Part 2 of: Are you really listening . . . or are you just waiting for your turn to talk?

IMG_3691So in my previous blog, I talked about how powerful learning somebody else’s language can be. In this blog, I’d like to talk about modalities(1) – or how we use our senses to operate in the world. Understanding modalities increases our ability to:

  • Motivate
  • Build rapport
  • Influence thinking
  • Communicate effectively

We take in the world through our five senses and we use the information from our senses, also known as modalities, to create an internal representation of the world. However, although we use all of our senses, we tend to favour one in particular to  give meaning to and create our vocabulary.

Here, I am going to focus on the three modalities that are mainly used, which are:

Visual people will

  • Have a preference for information being presented graphically and pictorially – they will want to see the report.
  • Learn by seeing or being shown concepts, ideas or how something is done; wanting to see the big picture.
  • Be more imaginative and may have difficulty putting their ideas in words.
  • Prefer face to face interaction.
  • Make decisions based on what they see happening.

The language used by visual people will reflect their modality; ‘See light at the end of the tunnel’, they will ‘notice’ things, ‘see what you mean’, ‘see in hindsight’, ‘reveal’, ‘illustrated’, ‘glimpse’, etc; describing what they’ve seen(2)

Auditory people will

  • Prefer a verbal presentation to a report
  • Describe events through what people said and what they heard; “it was just a talking shop, everyone was talking over each other”, etc.
  • Learn by listening and asking questions.
  • Enjoy discussions and prefer to communicate through spoken language rather than the written word.
  • Need to talk things through; to refer to someone to act as a sounding board for their ideas. They don’t necessarily want input, they just need to talk things through.
  • And they need to be heard!
  • Make decisions based on conversations.

The reflected language of the auditory modality will ‘Hear what you’re saying’, although it might ‘sound to me’, things might ‘ring a bell’, in ‘a manner of speaking’, ‘sounds good’.

Kinaesthetic people will

  • Like to experience things personally.
  • Learn by doing, moving or touching.
  • Make decisions based on their feelings.

Kinesthetic people will say how they ‘feel’ about things. They are affected by things, feel the temperature (and use words like hot, cold, cool, boil) and they talk about how they feel; irritated happy, disappointed.

vakSo, by understanding the representational systems of others we have a far greater opportunity to communicate effectively with them. For example, If you are giving a presentation to your team or to your boss, if they are highly visual, then just talking to them without using pictures or visual language is not going to be the most effective and efficient way of getting your message across. [NB: grossly generalising, people tend to work within their preferred modality – for instance, an IT developer is most likely to be visual – so it is possible to focus team communications accordingly]

It is useful to notice in correspondence the language of your stakeholders. So, if someone sends a note saying they’ve been hearing bad things about something, maybe request a meeting to discuss it. If you get a note asking for clarity as a dim view is being taken about what has just happened, write a report with supporting data. And if you get a note to say that they feel let down by what has happened and that you should get in touch, recognise how they feel and get together with them to chat through how you can ‘take the heat out of the situation’.

Here’s an example as to how I didn’t get it right that, although it happened a few years back when I lead a team of managers, has stuck with me. So I accompanied a manager to a fairly difficult meeting. As we returned back to the office, I said to her “How do you feel the meeting went?” D’oh! I could have kicked myself as soon as I said it. She didn’t feel things at all, her preferred representational system was visual. I got confirmation of my belated thinking when, she responded that she “didn’t feel anything, but I think it went well.” – and rapport was impacted.

It is worth noting that, depending on what is going on in life, or the context, you may change your preferred representational system(s). Hence, it is more useful to notice the representational system a person is currently favouring, rather than pigeon-holing a person.

Can you see yourself in one or more of these representational systems, or does one sound better than the others, or do you feel one is a better fit than another or does one just make sense to you?

My next blog will cover metaprogammes, which guide and direct thought processes and behaviour. They are great for understanding how people operate and so recognising and working to people’s strengths, heading off conflict, interacting most effectively with  and influencing stakeholders.

If I could read your mind – Gordon Lightfoot

  1. A tendency to conform to a general pattern or belong to a particular group or category.
  2. The words and phrases we use when we think and speak often indicates which is our preferred sense.



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