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NLP: On Identifying Other People’s Preferred Representational Systems

senses250x165One of the things people newly trained in NLP often give themselves a hard time over is their ability, or lack of it, to spot the ‘preferred representational system‘ (visual, auditory or whatever) of other people. Here’s why you should cut yourself some slack on this one…

When I first trained in NLP I was already working as a hypnotherapist, which was great because it gave me lots of opportunities to try out the methods and interventions I’d learned on my Practitioner course. But sometimes I would be having a conversation with a client, listening to the client tell me about their problems and asking questions designed to nudge them towards finding solutions, and I’d realise that we were 10 minutes into the session and I still had no idea whether their preferred rep system was visual, auditory or kinaesthetic.

Partly this was because my conscious mind had been paying attention to the content of what they were saying, but even when I really focused on their predicates, I usually found they were using a lot of neutral words, or a mixture of V, A and K, so that no strong preference was visible.

Eventually I realised that most people process information in a mixture of rep systems, and they switch easily between them from moment to moment. Sometimes, though, I would see someone and it was glaringly obvious they were using visual – every word was see this, get a look at that, seeing the light, colourful life…

Other times, you could hear the auditory words loud and clear as soon as they started talking. It was like alarm bells were going off. And then you’d run across other people where it struck you straight away, whether they were soft spoken or harsh and grating, that here is a person who leans heavily on the kinesthetic mode.

Very occasionally, you might encounter an example of that category of person whose mode of expression would definitely qualify for the classification of Auditory Digital; just some indefinable quality of abstraction and conceptual precision in their verbal formulations, plus on occasion a degree of monotony in their vocal tonality, would conduct one to that inescapable conclusion.

So when you find someone who is very clearly deeply into one or other of these rep systems, the best thing you can do is adapt what you say to use words in the same system. That will make it easier for that person to understand you, because they won’t have to take the time and energy to translate everything you’re saying into their own rep system.

The other time you may want to deliberately vary the type of predicates you use is if you yourself have a strong preference for one particular rep system. This will make your communication more compelling.

More about Representational Systems in Episodes 16 and 17 of the Practical NLP Podcast.

© 2013 – 2019, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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