s important to do so sometimes. They key is what you do consistently and whether your sorting procedure enables you to produce the results you desire.

Next in this series: matchers and mismatchers.




  1. i just watched the tape on the 2012 defecit as a consertitive man i am astounded that americans havent woken up.i beleive we need trony to run as independent in the next presidential elction. i am not be funny or sarcastic we need need somone who can be elected we have become a society who elects not what right but whats popular,we have become a me society whats in it for me.they never heard john f kennedy speech. tony would make a great president but we need so much more.It hurts to think how much we have fallen as a country but unless we stop the bleeding and soon my grandkids and kids will have a really bad time of it.i could go on forever but you get the picture i really think tony could make a difference but someone has to act and it has to be an independent thank y ou john w Farrell

    john farrell on January 3rd 2013
  2. Thank you for sharing such great insight! I’d love to hear more from you on practical applications on effective communication with self-sorters and other-sorters.

    Angela Calderon on January 3rd 2013
  3. Finding good people to do the job is not as easy as it seems. Thanks for shedding some light on this topic

    Steven Cavan on January 2nd 2013
  4. Your series on Metaprograms is extremely valuable in my eyes. Thank you!

    Debra Olejownik on December 21st 2012
  5. I’m in a position of hiring and I found this most helpful. Thank you!

    Angela Dye on December 19th 2012

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