Have you ever noticed that we all have our own style of speaking? It is our own unique way of choosing the words and phrases which help us to represent our world in verbal communication and mental thought process.
While there are many factors which influence the words we use, one of the most significant relates to which of our five senses (sight, hearing, feeling, taste & smell) we are most aware of at any given time. Neuro-linguistic programming has defined this as our “representational system”.
When we think about the world, or about our past experiences, we represent those things in a subjective way according to these five senses. For example, think about the holiday you went on last year. Did you see a picture of where you went, tell yourself a story about what you did, feel the sun on your back and the wind in your hair? Can you bring to mind the smell of your favourite flower or the taste of a favourite meal??
If a person is primarily thinking in pictures (visual), this will be reflected in their language. They will use words like picture, imagine, focus, perspective etc, and may employ phrases such as “picture this”, “look at it from my point of view” or “let’s get this in proportion.” A person thinking mainly in sounds (auditory) may say things like sound, hear, ring, buzz, etc and may use phrases like “sounds good to me”, “I hear you” or “that rings true”. Other words and phrases point to feelings (the NLP term for this is kinaesthetics) such as feel, handle, or smooth; smells (olfactory) such as rotten, sour, or stale; tastes (gustatory) such as bland, sweet or spicy.
The most dominant representational systems relate to vision, hearing and feeling. While no-one uses only one representational system in all their language, we often display a preference. So how do we find out what our preferred system is? Why not try the following exercise: Write a short paragraph about your last holiday – notice the language you used. Over the next few days, start to become aware of the language you use and the language other people are using.
So why is it important? When you speak to someone using language from the same representational system as them, it gives them a greater sense of being understood. This can be very powerful in many business and life contexts. Sales people often employ this knowledge to work more effectively with their clients, coaches are very aware of language and managers find this awareness useful when communicating with staff or influencing seniors.
When you come across someone who you have difficulty connecting with, it may be that you are speaking from different rep-systems. For example:
A: Something about it doesn’t ring true.
B: It’s as plain as the nose on your face – why can’t you see that!?!
Once you start noticing the tell-tale linguistic signs though, you can start connecting with them in a more meaningful way. For example:
A: Something about it doesn’t ring true.
B: I think it sounds as clear as a bell!
It is worth highlighting that sometimes the linguistic process can be more important than the content of what is being said, when creating a connection.
Another very powerful use for the awareness of our representational systems is in our power of recall. If we are meeting someone for the first time then we can utilise our senses to help us remember that person, their name and even some relevant pieces of information about their lives.
Utilise your visual sense. Think about the name, write it down and look at the shape of the word. Create a visual image of the name – eg) Mr Miller – imagine a windmill and a man covered in flour. Marion – conjure an image of a bride who is “marrying”.
Use your auditory sense to embed the name in your mind. Say the name a few times in the conversation. Talk about someone you used to know, or ask how the name is spelt. Always leave the conversation by saying the name again.
Use the kinaesthetic sense – Focus on the handshake. Be aware of what you are feeling when you are around them. Connect the name with an adjective: Thoughtful Jane, Assertive Mike.
Finally, and perhaps the most powerful application for the awareness of our own representational system is in how we connect with our own personal goals and aspirations for the future. We can connect to our future goals better if we imagine them using all our senses. As I mentioned in my previous blog – “harness the power of your brain”, the subconscious mind cannot differentiate between imagined reality and actual reality. The trick is to ensure that the imagined reality is a comprehensive creation, which includes the full sensory spectrum. So if you are an auditory person, then it is very important to imagine a future filled with sound; if you are kinaesthetic, then focus on what you are feeling; and if you are visual, make sure you imagine the full detail within your future reality. Take the time to connect with your future at a sensory level and you are more likely to achieve that future. Coaching can help you to do this with guided visualisation exercises.