My voice professor, Dr. Jerry Doan, was one of the most intentional communicators I have ever known. He wasn’t content to think deeply about what he was teaching, he wanted to make sure that what he was sharing could be received and implemented as efficiently as possible. He would scan each of his students and learn whether they were more likely to process information in a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic way and then adapt his communication to match. The way he explained the same concept would be completely different depending on the student standing in front of him — he could use color or brightness to describe a sound, thickness or texture to describe the feeling of a sound, or probably the easiest for a music teacher provide an auditory example to follow.
Learning how to adapt your communication style to your audience comes in two parts: first, you need to learn how to read whether they are an A, V, or K (auditory, visual, or kinesthetic) and then you need to learn how to speak to each of those different processing styles. The power of being able to communicate fluently whether you’re speaking to an A, V, or K will help you when you need to sell an idea, influence in a negotiation, or simply help someone you care about understand what you are trying to say.
How do you identify an Audio, Visual, or Kinesthetic Learner?
When people store information, they create a representation of it in their mind. When they go to retrieve and process this information, they will typically use a default or preferred mode:
- Visual: people who process visually will have a mental image or picture of the information they are creating or retrieving in their mind.
- Auditory: people who process in an auditory way will hear the information they have stored played back like a podcast or sound file. They may read out loud or talk to themselves.
- Kinesthetic: people who process kinesthetically are hands-on learners. They are more likely to learn by touching or doing.
You can read which method someone is using to access and process stored information in their brain by watching their eye movements. Ask a neutral question “what did you have for breakfast this morning?” or “how was your weekend?” and observe them thinking and preparing to respond. As their brain access certain types of information, the muscles in their eyes will reflexively move in specific directions.
As you are looking at them, here is what is going on:
- Up and to the right: visually remembered information
- Middle and to the right: auditory remembered information
- Down and to the right: self talk, or calculation
- Up and to the left: visually constructed information
- Middle and to the left: auditory constructed information
- Down or down and to the left: Tactile (kinesthetic) information
The short-hand version: looking to the right is remembering, looking to the left is creating. Down is kinesthetic/feeling. You may notice that their eyes move in one direction first, and then to access a different type of information. This gives you options in how you connect with them. As a rule, where they go first is probably their dominant processing style.
How do you communicate with an audio, visual, or kinesthetic learner?
My teacher would always use the example of a car salesperson. Someone who would have to quickly size up and influence a buyer they have just met. If they fully understood the AVK method, they would start by:
- Asking neutral, open, ended questions. Neutral means not asking for specific types of information: “what is your favorite song?” is going to cause anyone to access auditory memory, “what is your favorite Netflix binge” is almost certain to send someone to their visual memory, etc.
- Observe their eye movement. How are they remembering and then preparing their answer?
- Mirror your communication to their processing style.
If our theoretical car salesperson identifies that you are a strongly visual communicator, they may draw your attention to the clean lines of the silhouette of the car, the way the interior dash is laid out visually so that you can easily navigate. With an auditory processor the salesperson might start the engine and let you hear what it sounds like, maybe they would demonstrate the quality of the sound system, or show you how quiet the ride is when you are on the test drive. For a kinesthetic communicator, the salesperson might invite you to slam the door and feel how solid the construction is, and comment on the acceleration and braking during the test drive. The salesperson is simply directing their customers’ attention to the qualities of the product in a way that they will most easily connect.
What is your dominant learning style?
If you haven’t already taken some time to identify your primary learning/communication style there are a number of free resources online you can access. A simple Google search will take you to a few. Here are two quick links:
- [PDF] Learning Style Inventory – with additional information about the various styles
- Fill out an online VARK quiz
Identifying how you learn and communicate can help you more quickly integrate new information and also prevent you from falling prey to savvy sales techniques!