First Published in Personal Success Magazine, March 1994
I See, Hear and Feel What You Mean:
Penny Tompkins and James Lawley
NLP Consultants to Business and Individuals
"When you're learning about people's
strategies to understand how they make a decision,
you also need to
know their main representational system so you can present
message in a way that gets through"
On our recent visit to the States over the Christmas Holidays I
discovered my sister and her husband were involved in Network
Marketing. We had an opportunity to meet their colleagues, to attend
seminars and rallies and learn first-hand how Network Marketing
Because of our NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and communication
expertise, we were asked to be guinea pigs and listened to their
presentation of 'The Plan' so we could offer comments and suggestions
on their one-to-one approach with prospects.
We began by teaching them the same Rapport skills that we have passed
on to you in our "NLP Tip of The Month" Series
(Rapport Part 1 and
Rapport Part 2), and followed by
explaining how they could 'read' other people's ways of thinking.
This enabled them to tailor the way they sold their 'product' to each
prospect in order to cultivate a more amenable reception.
We taught them why people use the words they do, and gave them new
ways to listen and respond. Instantly they increased their success
rate in motivating friends and acquaintances into joining their
The 'HOW' of our Thinking
Everyone structures their experience of the world through the five
senses -- seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. (For our
purposes tasting and smelling will be classified under the feeling,
or kinesthetic category.) Whilst you are aware of your External
senses, did you know you had a matching set of "internal senses" or
that they are called Representational Systems?
When you say:
Visually - "I see this magazine in front of me."
Auditorily - "I hear the sounds and noises around me."
Kinesthetically - "I feel this magazine in my hands."
you are describing your External senses. But what about your
internal world? We use the same five senses to represent what we are
thinking about internally -- or subjectively.
When you think:
Visually - Imagine a picture of your mother's face.
Auditorily - Recall a conversation you had yesterday.
Kinesthetically - Remember a time you felt powerful and
you are using your internal Representational Systems. It is this
internal world, through our Representational Systems, that creates
our "mind's eye," the words (empowering or disempowering!) we say to
ourselves, the feelings such as joy or despair that prompt our
behaviour and originate our moods.
Do you realise every action you take, or sentence you say, is
preceded by one or more of these internal representations? You're not
alone ... this is outside of most people's awareness!
The words someone uses reflects whether they are thinking using their
Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic systems, and this gives us an
insight into how their brain is sorting information at the time. You
can't tell what a person is thinking but you can have a good
idea how they are thinking! Some of the words we use which
indicate the different Representation Systems are as follows:
get a hold of
...and there are many, many more.
"So how do I use this?" you may ask.
When you know to listen for the types of words people are using, you
know what 'sense' they are using in their thinking. And knowing this
is a direct link to translating your language to their
representational system, which creates a very deep rapport, and
influences at an unconscious level.
Everyone uses all of the internal representation systems all of the
time; but one or two are likely to predominate. For instance a very
'visual' person will see a lot of pictures in their mind's eye and
will use words like those in the visual column above -- see, look,
view. A mostly 'auditory' person will make use of internal dialogue
and will use words such as --hear, listen, speak.
So, if you keep using auditory words to a visual person, they will
unconsciously have to translate internally to their own system. This
takes time, can be difficult for some people, and does not build
Many relationships have been affected as a result. I know a woman who
said "My husband doesn't love me. He never brings me flowers, takes
me to movies, or looks at me in that special way." Her husband
replied, "What do you mean, not love her...Of course I do. I tell her
I love her three or four times a day!"
She felt loved when she was shown visually. He thought he was
loving when he told her so auditorially. He was satisfied by
hearing the words "I love you," and as we all do, assumed she did
If he had listened to the words she used to determine which
Representation System she was thinking in, he would have heard the
visual words and realised his declarations of love were 'falling on
deaf ears.' Then he could have adapted his language and behaviour to
show her he loved her, and they both would have been satisfied.
It is that simple -- to listen for the Representational words which
indicate in what sense the person is thinking, and to adjust your
communication style to match.
As you begin to notice what people say, you will note they are
revealing their Representational System preference all the time, as
these common phrases show:
I see what you mean
Looks good to me.
I get the picture.
I hear you.
It rings a bell.
It feels right to me.
I can't grasp the point.
I catch your drift.
EXERCISE FOR THE MONTH
Your exercise this month is to pick a significant person in your life
and listen to the types of words they use. You will notice they will
probably use all types of the visual, auditory and kinesthetic
words...but one type will usually predominate. Then practice
translating your language to their system.
If they say "I don't see your point," don't say "Let me repeat it,"
instead say "Let me show you what I mean."
If they say "What you're suggesting doesn't feel right to me," don't
say "Take a different view," instead say "Let's touch upon the points
If they say "I've tuned you out," don't say "You're insensitive,"
instead say "Lets talk it over."
Then practice with other people you know, and listen to conversations
on radio or television to develop your skills. Eventually you will
find yourself doing it automatically.
Become aware of how other people think, become flexible in how you
respond, and develop excellent communication skills.