Do you see what I mean?
Have you ever had that experience where you meet someone for the first time and you just 'click'? There's an instant connection, you ‘get’ each other and it feels like you’re talking the same language.
Well - that’s probably because you are!
We all store information and interpret the world around us by representing it in different ways in our minds. These representational systems correspond to our senses, and fall into the categories of visual (sight), auditory (hearing), kinaesthetic (feelings or touch), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste). We all use a mixture of these, but very often we unconsciously have one, or maybe two which take the lead.
A visual person tends to represent the world in terms of pictures, shapes or colours and often needs to see something or write it down in order to retain information. Someone who is auditory might recall information or memories in terms of sounds, while a person with a strong kinaesthetic sense might be more aware of feelings, emotions or physical touch. We can also relate to our worlds through the senses of taste or smell, but these tend to be less prominent in our internal worlds.
Our preferred representational system is often revealed in the language or 'predicates' we use. Next time you're chatting with a friend or family member listen carefully to the words they use. A visual person might use phrases such as "I see what you mean," or 'that looks good". Someone who is auditory might say "it rings a bell" or "we're on the same wavelength" while someone who is more kinaesthetic could refer to a "gut feeling' or "having a weight on their mind." It's also easy to identify your own internal system - think about a particular memory or a forthcoming event and notice how you represent it to yourself - does it involve pictures, sounds or perhaps it evokes an emotion or feeling?
Understanding this concept can be really helpful to us in improving our interpersonal communications, especially when it comes to people we have to converse with on a regular basis, such as our boss or colleagues. People like people who are like them, so if you have ever encountered someone that you find it really tricky to connect with, you may want to subtly adjust your use of language to match theirs. Give it a go, and you'll find that it becomes much easier to build rapport; the other person will instantly feel understood. If you are a visual person, and use predominantly visual language in a conversation with someone who relates to the world in a more auditory way, you may find it harder to build a connection; you could lose their attention or even begin to annoy them as they become frustrated at not being understood.
I have a feeling that with practise, you will grasp exactly what I am talking about and will be able to gain a much better handle on how to improve your own one-to-one communications.
And I wonder if, by reading these last two paragraphs, you are now in touch enough to spot what my own internal representation system is ...?
This article was first published in the New Stour & Avon magazine on 8 October 2021