"I asked my wife to rate my listening skills and she said, “You’re an 8 on a scale of 10.”
I still don’t get why she wanted me to urinate on a skeleton..."
Have you had that feeling that your partner just doesn't understand you? They just don't get you. And your kids? You speak and they never listen.
Are their ears are painted on?
Want to know the secret to understanding and being understood? VAKOG may be the answer…
In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) we all have a way of expressing ourselves internally and externally. Even if you haven’t heard of NLP most of us recognise that people have varying ways of describing the world and taking in information. We all have our own personal way of experiencing the world and we do this through various senses. And most of us seem to have a predominance of one sense system.
In NLP these representational sense systems are commonly known as the VAKOG system:
V = Visual
A = Auditory
K = Kinaesthetic
O = Olfactory (smell)
G = Gustatory (taste)
Plus we also use another system - Auditory digital (Ad) which is a self talk labelling system.
Our preferred representational system is the one that we use more frequently to take in information, process information and give information. Typically the most common systems are Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic but we do tend to use these five sensory channels with different emphasis. Plus the preferred system is not always consistent in everything the person does it is just a preferred way. Some people can use all senses in a balanced manner and some may use two senses in an almost equal way. Others are very dominant in one. Whilst it is not a definitive system, it can really help in your relationships.
But first, how do we know what representational system is dominant?
One of the easiest ways to identify how each person makes sense of their world is to just listen to what they say and the words they use. The expressions a person uses will relate to seeing, hearing, feeling etc and will indicate her representation system of preference.
Some people will be very visually oriented. These people tend to explore their world through their sight and will express themselves using more visual cues. They might use words like see, look, imagine, picture, notice, or focus. They might use statements like “I need to see more before I can make my decision”, “I see what you mean” or “I can see it quite clearly” or even “I feel left in the dark”. Visual people often sit or stand with their heads up and their eyes up. They can be organised, neat and tidy and can have trouble learning with verbal instructions. They are interested in how things look.
Auditory people rely on the sense of hearing. They will use words like quiet, loud, discuss, or hear, and statements like "As clear as a bell", "Loud and clear", “Like music to my ears”, or “That sounds great”. They learn by listening and respond to being told how they are doing.
Kinaesthetic people use the sense of feeling. They often are slower to speak and move and need more time to process information. Their expressions are the feeling words like uncomfortable, broken hearted, keeping one’s feet on the ground, stab in the back or heavy heart. They might use expressions like “I have a really good feeling about this” or “This pressure is unbearable”. Kinaesthetic people respond to physical rewards and touching and can be those people who stand really close to your, right in your personal space. They love doing things that “feel right”.
Auditory Digital people talk to themselves. They can be quite logical and structured and like things to make sense. They need to understand why something is important. They learn by creating steps and they also can exhibit characteristics of the other major representational systems too but they use words which are abstract with no direct sensory link like “I understand your motivation” or “Let me think it through”.
Olfactory and Gustatory are less common. Olfactory expressions include “Turn up one’s nose” or “smell a rat” or “Don’t stick your nose into their business”. Gustatory could include taste or mouth watering and statements such as “It left a bitter taste in my mouth”.
So how does this help with life?
Firstly some tasks are more optimally performed using one representational system over another. Like spelling which is better learned by children who unconsciously use a visualisation strategy. It can also help with learning - Visual people prefer to see things, Auditory people prefer to hear things, Kinaesthetic need a more hands on approach and struggle to sit still so movement is helpful, and Auditory Digital need to set out the steps in the process.
But where it really helps in life is in communication with our family and others. And it does this through building rapport. And when you have rapport with someone you communicate with trust and understanding, and you feel “in sync” with the other’s feelings.
Science backs this up. Certain studies have suggested that using a similar representational system to another person can help build rapport. Counsellors who “match” representational systems were deemed more empathetic and were preferred over Counsellors who didn’t.
Even better, if we can identify and use the predominant system someone else does (like our partner or children) we can make poor communication more efficient and effective. It means we can more easily and effortlessly get our point across plus when the other person feels understood, heard and seen, they are more likely to be open to understanding our point of view. No more ears for decoration.
People often misunderstand each other simply because they tend to use different representational systems. And couples can really struggle here. For example you may hear “Why can’t you see what I am trying to do” and respond with “Just tell me what you want. I’m listening” and then are surprised when confusion and misunderstanding ensue. You have responded in an auditory way to a visual representational system. Becoming aware of their visual representational system you might respond instead with “Just show me. I am trying to see clearly” and create rapport and harmony.
Plus using the same representational system means your point is more likely to be taken in for some internal processing. People might actually start hearing what you are saying and act. Imagine if your point was actually understood? Communication and connection is possible.
Now teenagers are a different situation entirely but you do have a better chance when you use their system.
When we reflect back the language patterns other people are speaking, they can more easily process the information and comprehension becomes faster and communication more effective. Plus they experience us as empathetic and it becomes a win win situation for the relationship. We are heard, they are heard and bliss is possible.
If you are struggling with communication with a family member, your partner or a work colleague, take a moment to notice the representational system being used in that moment and then intentionally respond in the same category. Imagine the impact you can have in your personal life when communication flows more easily.
Imagine what it looks like. Imagine what it sounds like. Imagine what it feels like.