Have you ever had crossed wires when communicating with someone or felt that you were talking another language? If you think back to when you last bought a new car what comes to your mind first? Is it a picture of its sleek shape and glossy paint? Do you hear the roar of the engine or the heavy thud of the door closing? Or is it the feel of the supple leather seats against your hand that you remember? If I were to teach you about this beautiful flower, would you want to see a picture or a fantastic, glorious description of it written down? Would you prefer to hear me describe it? Or would you want to have the flower in front of you so you could touch it and feel its soft petals for yourself?
All those examples are related to how we absorb information from the world around us via our 5 senses – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, gustatory and olfactory (see, hear, feel/touch, taste and smell) – and how we prefer to represent the world in our heads by building internal representations. In NLP these sensory modalities are known as representational systems – they are the primary ways we represent, code, store and give meaning to our experiences. We work most frequently with visual, auditory and kinesthetic – gustatory and olfactory don’t often play a major role and are generally included with kinesthetic.
When it comes to representational (rep.) systems we all have preferences in terms of how we like to receive information. For example, I’m very visual and receive information best via words, diagrams or pictures. We also have preferences in terms of how we store information in our heads (in that case I’m more auditory digital – that means I need to make sense of something and tend to talk to myself in my head when retrieving information and memories etc.) – I’ll come back to that in a later post.
Now these are just preferences, there is no better or worse, and the idea is NOT to put people in boxes or pigeon holes. It’s just that depending on the context one representational system might be more useful or effective than another and it certainly makes it easier to communicate with someone if you know their preferences. The ideal, and the characteristic of most successful people, is to learn to use all the rep. systems effectively so that you can swap effortlessly between them to utilise the one most appropriate for the situation.
Your primary or preferred representational system is how you best take in
information from the world around you and other people. But why does this matter? Well imagine two project managers working together – one from a sponsor company and another from a vendor providing a service. They’re each feeling misunderstood. Crossed wires and miscommunication seem to happen on a daily basis and they each feel like they must be speaking a language that the other simply doesn’t understand.
Part of the problem could be different preferred rep. systems – one of them may be very visual and wants to see the messages in pictures or in writing and loves email so they write everything out and send it on over. While the other is more strongly auditory and prefers to hear the message via a phone call, so they don’t even read past the first line of the email and get totally the wrong end of the stick! Then they call the other person to scream and yell that they’re not getting what they need and the visual person just can’t see what they’re saying and thinks everything in the garden is rosy…. Sound familiar?
So how do you find out which rep. system someone prefers without handing them a long questionnaire? Well the quick version is simply to listen to the words they use. ‘I don’t understand’ could be ‘I’m in the dark’ for a visual person, ‘it’s all Greek to me’ for those that prefer auditory and ‘I can’t make head or talk of it’ for kinesthetic. On the other hand ‘I understand…’ could be ‘I see what you mean’ for visual, ‘that rings a bell’ for auditory, or even ‘that feels right’ for kinesthetic. These words – see, rings a bell, feel etc. – are called predicates and when a person uses them frequently they hint at their preferred rep. system. Here are some examples:
- Visual words – see, look, bright, clear, picture, view, foggy, fuzzy, illuminate, picture, peek, focused, hazy.
- Auditory words – hear, tell, sound, resonate, listen, silence, deaf, squeak, hush, roar, melody, ring a bell, music, purr, howl, loud and clear, tune in, quiet.
- Kinesthetic words– grasp, feel, hard, concrete, scrape, solid, catch on, tap into, get a handle on, connect with, hand in hand.
- Auditory digital words (these are the folks that need to make sense of the world in their head) – sense, experience, understand, change, perceive, question, distinct, conceive, decide, consider, make sense of, pay attention to, think,
So adapt your language and how you communicate to best fit the other person. Move things from ‘things LOOK good’ to ‘things FEEL good’ for a kinesthetic person. ‘You’re really fired up’ to ‘you’re really hearing the music’ for an auditory person. Use the system they prefer and words they can then relate to – then you’re more likely to get your message across effectively. And you’ll often find that once you have rapport with someone and you’ll start using the same predicates unconsciously.
Now you know about everyone else of course you want to find out about yourself…. I’ll go in to a more detailed assessment in a later post, but for now try the simple version – describe where you live using visual words for 2 minutes – think colours shapes etc. And I mean 2 whole minutes… Then repeat the exercise with auditory words – focus on sounds. Next repeat with kinesthetic – focus on textures and feelings. Finally auditory digital with facts and figures. Notice which one(s) feel effortless – that’s probably your preferred rep. system.
So get out there, listen closely and practise, practise, practise to ensure people can see, hear, feel and understand what you’re saying.
(Picture credit – NLP THIRTEEN – a wonderful flower we saw in Tivoli.)
© Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
- How We Learn (englendd.wordpress.com)
- Communicate on Their Wavelength: How to Connect With Auditory Communicators (brainpathways.net)
- What’s the big fuss about representational systems? (dimpledbrain.com)