“I don’t see what you mean!” “You didn’t hear a word I said.” “Just show me what you want, and I’ll do it!” We’ve all heard some version of these phrases. We are trying to be supportive. We are sure we spoke clearly, and yet the other person doesn’t have a clue.
What happened? Because we are all different, we take in new information differently. Communication experts have identified the three major ways people take in new information. It’s what I call our ‘learning-language’. The ‘learning-language’ is how our mental wiring prefers to take in the outside world, including when others are connecting with us. The ways are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. So, the person doesn’t understand you? You probably weren’t using their preferred ‘learning-language’.
Everyone has one (or possibly two) modes that work best. Do we learn new information by seeing it, hearing it, or doing something with it? If we deliver the information in the other person’s dominant mode, we’ve increased the possibility they will immediately understand us. You adjust your information delivery or your support by using the mode the other person prefers. If they are visual, you use visual methods – things they can see or read. Are they auditory? Use things they can hear. Kinesthetic? Use things they can touch and feel.
How do you discover what mode the person prefers? Pay attention to how they describe learning new things. Did they say:
- “I see what you mean.” (Visual) Words are used to make pictures.
- “I hear you.” (Auditory) Sounds are key.
- “What you said just felt right.” (Kinesthetic) Feelings and actions are important.
To discover your own mode, try this: remember a time when you asked for directions (before Google Maps, of course). How did you want to be given the directions? Did you ask the person to:
- “Write down the directions.” If you did, you prefer the visual mode. You needed to ‘see’ the route on the paper.
- “Tell me how to get there.” If you did, you prefer the auditory mode. You needed to ‘hear’ the directions.
- “What are the landmarks I will pass? Once I’ve driven there, I can find it again.” If you did, you prefer the kinesthetic mode. You want a ‘walk-through’ of the route.
To better understand the different modes, here are some examples of them in action and possible adjustments that can be made:
A ‘visual’ wife is having a budget conversation with an ‘auditory’ husband. He tells her all his ideas. She is stumped and doesn’t ‘see’ how they would work. What if he gets a tablet and also writes them down as he speaks? She reads them and now understands. They can collaborate.
How about a ‘visual’ husband planning a romantic dinner for his ‘auditory’ wife? He sets the table with flowers and their nicest plates, his preferred learning-language. She gets home and asks, “Do you want to go out to dinner?” Aargh!! She didn’t ‘see’ the table because her preferred learning-language is ‘auditory’. So, the next time, he also puts on her favorite romantic music. She comes home, hears the music, and they have a great evening.
Same scenario, except this time, the wife is ‘kinesthetic’. The husband sets the table and then makes sure the aromas of the meal fill their home. As she walks in the door, the wife smells the dinner and ‘feels’ the setting. Or perhaps he greets her at the door and waltzes her to the beautifully set table. Sigh. Another great evening for them both.
Imagine a ‘kinesthetic’ child, whose ‘auditory’ dad tells him how much he loves the child. The child might not take it in. Then, the dad starts ruffling his hair and hugging him. The child now has a concrete, feeling experience of his dad’s love.
A teen-aged ‘visual’ girl lost in a championship track and field event. It’s rough. The ‘kinesthetic’ mom knows to speak in her daughter’s preferred way, so she adapts her own learning-language (having something tangible to hold) to a ‘visual’ method. She writes words of support on post-it notes and puts them in surprise locations where the daughter will see them. Or perhaps her ‘auditory’ dad plays her an uplifting song, then hands her the framed lyrics to keep. The daughter will take in their messages better because she is ‘sees’ them.
Visual, auditory, kinesthetic. We all take in the world in our unique way. If you want to be better understood, it’s important to use your loved one’s preferred learning-language. If you want your loved ones to better understand you, share with them your preferred learning-language. If you do, I guarantee your messages of love and support will always be understood.