Communicating & Connecting with Sensory Modalities
We have just a few seconds to make an initial impression and scientist say we only need 1/25th of a second to process facial expressions. These first few moments of meeting someone can determine success or failure whether that be a sales call, job interview, or first date.
Many neuroscientists believe mirror neurons in our brains help us understand the actions and intentions of other people, which in turn triggers a feeling of safety or fear and the resulting fight, flight, or freeze response. This triggers long before our energy-hungry cerebral cortex has a chance to determine if the other person really is safe or not.
One way to grab attention and build rapport is to be in synchronicity with the other person. People like and feel safe around those who are similar to themselves. One of the quickest and easiest ways to build rapport is to mirror their sensory modalities.
We all use a combination of sensory modalities to take in, interact, and communicate what is going on in our worlds. Most people have a primary and secondary preferred modality of Visual (Eyes), Auditory (Ears), or Kinesthetic (Touch). An easy way to think about sensory modalities is to compare it to a language you may not even be aware that you speak. Visuals use and communicate with sight words as a language, and, as such, communicate best when that language is used. Likewise, they may not be as fluent in the Kinesthetic language and won’t be able to easily communicate with someone that uses that language. Someone attempting to connect and communicate with them would adjust to being more Visual.
If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you may have experienced this common phenomenon. Pretend you find yourself in a foreign land where no one speaks your language and weeks pass without hearing your native tongue. Then, like a flash in complete darkness, you hear it from across the room, and you feel it in your gut (sidebar note, I just utilized all three sensory modalities in mass communication)….someone that speaks your language, even has your accent and sounds like they may even be from your hometown. What do you do? That’s right, you fly across the room to meet the stranger and sure enough, they speak exactly like you. How long are you strangers? That’s right, you’re not strangers at all, you’re instant best friends because they spoke your language. That is exactly how sensory modalities work; however, most people aren’t even aware they exist.
Sensory Modalities – V.A.K.
Visuals (V) – Care about appearance, dress well and like to stay fit; Talk and think quickly, and Use words and phrases such as:
- I see
- See you later
- Imagine that
- I can picture it
- A sight for sore eyes
- We see eye to eye
Auditory (A) – In between visual and kinesthetic styles in terms of appearance and body type; a Moderate rate of speech and thinking; Uses words and phrases such as:
- I hear you
- That resonates with me
- Tune out/in
- That rings a bell
Kinesthetic (K) – Focuses on comfort rather than style and is not as concerned about body appearance (except trainers and athletes); Tends to talk and think more slowly; Uses words and phrases such as:
- I feel you
- Firm grasp
- Let’s connect
- Pain in the neck
- Let’s stay in touch
- I will get in touch with you
Mastery: Do your best to learn others’ sensory modalities as quickly as possible. I find that words are the easiest clue for me and very simple to pick up on if you’re paying attention. You may want to start observing everyone around you and wondering if they are V., A., or K.
It’s a bit more difficult to modify our style; however, with some effort, once you’re aware of their modality you can adjust your communication to match theirs. This simple technique can create near instant rapport and help the other person to feel safer.
In mass communication, like emails, marketing messages, and social media posts, do your best to include all three modalities. For example, “If this information looks interesting, sounds worthwhile, or just feels like it would be worth learning more, please send an email.”
Sensory Style Quiz
Circle only one answer for each one of the questions below and tally all of your a’s, b’s, and c’s.
When checking into a hotel, you choose the room…
- a-with an ocean view but is noisy
- b-allowing you to hear the ocean, with no view
- c-of utmost comfort and luxury, but no ocean view and is noisy
When faced with a problem, you
- a-Look for alternatives
- b-Talk about the problem
- c-Rearrange the details
When buying a new car, you want it to
- a-Look good
- b-Sound quiet or powerful
- c-Feel comfortable and/or safe
When describing to a friend the latest concert, you first
- a-Describe how it looked
- b-Tell your friend how it sounded
- c-Describe how it felt
In your spare time, you most enjoy
- a-Watching T & /movies or playing video games
- b-Reading or listening to music
- c-Doing something physical
The sense you would never want to lose is
You spend the most time indulging in
- b-Listening to your thoughts
- c-Connecting with your feelings
When someone wants to convince you of something, you
- a-Need to see evidence
- b-Talk yourself through the info
- c-Trust your gut instinct or intuition
You usually speak and think
Take a deep breath. Where did your breathe come from?
- a-High in your chest
- b-Low in your chest
- c-Your stomach
When navigating around a new city, you
- a-Use a map/GPS/Google maps
- b-Ask for directions
- c-Trust your intuition
When buying clothes, you pick
- a-What looks best on you
- b-What best reflects your personality
- c-What feels comfortable
When deciding on a new restaurant to try, you make the decision based on
- a-The building looking impressive
- b-The restaurant being quiet
- c-The restaurant being comfortable
You make decisions
Results – Sensory Modality Self-Assessment
How many A’s (Visual): ________ = V
How many B’s (Auditory): ________ = A
How Many C’s (Kinesthetic): ________ = K
Rank your styles from highest to lowest: (my style: V/K/A): ____/____/___
- Complete your Sensory Modalities self-assessment and consider your own sensory modality preferences (V, A, and K).
- Pay attention to others you come into contact with over the coming days and attempt to figure out their sensory modality preference (V, A, and K).
- And, if you’re wild and crazy, try adjusting your sensory modality communication to match theirs (V→V, A→A, K→K).
- Hint: Use their words exactly as they have given them to you.