Understanding each other: primary human modes of communication

I’m sure you’ve wondered why sometimes we come across people we click with instantly and sometimes we struggle with others. Even after using common topics of interest like talking about them / their interests, their family, news et al, there is still something not sticking. You may walk away thinking it wasn’t meant to be or that geez that person was hard to communicate to. But what if it didn’t have to be like that and you can change it. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to “click” with everyone – of course it would! This is where understanding each others primary human mode of communication helps. Let’s dig into this further.

Nicholas Boothman, an NLP practitioner and ex-photographer shares the following in his book: How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less

“There are three primary modes that people use to process thoughts (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic — both emotions and physical feelings), and remembered and imagined versions of each one. Understanding individuals primary mode can help you build rapport and connect with them.”

Understanding these primary modes and how to apply them is the secret recipe here.

So what does this all mean, an example

Let’s assume I’m a sales person going to sell you a car. After finding out what your primary mode is, I would use one of the following sales techniques to sell you the car.

a. Primary Visual: “seeing and reading” – I will say, imagine the look on people’s face as they see you driving in this red sporty car on a beautiful sunny day. Is this something you see yourself driving in?

b. Primary Auditory: “listening and speaking” – I will say, hear the growl of this V8 twin turbo engine as your plant your foot down. It’s pure horsepower. Throw your favorite track of Mozart or Guns’n’Roses on and it’s music to your ears even if you haven’t been to an ear wax removal clinic in a while. How does that sound?

c. Primary Kinesthetic: “touching and doing” – I will say, imagine yourself strapped in pure comfort into those body hugging Recaro bucket seats in this A class safety approved sports car – you know you are safe. You are bound to have a fun and an amazing time. How does that feel?

Did you notice the use of cue words specific to each primary mode? This doesn’t just apply to sales people. Each day when you speak to people you are always selling yourself, your ideas and stories through your communication.

If you are still skeptical, I’m sure you have heard stories of couples miscommunicating. It probably played out like this: wife to husband: “you’re not listening to me”, husband to wife: “I am, but you’re not seeing what I mean”. Right there; lay’s the key to that form of miscommunication. The wife is auditory and the husband visual. Of course the wife cannot see his point because she needs to hear it.

Understanding the person’s preference – how to use this knowledge

The “clues” to understanding a person’s preference mode are tied in eye movements and choices of words.

a. Eye movements

This applies for right-handed individuals. For left-handed the sides are switched.

  • Visual individual will always look up / up and to the side as they process information. They are also the fast talkers because visual thoughts are a lot quicker to put into words.
  • Auditory individual will move their eyes from ear to ear (left to right / right to left) as they need to hear what they are saying. This group is moderate speed talkers.
  • Kinesthetic individual will look down and to the right as they need to “feel” what they are saying. Typically these people will be slow talkers because to feel and speak is a longer process. Don’t get confused with people looking down and to the left – this is common when people are having internal chatter like reciting a preplanned script e.g. actors or during an interview – all types exhibit this behavior.

b. Choice of words
Listen to the following used in one’s conversation and use the same choice of words to respond.


  • Let’s look at it differently.
  • See how this works for you.
  • I can’t quite picture it.
  • Let’s draw a diagram or map.
  • I’d like to get a different perspective.
  • I never forget a face.


  • That sounds about right.
  • That rings a bell.
  • It’s coming through loud and clear.
  • Tune in to what I’m saying
  • Clear as a bell.
  • That’s music to my ears.


  • That feels right to me.
  • I can’t get a grip on this…
  • Stay in touch.
  • Get in touch with…
  • That doesn’t sit right with me.
  • I have good feelings about this.
  • My gut is telling me…
  • I follow your drift.

Don’t assume

Just like being right handed one can also be a mix of both sides. Do not make quick assumptions about a persons mode. A person can be a mix of modes like primary visual and secondary auditory, and so on. Understanding this will help you use the right choice of words in your communication at the right time and in no time you will be in a position able to hold a conversation with anyone and build rapport quickly.

Enjoy your new found knowledge and share your experience below in the comments section.

Author: Ernest W. Semerda

Aussie in Silicon Valley. Veryfi CoFounder (#YC W17 cohort). GSDfaster Founder. View all posts by Ernest W. Semerda

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