Monday, October 31, 2005

The Manner of Speaking

Each of us has a different speaking pattern. We choose our words and phrases to uniquely match our view the world. The way in which we speak reflects the way we think. Our choice of speech pattern is therefore influenced by the how our thoughts are processing the information we receive. From this simple understanding we are able to infer that the five sensory inputs have quite a bit to do with how we process information, and from that, how we communicate.

The connection between their senses and their thought processes and then to their speaking patterns can be easily discerned simply by listening to someone speak. Someone who is very visual will reflect this in their words and phrases. For example, they will utilize words such as "imagine", "picture", "focus", or "perspective". That same visual person would be more apt to say "can we focus", "i can just see it now", or "from my point of view". An auditory person would choose words such as "sound", "hear", "ring", or "buzz". Touching people use words like "feel", "handle", "smooth", or "grip". Smelling people would use words such as "sour", "rotten", or "fresh". Tasting people might choose "bland", "sweet", or "spicy".

Here are some examples for each category:
  • Sight - Look/see, Imagine, Focus, Brilliant, Bright, View
  • Sound - Hear, Listen, Ring, Buzz, Recall, Harmonious
  • Smell - Sweet, Rotten, Fishy, Fragrance, Funky, Scent
  • Touch - Feel, Grasp, Hold, Push, Drive, Tough
  • Taste - Bitter, Sweet, Sharp, Salty, Bland, Spicy
To be clear, we don't focus on the same sense all the time in all our language. But in specific situations or conversations we will gravitate towards a primary. And regardless, we all have primary that we default to when given opportunity.

So why is this important? Depending on which of the five senses they are more intuned with, we can match our speaking pattern to more closely match their own way of thinking. When the game is influence, speaking the same language is absolutely critical. If you are speaking primarily in touch language to someone who is smell-oriented, you are in effect requiring them to translate your language. The more work required of your listener, the less influence you have. Consider that smell-oriented person. Imagine the responses to saying "can you feel the excitement", versus "can you smell the potential". These may not appear obvious in such limited context, but we make these distinctions in our speech all the time. If you are speaking the same language as your listener, you have a greater chance of creating rapport which is key to influence.

From Another Angle
Sometimes when we have issues communicating it can be that we using different senses, which means we are speaking different languages. Consider the following exchange:
  • A: We need to talk about this some more.
  • B: Why? Everything looks fine to me.
  • A: Well, something just doesn't sound right.
  • B: You haven't shown me any reason to worry. From my point of view things will work out.
  • A: You're not listening to me. We all need to be dancing to the same tune…
In Practice
One technique to practice this skill is to write down the names of people while you are in meetings and keep track of the sensory words they each use. This is a common technique that is used in many fields. Not only is it useful for your own practice, as well as understanding your coworkers, but when you do speak, your words can have a better connection with your listeners. The more you practice identifying these words, the easier it will be for you to notice when someone shifts from one sense to another. That will help you to quickly get in harmony with their patterns and build rapport quickly.

Going Deeper
You can combine matching the sense someone is using with the Pacing and Leading techniques I wrote about previously to create a powerful effect. This is especially useful when dealing with people who are stuck in a particular mode and resisting communication efforts. Using words that match their primary sense and then leading them to new words from a different sensory state can often provide a much smoother and quicker transition for your listeners.

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