You know how some people just seem to speak your language? Even if you disagree with what they are saying they seem to talk in a way that is easy to digest? The reason this happens with some people more than others comes down to how we process experiences in our heads, and how we express ourselves to one another. Whats more, with a little practice we can have this impact on everyone… if we learn how to choose our words more carefully.

Language and Our Senses

Linguists estimate that there are between 3,000 and 6,000 languages spoken on the planet today.  In its most basic form, language is the ‘coding’ of our experiences.  We use words to communicate our experience of our world, regardles of what language we speak in.

As human beings, the only way we can experience information is through one of our five senses:

  1. Visual: things we see,
  2. Auditory: things we hear,
  3. Kinaesthetic: things we feel both inside (like emotions) and outside of our bodies (like heat or pain),
  4. Olfactory: things we smell,
  5. Gustatory: things we taste.

Every developed language on the planet has words that describe our experience through these senses.  NLP calls these words predicates.  We all tend to prefer to express ourselves by favouring the use of either visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic predicates.  This is called our Preferred Representational System, which is how we tend to process information we receive as well.

For example, a person with a visual Preferred Representational System will use a lot of visual predicates like “I see what you mean” or “Just give me the big picture”.  An auditory person will prefer predicates like “I hear you” or “Its loud and clear now”.  A kinaesthetic person uses predicates like “I feel for you” or “It’s painfully clear now”.  Finally, there is also a fourth category called Auditory digital, which is a subset of Auditory, who prefer logic based predicates like “I fully understand you” or “what you are saying is very rational”.

Here is an example of predicates from each category.

Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic Auditory Digital


Speaking to People Instead of at Them

If you can identify the predicates that people use when they speak, you will find your ability to communicate successful with them will grow noticably.  By using the same predicates as the person you are conversing with, you are making it easier for them to process what you are saying.  Of course this doesn’t mean that if you use the wrong predicates the person won’t understand you.  It just means that your words will be more meaningful to them and will resonate with them stronger.  And it will help you increase rapport too.

This works because people are partial to processing their experiences of the outside world in their Preferred Representational System.  As their experiences are processed in their heads they tend to adopt the information that is coming through their preferred sense more easily.  When they describe these experiences verbally their predicates give away the sense they rely on the most.

It’s a good practice to identify the preferred representational system of the people you speak with often.  Keep this information in a journal for future reference.  It’s also helpful to note any key words or phrases they use regularly like “At the end of the day…” or “phenomenal”, so you can utilize these as well when you speak to them.  This way, when you need to have an important conversation with someone you can ‘code’ it with the right predicates and key words to have the strongest impact.

The same is true for email or other written correspondence.  Your written words will have more effect if they are drafted with the persons prefered predicates.  It’s also easier to pick out someone’s predicates from something they have written than listening to them speak, because you can read at your own pace and review it as many times as you like.

Marketing to People Instead of at Them

There are certain professions that tend to belong to a specific representational system.  Creative people and designer for example are often visual.  Sound engineers and musicians will usually be auditory.  Accountants and programmers will typically be Auditory Digital.  Athletes and nurses will often be kinaesthetic.  There are always individual exceptions, but this tendency generally holds true.

If you are marketing or selling to a group or profession that would largely consist of people from a specific representational system, it’s a good idea to embed their predicates in any texts or advertising material you create.  This also holds for presentations and slides you make.

Summing Up (that’s an auditory digital predicate)

Learning how to identify someone’s predicates and use them correctly is a very valuable skill.  Like all skills it takes deliberate practice to master.  Just remember, people’s preferred representational systems can change over time, so always watch out for these changes in people’s predicates if you haven’t spoken to them in some time.  Also remember that just because someone has one preferred representational system, it doesn’t mean they won’t use predicates from another representational system.  They just won’t use them as often.

(Photo by Horia Varlan)