What you see isn’t
always what other
Any business wanting to operate on an international level must be aware that not only do their potential clients, customers and colleagues speak in a different language, but also their cultures, traditions and methodologies may be significantly different as well.
The body language used within Western culture can often convey a completely opposite meaning within Eastern culture. In Western culture, direct eye contact is a sign of confidence, interest and honesty, while in many Eastern countries it is actually considered to be highly disrespectful, rude and arrogant. Imagine the effect this could have in a business meeting, if you had one side of the room trying their utmost to maintain constant eye contact, whilst the other side was doing everything possible to avoid it!
This potential for miscommunication is not just limited to cultural boundaries or national language barriers, however. In the same way that no two people ever perceive the same reality, no two people will ever use the same language of communication.
The seventeenth-century poet John Donne’s phrase “No man is an island” would actually be more appropriate if you changed the “No” to an “Every” and then applied that to how we all think: “Every man is an island”. Here we all are, living on our own separate islands, each experiencing our own different weather, different scenery, different cultures, language, beliefs, manners, phone and postal systems, everybody perceiving their own personal version of life. How many messages do you think would get lost due to poor translation issues, bad phone reception or simply because of the infrequent mail deliveries between the islands?
In the same way that no two people ever perceive the same reality, no two people will ever use the same language of communication.
Often when things go wrong within business, when deals are lost or conflicts in the workplace occur, it is because of poorly transmitted or translated communication.
We have all had those moments when we have experienced instant rapport with someone. They could be a complete stranger, but from the moment conversation began, for some reason we knew immediately that they were seeing eye to eye with us. We may even have gone as far as to describe them as being on our wavelength. We have also all probably experienced speaking with another person whom we simply couldn’t connect with, however hard we tried, leaving us feeling as though this was because they probably “couldn’t see where we were coming from”.
All of our interaction and communication with the world begins with our thoughts, and our thoughts are represented to us through our senses. We use our senses to collect, understand and utilize all the information that is presented to us both internally and externally.
All of our interaction and communication with the world begins with our thoughts, and our thoughts are represented to us through our senses.
Through our individual lives we have each learned to use these senses differently, often choosing to prioritize one sense over the others (known in NLP as your “primary sense”). Bear in mind that we are using our senses to understand information from the world, and to communicate it and our thoughts to one another. Imagine what would happen if one person began communicating to another using just visual language and the other person responded by using just auditory language. They would very quickly find that, although some similar words may be used and recognized, the meaning behind the communication would probably be misrepresented, misunderstood or simply lost in translation from one sensory language to another.
We are all born with five senses, sight, sound, touch, taste and smell (or visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, gustatory and olfactory), which in NLP terms are referred to as our “representational systems”.
Representational systems explained
Anyone wanting to learn how to communicate better, whether in business or socially, will benefit tremendously by mastering the communicative language of the representational system. Understanding this system provides a demonstrative insight into how people think and provides us with a valuable tool for rapport, empathy and influence.
Anyone wanting to learn how to communicate better, whether in business or socially, will benefit tremendously by mastering the communicative language of the representational system.
The five senses
As a general rule we all have five senses through which we can explore and interpret the world in which we live. Within Western culture, however, there is a tendency to rely mainly upon just three of those five senses, the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (sight, sound and touch). We will concentrate on just those three here, but do be aware that the other two senses are just as important and useful, as it is only through your awareness of them all that you can truly experience the rich tapestry of information available to you in every second and enjoy the full symphony that your senses can create.
Visual – what we see and imagine
Your visual sense handles and decodes all the information (images) you observe with your eyes (see), as well as the pictures and mental images you create within your mind’s eye (imagination).
Visual people have a tendency to talk quickly, using a higher pitch of tonality. Their breathing is fairly shallow, and they can also suffer from slight muscle tension around their shoulders, as they tend to hold their body fairly upright.
Auditory – what we hear and listen to, both externally (noise, sounds) and internally (our internal dialogue)
Your auditory sense focuses upon the sounds within your surrounding environment and listens to information externally through your ears and internally through your internal dialogue. (Your internal dialogue is the voice inside your head that is currently reading this sentence to you.)
Auditory people tend to use an expressive voice and tone, their speech is evenly paced and their head sits fairly balanced upon their shoulders. You know when auditory people are listening to you or themselves, as they often tilt their head to one side while listening.
Kinaesthetic – feelings, touch
Your kinaesthetic sense understands how you feel in response to your environment, and is operated through your sense of touch, your internal feelings and your emotions.
Kinaesthetic people will continuously check in with their emotions to guide their words, and this often results in them speaking quite slowly, while occasionally stopping for long pauses. Their head is often down and their breathing is relaxed and generally deep.
Gustatory – recognizes all the various tastes
Olfactory – acknowledges all the different smells
The primary sense
As we experience the external world, we will use all our five senses to varying degrees, although over time we often begin to favour one sense (our primary sense, or primary system) over the other two. We choose our primary system for many reasons. Often it is a reflection of our interests or career choices: a musician may be auditory, a footballer may be kinaesthetic, or a fashion designer may be visual. The development of our primary system often takes place around our teenage years, but it can also be influenced by our daily lives.
Take the example of a journalist who has progressed her career to becoming an editor. She may originally have been very visual in her sensory preference, and brilliant when it came to her use of words, capturing and retelling the details of her story in print. Years of proofreading may now have left her with a primary system that is auditory, probably because her job has required her to learn to listen to how words flow, focusing her attention more upon the rhythm and structure of language, rather than its visual content. The end result of this development is a switch from a visual preference to an auditory one.
Why is it important to hone our primary sense to match our environment?
If we focus more of our attention into one primary sense, it can often serve us better when operating a specific function. A well-trained primary sense can pick out more of the relevant details within a piece of information, which can be very important if your particular interest or job requires you to notice minute differences or perceive finer distinctions between things. For example, a surgeon may need to be very kinaesthetic, and a musician acutely auditory.
So in the case of our journalist, by honing her auditory skills she has become more proficient in hearing the subtle differences of poorly used sentence structures, a change in grammatical rhythm or the sound resonating within wrongly chosen words. The point being, a trained editor is far more likely to spot subtle differences within a text than a kinaesthetically trained physiotherapist is.
Just because we operate a primary sense doesn’t mean we are limited to using only that sense. If we train our mind to recognize the qualities and uses of the different senses, we can soon learn how to alternate between them. This knowledge gives us the ability to select the sense that will prove more suitable for reflecting and representing our environment and the tasks we want to perform, and enabling us to communicate with others effectively.
Rapport through representational systems
Because we often use language to communicate our thoughts, it is the first thing you should pay attention to. When attempting to recognize someone’s primary sense, all the information you need can be found within the words that they are using.
When attempting to recognize someone’s primary sense, all the information you need can be found within the words that they are using.
Visual (understanding information through images and pictures) Uses these words and phrases:
See, look, picture, focus, notice, insight.
“I can see what you mean,” “We see eye to eye,” “Show me what you mean,” “Picture this…”
Auditory (understanding information through sounds that we hear)
Uses these words and phrases:
Say, rhythm, tone, discuss, hear, speechless, listen.
“I can hear what you are saying,” “Music to my ears,” “Loud and clear,” “On the same wavelength.”
Kinaesthetic (understanding information through our feeling and touch)
Uses these words and phrases:
Touch, solid, sensitive, cold, harsh, tangible.
“I have a gut feeling about that,” “Can’t put my finger on it,” “Thick skinned.”
In business, especially in sales, understanding your customer’s language of thought is of paramount importance if you want to ensure your meaning reaches them with maximum impact and influence. Learning to recognize someone’s primary representational system will provide key clues into how we can begin creating rapport and gaining empathy from our audience.
We immediately gain rapport with people who make us feel as though they think in the same way as us, that they empathize with what we are saying and that they truly understand us.
We immediately gain rapport with people who make us feel as though they think in the same way as us.
If we present our ideas and intentions in the language style that mirrors our intended audience’s thinking preferences, they are more likely to recreate our meaning in a way that is tangible to them and in a way that maintains the intent behind our communication.
If you are communicating with more than one individual, perhaps presenting to an audience, then it is a good idea to practise mixing your language sensory styles to incorporate the entire primary thinking systems.
Good communication is often not what you say but how you say it.
Good communication is often not what you say but how you say it.
As well as being able to hear the way people think by listening to their specific language styles, we can also gain visible clues into another person’s thought process.
The human mind and body are intrinsically linked and operate as one holistic system, which means whatever is happening in one part is often reflected within the other. Every thought you think affects your body, and your body affects the way that you think. I can see what you are thinking, as it’s written all over your face! So our eyes can truly be the windows to our souls, or at least into our thought processes.
Neurological studies have shown that as we think our many complex and different thoughts (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic), our eyes actually reflect these thoughts, moving in specific directions that correspond to the stimulation going on within the different parts of our brain.
In NLP terms, these movements are known as “eye accessing cues”. Eye accessing cues are another useful way of gleaning insight into another person’s thought processes and, like sensory language, they will with enough practice help you understand the quickest approach to adopt in your communication.
A good salesman will recognize the importance of his communication when it comes to influencing a customer’s buying strategy. Not only must he build rapport and elicit their wants and buying motivation, but he must also then present the product in a way that the customer can emotionally and positively respond to. By recognizing the customer’s primary sense, whether it is auditory, visual or kinaesthetic, the flexible salesman can adapt his sales pitch and represent his product in a way that reflects the customer’s thought processes and point of influence.
Eye accessing cues are something you should practise with a partner before implementing, as the cues happen very quickly, and staring at your clients may not quite create the impression you were aiming for. Recognizing people’s representational systems is a key factor in effective communication; but it is also important for us to recognize their influence upon our own performance.
Remember, every thought we have is represented to us via our senses, and it is because of these thoughts that we recreate our memories, develop our ambitions and provide the foundations for our directional behaviour.
Understanding representational systems will allow you to understand how you can maximize the impact of your communication. However, our representational system can also affect the way in which we communicate with ourselves and allow our experiences to influence us.
Understanding representational systems will allow you to understand how you can maximize the impact of your communication.
Our representational system provides our mind with a methodology for understanding and replaying all the information around us. This information is then further broken down, coded and stored in our minds through our sensory modalities, called “submodalities”.
It is these submodalities that give our memories, images and thoughts deeper meaning, and if we really want to start creating change in ourselves and others, it is important for us to recognize the impact that submodalities can have.
Every thought is comprised of a submodality structure, and by learning to manipulate these submodalities we can influence our response to experiences, memories, dreams, nightmares, habits and ambitions.
If you were to watch a horror movie about a girl walking downstairs in broad daylight and discovering a dead body at the bottom, it might be horrible, but it would be over very quickly, it would be unlikely to have a long lasting impact upon you, and it would definitely struggle in the cinemas. However, if the scene was filmed in near darkness, with eerie music, the sounds of wind rustling in the trees and creaking floorboards, and close-ups of the heroine looking apprehensive and then terrified, the film would take on a whole different feel, would stir up our emotion and create a completely different impact upon us.
Submodalities are the equivalent of our mind having its own camera crew and production team. They provide our brain with its own personal cinematic experience of light, sound and emotive effects.
Submodalities are the equivalent of our mind having its own camera crew and production team.
If you want to make a memory stronger or sell an idea with more impact, it is important to recognize that it is our submodalities that truly cause us to emotively respond to language. Submodalities make an image real, alive and tangible, and give it the influence to alter our reactions. And by altering the submodalities of a thought, you will also alter its impact.
You can also make bad thoughts less scary. For example, imagine watching the same horror movie, but with a Disney theme tune instead of eerie music, bright colours instead of dark shadows, and a dog’s squeaky toy instead of creaking floorboards. Doesn’t have quite the same effect now, does it?
Or equally you can make happy memories stronger and more appealing.
Our memories hold an influence over our behaviour, not because of the actual event, but because of the way we choose to replay the experience.
Exercise: Altering the submodalities
In your imagination, think now of any memory that makes you happy.
• When you think of this memory, do you see pictures (visual)?
• How bright is the picture?
• Is it close to you or far away?
• Is it moving or still?
• Are you associated to the picture (inside it)?
• Or disassociated (outside and looking in)?
• Do you have a feeling or a sensation (kinaesthetic)?
• Where are the feeling located?
• Is it strong or soft?
• Moving or still?
• Are there any sounds that you are aware of (auditory)?
• Where are they located?
• Are they loud or soft?
• Is there any music; are there any voices?
• Can you any hear words being said and how do they sound?
Once you have established all the submodalities of your memory, choose one element to alter.
• If you are seeing a picture, what happens if you make it brighter?
• What happens if you make the picture bigger and closer?
• If you are disassociated (outside and looking in, i.e. as a 3rd person) what do you notice happens when you step in and associate with the picture (i.e. becoming the 1st person)?
What language are we all speaking?
Remember, everyone may appear to be using the same words, but the language and the interpretation of this language isn’t always the same.
Recognizing someone’s representational system will allow your communication to become much more effective.
1. Once a day, actively choose to try and uncover which representational system someone else is using. Make a note of how they portray their system. What words do they use to describe their experiences, thoughts, feelings? Where do their eyes move to when they are thinking and speaking?
2. Once you have become aware of their specific representational system, try and alter your own representational system to mirror theirs. What do you notice happens? How does the individual now respond to you?
3. Now deliberately alter your representational system to mismatch against theirs. What do you notice happens? How does the individual now respond to you?
4. Spend five minutes actively training your senses every day. Try observing the world using a different representational system, choosing to alternate once in a while from the one you normally use. How different does the world appear and how differently do people respond to you?
Go for it! Pay attention and learn to understand your own mind’s submodalities: become the movie producer of your own thoughts, and choose what impact you want the film of your life to have upon you. Is it going to be a romantic comedy to inspire and amuse, a Disney film with a happy ending, or perhaps a horror movie that instils paralysing fears and phobias in you? Learning to manipulate your submodalities is a great way of tackling phobias, enhancing happy memories or removing the negative impact of your bad experiences.