How good a communicator are you?
Most of us probably like to think we’re good communicators, that all our conversations flow easily, we understand what people are telling us, they understand our responses and we find it easy to build rapport.
So you never have any misunderstandings with people?
Of course you do. We all do! You think someone has said one thing, but they actually meant another. You think they weren’t clear in their communication and they think you didn’t listen properly. Or vice versa.
Does any of this sound familiar?
To understand why this is, it’s useful to go right back to the basics of communication and some work that was done by a man called Mehrabian. He found through research that only around 7% of the meaning we take from our communication comes from the language we use; over 50% comes from our non-verbal signals; and the rest comes from the tone we use.
When we communicate with one another we often don’t communicate consciously. We communicate in our own style and other people communicate in theirs. We don’t necessarily choose our words carefully, or we don’t listen properly because we’re distracted or thinking about what our response is going to be. Sometimes we don’t look at the person we’re communicating with because our attention is focused elsewhere.
In other words, we don’t fully tune in our senses to the communication that’s taking place, which means we can miss some vital clues about what is actually meant.
If we do – if we practice what’s called sensory acuity, or sensory awareness – we can take our communication up to a whole different level.

Making The Unconscious Conscious

People who are trained in NLP know how to look at and observe all three aspects of communication when they’re talking to someone, i.e. not just what is said, but how it is said and what physiological clues are present, and they’re also able to skillfully apply these to their own responses.
What happens when we’re talking to someone else, is that we are both going through a process of thinking while we talk. We’re processing what is being said to us and how we plan to respond. As we do this, changes will occur in our physiology that give clues to the other person about what we’re thinking. Often, we’re unconsciously processing clues such as changes in facial expression, tone and body language. Developing greater sensory acuity means making that unconscious process conscious.
If we fail to pick up on these clues or we misinterpret them, that’s when communication can be misunderstood and there’s scope for communication to break down. Conversely, when we pick up on and understand the clues, we communicate effectively and build rapport easily.


Looking for Clues

So, what are the clues that we can pick up on?
There are lots of visual clues that we can pick up but the important thing to recognise is that they’re unique to each individual. These are things such as change in expression, breathing, skin colour, pupil dilation and eye contact. Or it could be things like the other person shifting their position to lean forward or back, sit more upright or slouch, folding or unfolding their arms, using their hands to touch their face or hair or biting their nails, crossing or uncrossing their legs, and so on.
There are also auditory clues such as someone changing the tone of their voice, speeding up or slowing down their speech, using long or short pauses, raising or lowering their voice, changing the rhythm of their words, mumbling or speaking clearly or stumbling over their words.
Then there are the words themselves. If we use our sensory acuity, we can detect if any of the words we’re using produce a better or worse reaction in the other person and can amend our choice of words accordingly. Likewise, we can pick up on subtle or not so subtle shifts in the language they’re using.
That’s the key thing about sensory acuity, we can use it to adjust our behaviour and responses to help improve our communication with other people. We process all the clues we receive, and we adjust and review and repeat. This skill is one that can be used in so many contexts, including coaching, sales, mediation, change management, public speaking, training, negotiation and health management.

Developing Sensory Acuity

So how can you improve your sensory acuity? Well, one way to do it is to practice. The next time you speak to someone, consciously focus not just on what they’re saying and the words they’re using, but on their tone and body language. Notice any subtle or not-so-subtle changes in any aspect and modify your behaviour and communication accordingly. It will take practice, but you’ll notice it become easier the more you do it.
And if you want to really master your sensory acuity and skyrocket your communication skills, NLP Practitioner training will do that for you and open up a whole new world. Find out more here or here.
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