If you are reading this article, chances are that you have experienced communication difficulties at least once in the past. This is completely understandable. Living abroad and being surrounded by people who don’t have the same cultural background as you can sometimes cause misunderstandings, both big and small.
This is to be expected, isn’t it? That is why we usually try tread lightly and with care when we are communicating with people we don’t know very well.
But have you ever wondered what causes misunderstandings with members of our own family or with people whom we have known for years? That feeling you get when you just know that your message is not getting across to them at all? Or when discussing a mutual experience with a close friend, do you ever get the impression that you are talking about two separate events?
We have all been there. It is more common than we realize, so we have become accustomed to simply not give it too much thought. Unless it is a really important matter, in which case we either agree to disagree or, as in the case of my parents, spend hours trying to persuade the other that our version of the events is the correct one.
It should not be a surprise to us that we each perceive the world in our own, unique way. Our perceptions are influenced by numerous factors such as emotions, experiences, and beliefs, to name a few. These are programs that run in the background of our minds and although we are often not aware of them, they dominate our communication patterns.
In Neuro-Linguistic Programing (NLP), we call them “meta-programs”, which are the filters through which we receive information from the outside world.
There are 43 different meta-programs but the one that influences our understanding of each other the most is our “representative system”. Representative systems are the channels through which we dominantly take in information.
There are three basic representative systems:
People who are dominantly visual processors process information and thoughts through pictures. They will remember faces, scenes, and distinguish a range of colour tones. They are usually well put together and the appearance of things is very important to them. As they process information through pictures, a system which has been proven to be the fastest way to process information, dominantly visual processors’ thoughts flash through their minds quickly. This is why, in order to keep up with their train of thought, they tend to talk quickly, gesticulate more, and leap from one topic to the next. They are also very quick to put words into action and expect the same from others!
Dominantly auditory processors, on the other hand, receive and process information through sounds. They usually know what was said, word for word, even months after the conversation. When they talk, their stories, from the beginning and the elaboration to the conclusion, have a strong rhythm. Since their speech relies heavily on sound and rhythm, they cannot stand being interrupted. If they are interrupted, they will need to start again from the top. They are often dressed in pastel colours or shades of the same color and tend to tilt their heads to one side when speaking.
People who are dominantly kinesthetic processors process information throughtouch and movement, so it is not surprising to know that we were all kinesthetic processors until around the age of six or seven. Since kinesthetic processors take longer to process how they feel about something, they often take their time when answering a question or giving their opinion. For kinesthetic processors, the most important element is what something feels like. They will often remember the atmosphere of an event, the smell, and the taste. They tend to wear comfortable clothes made of soft materials without much regard for how they look.
When a person who is a dominantly visual processor is trying to recall what something looked like, it will frustrate them greatly to hear about what it sounded or felt like, and vice-versa!
Of course, in everyday situations, we can navigate around these differences. After all, we have been doing this since the beginning of time. It is during times of intense stress that our dominant representative system is brought out and we become ignorant to other channels of processing.
By acquiring knowledge on our own meta-programs and learning how to recognize others’, we can improve our skills and become impeccable communicators.