Tailoring communication to enhance understanding

How to use representational systems to improve communication

Consultant, Stephanie McKay, outlines the main representational systems and explains how tailoring your communication can enhance understanding.

Have there been times when communicating with others where you’ve thought to yourself:

This can be quite frustrating and leave you wondering ‘what am I doing wrong here’ or even ‘what’s their problem!’.  Well, I can’t guarantee this will be the answer, but it’s certainly something that has helped me understand why this can happen.

According to Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the co-founders of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), we preference the way we receive and communicate information through our representation systems.  What are they you ask?

Representational systems are the way we make sense of the world, they are the channels by which information initially enters our experience.  The three main representational systems we will discuss are VisualAuditory; and Kinesthetic (VAK).

While all systems are available to us at any given time, quite often a preference for one over the other is established. In some cases, individuals can become so reliant on a particular representation system that they may completely miss out on information if it’s not delivered in their preferred way.

Why is this important to know?

By learning someone’s representation system preference you can tailor your approach to communicate more effectively with them.  Firstly though, it’s worth being able to recognise what someone’s preference is. So what are some of the ways you might tell what a person’s VAK preference is?

Visual preference:

Tailoring communication to enhance understanding

In general, people who have a visual preference:

They will often use phrases such as:

Auditory preference:

Auditory preference

In general, people who have an auditory preference:

They will often use phrases such as:

Kinesthetic preference:

Kinesthetic preference

In general, people who have a kinesthetic preference:

They will often use phrases such as:

Applying this knowledge

Now you have some further understanding of the behaviors and language of each VAK preference, let’s apply it.  Give the following step-by-step process a go, to develop your skills.

Tailoring your communication at work

This information can be extremely valuable in the workplace where understanding your colleagues preferred representation system can enable you to work more cohesively, give clearer instructions and generally save a lot of time and energy.  Here are just a couple of tips on how to tailor your communication for each VAK preference at work:

But what if you don’t know what someone’s representational system preference is? A good rule of thumb is to cover all your bases. If you’re presenting to new people, try to incorporate tips from across all representational systems:

  1. Talk clearly
  2. Have a presentation; and
  3. Offer demonstrations where possible

Then pay attention – listen to the words they use, watch for their behaviours and get curious about what they are paying attention to, then adapt your presentation (or future interactions) to suit.

To wrap up

So next time you notice others not ‘seeing what you are saying’, ‘hearing you’ or ‘catching on’, take a few minutes to determine their VAK preference and try the communication again.  With some practice, this skill can lead to better interactions, and relationships not just at work, but with those closest to you.

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