My friend Delia is the owner of a small private school. This spring her school is experiencing the crunch of reduced enrollment for next September and all staff have been asked to take a six percent salary decrease. One staff member, much to Delia’s horror, outright refused and resigned her teaching position at the school. Delia pleaded with her, telling her how valuable a teacher she was, how parents had come to count on her expertise, and essentially how the school couldn’t operate without her. The next day she had reconsidered resigning her teaching position, saying that it was because of what Delia had said regarding how valuable she was to the school.

Delia was flabbergasted! She thought that she had pampered her staff throughout the school year, giving them manicures, their birthday off, flowers or wine regularly, and dinners out. Did this staff member not see all of these treats as being rewards for her contribution to the success of the school? Guess not!

We take in and store information using the following three main representational systems:

Visual – seeing

Auditory – hearing

Kinesthetic – feeling/touching/moving

We receive our information from the outside world in primarily pictures, sounds and feelings. We tend to have a dominant preference; we either prefer to receive our information from the world in one of three ways:

1. Visually, either externally or internally in our ‘minds eye’ as an image

2. From something we hear, either externally or from our inner voice

3. Kinesthetically, from touch or feelings

Even though we experience the world using all three representational systems, we generally favor one, use another as a secondary preference, and the third usually trails far behind.

To quote Paul Newman, in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate”. This failure to communicate has been created by crossing ‘representational systems’. The teacher in question receives her information in an auditory manner. Delia, on the other hand, receives her information visually, or ‘show me,’ ‘give me things,’ ‘let me see you do something’. Delia has been ‘showing’ her staff how valuable they are, where this staff member needed to ‘hear’ it.

When you can figure out other people’s representational systems or what sense they prefer to use when taking in information, you can communicate on their wavelength and enter their model of the world. The result is – presto, fewer communication mix-ups and instant rapport.