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See, hear, touch

‘I see what you mean,’ ‘I hear you loud and clear,’ ‘Let me get a handle on that.’

Maybe you’ve used one or more of those phrases. They’re great for colourful, interesting communication, and they also give clues to how the world seems to you.

Knowing more about how others notice the world can help us to get on with people in day to day life as well as in the working world. Sometimes we assume that everyone thinks the same as us, but we’re all different. The more we understand about our differences, the better we’re able to get on with people, enjoy their company, and make an impact on them at work.

Some people are visual types, and they notice the things they see. Others are auditory and more aware of sounds, while others prefer to feel and touch things. We call that sense of touch, ‘kinetic.’

We all use all of these three senses, sometimes on their own, and sometimes together. We also notice the other sensations of taste and smell. We use our senses all the time, and really miss them if we lose one of them.

Remember what it was like when you had a cold and you couldn’t smell your food? It took all the fun out of eating.

So, although we share a set of senses, most of us have preferences and like to use one set, or channel, more than others. Being aware of the options is a great tool in your communication kit. You can talk and write more meaningfully, by ‘talking the same language’ as your audience.

Amazingly, you can tell which sense a person’s using, just by looking at their eyes. If their eyes go up to look at the sky, they’ve thinking visually. If they look down, they’re noticing how they feel, and if their eyes move sideways, it’s a sign that they’re concentrating on sound.

Do you look down and mumble when you’re nervous? Do you look up towards the sky when you’re trying to remember something you’ve read? It’s all to do with using different parts of your brain.

The areas of your brain that deal with the senses are in slightly different places, and brain scanning has shown that the direction of your eyes can indicate which bit of your brain is most active.

Watch other people when they’re talking, and you’ll soon see which sense they use most often. Then you can build up good communication by using words that appeal to that sense. Great if you’re trying to persuade them to do you a favour.

The words and phrases they use give other clues about the way they think. When we say, ‘I was moved,’ or ‘he’s so sharp he’ll cut himself,’ or ‘hold on a minute,’ we’re using feeling ‘kinaesthetic’ language.

If we talk about, ‘I’m under a cloud,’ ‘you’re a sight for sore eyes,’ or ‘I can see my way forward,’ we’re using visual imagery.

And when we say, ‘it was music to my ears,’ ‘I hear you loud and clear,’ or ‘to tell the truth,’ we’re using auditory language.

You’ll find you use all these channels sometimes, but it’s likely you’ll find yourself preferring one or two of them. You may already have an idea about how you notice things. For example, do you learn best by reading what’s written or do you like to hear someone telling you information?

If you know you have a preference for one way of perceiving the world, it’s a good idea to practice using words that use the other channels, to give yourself a wider range. Then you have more choice when you’re talking or writing.

If you’re a writer, you might like to think about which senses you want your reader to use when they read your work.

Do you want to concentrate on one sense, maybe drawing a visual picture with the language of colour, shape, and sight? Or maybe you want the reader to recall sounds, so you use a ringing bell metaphor or write 'tune' 'harmony' and 'listen'.

How about mixing them up, using auditory language about a landscape? That will encourage your reader to use more than one of his senses, and it can both enrich the work and also make it meaningful to more readers.

If you’re a teacher, of if you want to explain something, it helps to appreciate the way people think and learn. If a child learns best by touching things, and understands things by getting hold of them, maybe he’ll be bored if he has to sit and listen for too long in one place.

That child may have learned letter shapes by tracing them with his finger, while his brother learned by looking at them.

The best teachers know this, and they introduce all the different types of learning into their classroom. But even if we’re not teaching, we still have to pass on information.

If you’re explaining how to retune a television, for example, some people will want to follow the written instructions. Others will be better listening to an explanation, while others will want to watch someone doing it and copy their actions.

Use word clues and eye movements to find out what kind of explanation will work best. Or use all the sensory channels just to make sure.

Having choice over the language you use is great for defusing sticky situations at work.

Have you ever had an email or letter of complaint? Before you write back, it’s a good idea to check out the language in the email, and use similar words in your response.

Here’s a typical ‘management speak’ example of an email that June sent to Derek.
‘I’m concerned that this went ahead without consulting me. It’s having an impact on my department.’

The words ‘concern’ and ‘impact’ give clues that this is a kinaesthetic, or ‘feeling’ type of email.

Derek, a visual person, wrote back, ‘There’s an email on the subject on your desk.’
This made things worse.

If these two want to work together, a better response is to tend to the hurt feelings, using kinetic ‘feelings’ language and offering a ‘feelings’ kind of answer to the problem.

‘Let’s get in touch and sort out a way forward.’

Why not spend some time watching and listening, to find out the kind of language and learning that works for you and the people around you. With that tool in your communication kit, you can find endless ways to be clearer, get on people’s wave length and make connections.