In her article “8 secrets to effective communication,” Michelle M. Smith lets us in on principles of neurolinguistics. What is neurolinguistics, exactly? According to Wikipedia, “Neurolinguistics is the study of the neural mechanisms in the human brain that control the comprehension, production, and acquisition of language. As an interdisciplinary field, neurolinguistics draws methods and theories from fields such as neuroscience, linguistics, cognitive science, communication disorders, and neuropsychology.” More simply, as defined in Ms. Smith’s article,
“Neurolinguistics is the study of how the brain understands and produces language, so it drives how we communicate with ourselves and how we process verbal input.”
If you manage people—your child, significant other, direct reports, and colleagues—neurolinguistics can help you be more successful. I’m guessing that it can help you develop a reasonably good relationship with someone you might otherwise have never bothered to get to know.
The “8 secrets” Ms. Smith refers to are pattern filters that reveal how someone’s brain works. It will take some time and energy to figure out where the person you’re communicating with is coming from, but the process is bound to be fascinating, as is anything in which you have a stake.
Here’s a quick look at the eight patterns.
Is someone motivated toward pleasure or avoidance of pain and loss? Most of us are motivated both ways, yet one is our primary mode of operation. Ask a question that reveals that mode and listen very carefully to the response.
This filter helps you understand why people do what they do (“take action). Some of us act on possibilities and talk about opportunity or choice or variety. Others talk about necessity and outline process, reason, and the importance of finding the right solution.
Frame of Reference
How do we judge our actions? Do we reflect on them or seek external feedback? Those who are internally focused need less feedback and recognition than the externally focused, who “can be more easily persuaded to another viewpoint.”
What kind of experience must you have to become convinced of something? Which of your five senses do you use? And how often must something be demonstrated? Someone who knows what convinces you of something will be better able to persuade you to their point of view.
Do you look for—that is, do you sort—similarities or differences? Ms. Smith points out that “difference” people don’t build rapport well and may have “a problem with routines, relationships or job stability.” If you tell them what to do, they’ll want to do the opposite. You should communicate with “similarity” people by helping them develop routines that work.
Attention is all about “how people show other people they’re paying attention.” Self-sorters tune out until they’re directly concerned or interested by something being said. Those who sort by others connect with eye contact and offer on-the-spot feedback, which is critical to well-functioning teams and in service industries. Ms. Smith points out that self-sorters can appear selfish, while sort-by-other folks can come across as martyrs.
Are you a big-picture person (general) or are you turned on by details and sequences (specific)? One way to uncover focus is to ask someone how they solve a problem. Do they respond with a summary or with specifics?
How/when do you take action? Active sorters want to move ahead fast. (The “beachmaster” preference in Meyers-Briggs?) Reflective sorters prefer analysis and consideration of options, and they want to understand a situation before acting. Their answer to the question “How do you learn new things?” provides valuable clues.
As a writer, I love to listen to what people have to say either in spontaneous conversation or when asked about what they think or how they would do something. Actions are important, of course, but words are critical. Think about how a great manager or a hostage negotiator works and why they get the results they do.