Have you ever had that experience when you’re having a conversation with someone and it just feels like neither of you are really getting each other?
I remember once having a heated discussion with my now ex-husband about something (which I can’t remember the topic anymore) and what I realised some way into this, what appeared to be a disagreement, was that we were both actually making the same point, in fact we agreed on whatever it was, it was just that our communication styles are so different we always felt like we were not on the same page.
There are many aspects of communication and so much of it comes down to the way our unique brains are wired. One of these is how we process information, do we do it:
Visually – Seeing
- We look and see, we like to see things written down or watch a video to understand how something works
- We make pictures in our heads and remember memories more like movies or in pictures
- We value a pleasing aesthetic environment and clothing – appearance counts
- Like charts, pictures and symbols (rather than just words) to illustrate a point
- Notice colours and shapes
- My remember things by seeing – photographic style memory
- Watches a video or looks at the pictures in the instructions to figure out how something works
- Big picture orientated
- Will say “I see”
- We notice how people look and dress
- Speak quickly
Get the picture?
Auditory – Hearing
- We focus on what people say
- Notice tone of voice more and use that in understanding what you are saying
- We can remember entire conversations or easily repeat instructions
- Love music
- Love to speak and also listen
- Can be irritated by noise or sound (and for some when trying to concentrate background music can be distracting)
- May want someone to talk them through fixing a problem
- Will say “I heard (even if they read it or saw it)” or “I hear you”
- We notice how people speak and sound
- Speak at a medium pace
How does that sound?
Kinaesthetic – Touch and Feel
- We are sensory and notice textures, whether pleasant or unpleasant on our skin and will dress for comfort over style
- Need to “do” something to understand how it works (can’t just read about it)
- We may need to move more frequently and are frequent doodlers or fiddlers when in meetings
- Will need to write information down (even when it’s been given to us already in a manual)
- My just fiddle with stuff til they figure out how to fix the problem
- Will touch others more
- Will say “I feel” or “I know” (as in having a gut instinct)
- We notice how people stand and move
- Speak more slowly with longer pauses
Do you have a handle on that?
Cognitive – Mental Processing (Also known as Auditory Digital)
- We always want to know the reasons behind the why and how (and in fact can’t remember information without these)
- Want reasons, not feelings to make decisions
- Analytical and anchored by facts and logic
- Will want to read the instructions to find out how something works
- Will say “I understand”
- Are not spontaneous as they like to think things through
- Detail orientated
- We talk to ourselves to help us understand
- We notice how logical people vs emotional people are (we may seem less emotional than others)
- Speak more deliberately
Does this all make sense?
Now of course the other senses such as the Olfactory (smell) and Gustatory (taste) also come into the equation (some people are much more affected by smells in their environment), but these listed above are the more common processing centres of the brain and body.
Many of us have a dominant and secondary processing modality. So we will tend to be more biased in using the language of that modality (sense) which is why we sometimes don’t think that others understand us. For example:
One day I was being asked by someone about a business proposition and he said “So how do you feel about that?” and I remember thinking to myself “I don’t feel anything about it, why are you asking me how I feel not what I think?“.
From this quick example, it points out that Kinaesthetic is not one of my primary modalities. In fact I’m highly Visual and also Cognitive would be my secondary, though auditory and kinaesthetic also play a part in my life! Some of us are more balanced and switch between modalities more easily and so have an easier time of communicating with people of all preferences.
Everybody has the ability to access all modalities, it’s just we often favour a couple over the others.
How to Communicate
So when we understand that not everybody thinks and processes information the same way we do, it makes it much easier when communicating with someone who uses a different primary modality from us.
If you are not getting your point across then try to use their communication style:
- Speak at the same tempo they speak
- Use the same tone of voice they use and be super aware of your tone
- Use words that reflect their modality
- Use their primary way of communicating – show or do with the kinaesthetic, tell or listen to the auditory, describe or create a picture for the visual, create a list or procedure for the cognitive
- If you are a fast talker (visual) and conversing with a slower talker (kinaesthetic or sometimes cognitive) don’t finish their sentences for them (yes I know it feels like they are taking ages to get to the point, but that is just their way and you will irritate them tremendously by doing that)
- Visual – see them in person face to face and describe or show pictures, use colour
- Auditory – call them on the phone and be prepared to repeat yourself
- Kinaesthetic – touch them, show them in person
- Cognitive – email lists and information (they will never make a decision based on a quick conversation without all the facts and figures)
When in doubt (and as good practice) use all 4 communication styles to ensure that you get your message across effectively!