You’re born with 5 senses – sight, hearing, feeling, smell and taste. As your mind and body grows, you begin to favor one or two of those senses when experiencing the world. This fact can control your perception and how you communicate. Learning what your preferences are and how they affect you can open up more of the world to you and make you a better communicator.

Determining People’s Preferences

In the U.S., the majority of people are visual, followed by auditory people and kinesthetic (feeling). You only need to talk with a person for a few moments to discover their primary preference. For example, ask yourself, and other people, to describe walking on a beach. Notice the words they use and it will tip you off:

  • Visual person – “I love seeing the waves at the ocean. The blue color of the water contrasted against the white sand and green palm trees is relaxing.”
  • Auditory person – “The sound of the waves crashing against the beach and the rustling of the trees as the wind blows through them makes me feel great.”
  • Kinesthetic person – “Walking close enough to the waves to feel the salt water on my skin with the warm sand under my feet keeps me grounded to nature.”

You can spot the visual words (seeing, blue color, white sand, green trees), auditory (sound of the waves, crashing, rustling) and kinesthetic (feel the salt water, warm sand). Notice that each person references a feeling, too. “Relaxing, feel great, grounded” are all words that point to a secondary preference, in this case feeling. Most people perceive the world through a primary and secondary preference.

How This Makes Communicating Difficult

You’re attracted to a person and start up a conversation. You discover that they love going to concerts, has over a thousand songs downloaded on their smartphone and listens to podcasts in their spare time. You rarely listen to music but you can list your one hundred favorite movies and give a synopsis of each. The other person has seen less than a dozen movies in their lifetime.

If you’re unaware of the various preferences, your conversation may be a short one. They are auditory and you are visual so you both speak in a different language.

Therapists encounter this frequently when working with couples. One person may lavish gifts on the other but the other may tell the therapist that they don’t feel loved. When asked why, the person says “They never tell me that they love me.” The gift giver is visual and the other person is auditory. The visual person is confused because they go out of their way to bestow gifts on their partner. The auditory person needs to hear the words to feel loved.

To Be a Better Communicator, Learn the Other Person’s Language

In the previous example of meeting a new person, once you discover their preferences, use their language with them. They will pick up on it and you’ll create rapport where there was none.

For example, when the visual person is talking with the auditory person:

  • Instead of saying “Would you like to see that movie with me?” say “I hear that new movie is great and would love to have you go with me.”
  • Instead of “This Asian restaurant’s menu looks good.” say “People tell me that this Asian restaurant is the best.”

The more you know about how people perceive the world, and the language they use because of it, the better communicator you’ll be.