The one small shift in your communication style that will help you be heard

Making sure you're heard involves more than just talking

The one small shift in your communication style that will help you be heard

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, left, talks small unit leadership with squad and team leaders of the 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the Fort Bragg training area. (Photo courtesy of DVIDS)

The conference call included three former soldiers. Two of them were trying to convince their boss John*, a former Army Colonel, to do things a new way.

The conversation went nowhere fast.

John responded, “I’ll take a look at that,” and then quickly changed the subject

He never did come around to seeing a different point of view.

The former Army Colonel couldn’t be convinced because he hadn’t “heard” them. John was a visual person and the way he listened best was through visual pictures and writing. However, the large changes his two subordinates were proposing were brought up in a conference call.

Three methods of communication

In his bestselling book, Unlimited Power, Tony Robbins discusses different methods of communication. Although he lists five methods in his book, the three primary ways people receive and process information are by hearing, seeing, and feeling. Unless someone has a visual impairment or hearing loss, they use all of their senses. However, most people tend to favor one method over another. 

Those who are primarily visual learners, like John, think in pictures. The world is constantly sending them visual messages.

“Because they’re trying to keep up with pictures in their brain, visual people tend to speak quickly,” Robbins remarks.

Visual people may not choose specific words like auditory people do - they are simply trying to articulate the pictures they see in their mind. Robbins also notes that visual people tend to speak in visual metaphors. John was actually telling his subordinates the way he processed information when he started his feedback with, “The way I see it is…”

One of John’s subordinates, Bryan,* was a very accomplished speaker. His primary mode of learning was auditory. Bryan processed the world through hearing and communicated with specificity. His speaking style was rhythmic and even. He was very selective about the words he chose, using words to best communicate his thoughts, not necessarily using visual imagery for the benefit of others.

Bryan was completely unaware of his boss’s learning style. As a result, he was put off when John did not respond to his ideas.

“He’s just not hearing us,” Bryan would say to his co-worker Richard after fruitless conference calls.

He was expecting John to process information the same way he did.

The third primary learning and communication method is kinesthetic. These people process information slower than visual and auditory processers. They feel information.

According to Robbins’s book, kinesthetic processors tend to have a deep resonance to their voices.

“Kinesthetic people use metaphors from the physical world,” Robbins explains. They choose words such as “grasping” and “reaching” and may say they need to “get a hold of a thought.”

Richard*, the third man on the team, was a cross between a kinesthetic and a visual processor. He felt things deeply and intensely and he talked as fast as he thought. He was not the first to pipe up in meetings, and because he didn’t speak as much as Bryan, the auditory processor, he would allow Bryan to say the things he was seeing and feeling.

Understand who you’re speaking to

My suggestion to Richard and Bryan was to start speaking to their boss in visual pictures and to email ideas to him. The two began to do exactly that, even sending diagrams at times.

As they began to use word pictures and visuals, John came around.

Richard and Bryan had tried for months to convince John of a different way of doing things to no avail. But after altering their method of communication, things changed within weeks.

Are you communicating your thoughts in the way your boss, co-workers, clients or spouse needs to receive information?

Here is the key: start listening for cues about how they process information best.

Listen for them to say things like, “the way I see it” or “I hear that, but” or even “I’m just not feeling that.” When you get specific and use words that suit their communication style, you’ll probably have a better chance at influencing the situation.

*Names changed for anonymity