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"Now you're talking my language!" - establishing rapport with the audience

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Have you ever heard someone use the phrase, "Now you're talking my language!" when she wanted to say you and she were on the same wavelength? Well there is a way you can use specific language to establish a subconscious rapport that makes the listener think that. Another Jedi mind trick (see "Use the force, Luke!": priming the audience to think in a certain way)? Not quite.

Take the following 4 sentences:

  • "I see what you mean"
  • "I hear what you're saying"
  • "That seems logical"
  • "That feels right to me"

All 4 have broadly the same meaning, but the first sentence uses visual words, the second uses auditory (i.e. to do with sound) ones, the third logical ones and the fourth emotional.

We all use words to describe our thoughts and the way we do it reflects our thought process. If your thoughts are mainly a voice in your head, you'll tend to use auditory words when describing what you're thinking. If they're mostly pictures, you'll use visual ones. If you're a very logical person you'll use logical words and if you're more into feelings and emotions you'll use emotional ones.

The $10 term for these 4 ways of expressing ourselves is 'representational systems,' but for simplicity's sake I'm just going to use a 10 one and call them 'language types'. Let's look at visual and auditory language first.

'Visuals' take information in through their eyes. They like visual stimuli and would rather read something than be told it (as a Visual myself, I could never concentrate on listening to my children read out what they'd done for homework; I always preferred to take it off them and read it myself). They have difficulty concentrating via their ears and quickly switch off when listening to lectures delivered in a monotone by speakers who stand motionless behind a lectern.

They forget verbal instructions easily because their minds wander without something to look at. Any time you're making an important point in a presentation, back it up with something on the screen or the visuals probably both won't take it in, or if they do, they'll quickly forget it. They're not distracted by background or external noise, as they simply don't hear a lot of it. They're good at spelling because they 'see' words in their brains.


(NB: I've only been to one classical music concert in my life and I fell asleep; not because I didn't like the music being played - it was Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons', one of my favorites - but because there was nothing for me to watch! Having to pay all my attention via my ears, I simply closed down. As a non-expert on classical music, I've always wondered what conductors are actually needed for. I mean, don't the musicians know the music and when to come in with their part without being told? Maybe all that manic baton waving is just there to give the visuals in the audience something to watch.)

They also think in terms of pictures, and therefore describe their thoughts and opinions using visual language, because when they think of something they 'see' it in their brain. They tend to talk quickly because visual memories are quick and easy to access. They'll say, "I see what you mean" and "That looks about right." Typical words and phrases used by them include: see, look, bright, clear, vision, read, perspective, big picture, view, focus, reveal, shape, appear, transparent, illuminate, show, vivid, imagine, short sighted, sight for sore eyes, take a peek, tunnel vision , bird’s eye view, draw you a picture, shed some light, crystal clear. This list isn't meant to be exhaustive and you can probably think of quite a few more yourself.

Auditories take information in through their ears. My ex-wife is an Auditory and whenever we bought anything with an instruction book, she'd just hand it to me and say, "Summarize it and tell me what it says." They're good at learning via listening, can easily pick up the words to songs and can be good at learning languages (which they usually learn by listening to audio CDs). They like music and talking on the phone and are easily distracted by background noise, as they just can't help hearing and listening to it. No matter how many times you tell them to ignore it, they simply can't.

They think in terms of sounds, and when speaking explain themselves using auditory words and phrases, because their brains, literally, 'talk' to them. They'll often talk to themselves, sometimes moving their lips while they do so. They'll say, "That sounds about right" and "I hear you loud and clear". Other typical words and phrases include: quote, hear, tell, question, explain, sound, discord, listen, harmony, articulate, overtones, babble, volume, outspoken, dialogue, silence, deaf, harmonize, tune in/out, rings a bell, quiet as a mouse, voiced an opinion, clear as a bell, loud and clear, purrs like a kitten, on another note, all ears.

Logical people tend to think . . . logically (nor prize for guessing that one!). They think along linear, logical lines and like processes, order and planning. They tend to be data-oriented and like numbers, statistics, barcharts and graphs. To buttress an argument they'll use facts more than stories. They use words like: change, experience, understand, analysis, logic, question, conceive, benefits, objectives, measure, advantages/disadvantages, know, think, learn, process, decide, planning, thoroughly, examine, criteria, implement, calculate, analyze, consider, describe in detail, figure out, make sense of, pay attention to, word for word, without a doubt, doesn't add up, step by step, chart progress.

Emotional people are governed by their . . . emotions (no prize for that one either!). They are 'people people.' They use (and relate to) stories more than facts, and rely on gut feel and intuition rather than numbers. They' say things like: cold, warm, excited, angry, happy, sad, tender, heated, frustrated, elated, touch, soft, lukewarm, vibes, penetrating, gut feel, grasp, sense, feel, hard, unfeeling, solid, touch, catch on, tap into, argument, make contact, throw out, firm foundation, get a handle on, get in touch with, hand in hand.

To complicate it only very slightly, we tend to use the 4 language types in combinations. People tend to be either a visual or an auditory, and either be logical or emotional. So we have 4 combinations: visual/emotional, visual/logical, auditory/emotional, auditory/logical.

Now while we all use all 4 types at different times; nobody is only visual or 100% auditory. But we all do have a 'preferred' one we use more than the other 3. We use it subconsciously and it's unlikely you even know which one you use the most.

When you're presenting to a group of people, it's probable that they'll have a mix of preferred language types, but when you're addressing your words to one individual (either because they're the decision maker or in response to a question) you should try to 'talk their language' as much as possible.

Think of it this way: if you went to Mexico on a business trip and spoke English, a lot of people would understand the gist of what you were saying. But if you spoke in fluent Spanish, they'd suddenly understand all the subtle nuances of what you had to say that they'd missed before. You literally would be 'talking their language.'

Likewise, if you're a 'visual' and you're talking to an 'auditory', she'll obviously be able to understand you. But if you switch and speak in her 'language' she'll understand you far better. For example:

Visual/logic: If someone says, "I just don't see the logic behind it", say (e.g.) "OK, let's take a bird's eye view of this and look at the big picture first, then I'll drill down to the details and we'll examine at the process itself, see if I can shed some light on it."

Auditory/logic: If she says, "That doesn't sound right to me, I can't quite understand the benefits," answer with (e.g.) "No problem, I hear what you're saying. Sounds to me like I haven't done a thorough enough cost/benefit analysis for you. Let me talk you through it again and I'm sure after that it'll be clear as a bell."

Visual/emotional: If someone says, "It doesn't feel quite right. I can't grasp what you're showing me," say (e.g.) "OK, that must be frustrating. I know how I feel when I can't quite grasp something. I can see you're only lukewarm about the idea. Let me show you the argument in a slightly different way and we'll see how you feel about it then."

Auditory/emotional: If he says, "I hear what you're saying, but my gut feel's telling me it won't work," answer with (e.g.) "It's my fault, I obviously haven't explained myself properly. I'd be happy to talk through it one more time and hopefully after that you'll hear me loud and clear and feel fine."


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