8 secrets to effective communication

This article originally ran on PR Daily in April of 2017.

Why does one person see a glass as half full and another sees it as half

The difference is more than attitude. We unconsciously experience things
differently in our minds, often completely unaware of anything other than
that something feels comfortable—or doesn’t.

brains use pattern recognition to manage and make sense of the enormous amounts of data they must process
to keep us functioning. Understanding this process helps us to predict how
others will act and to persuade or communicate more effectively with them.
It also explains why they view the glass as half full or half empty.


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.

Becoming acutely aware of the words that we and others use opens us up to
the inner workings of the brain and helps us to make the most of those
natural processes to become more empathetic and far better communicators.
To lead our colleagues and help our friends, we must understand individual
mindsets and customize our language and approach for them.

Everyone has predominate patterns that drive how they communicate and
respond to situations, so let’s take a look at the eight pattern filters
and what they reveal to us about how to
effectively communicate with others:

1. Direction: Toward or away from

Each of us is motivated to gain pleasure and avoid pain or loss-but one of
those drives is a particular person’s primary mode. As leaders and
coaches we need to understand our own filters and the filters of those we
lead. To discover your own primary mode, or someone else’s, ask a question
such as, “What’s important to you about work?” and pay close attention to
the words used to answer. Those who prefer moving toward
opportunities will talk about goals and what they want to achieve. Those
who prefer to move away from will discuss avoiding risks or
conflict, being cautious and safe.

2. Reason: Possibility or necessity

This pattern filter helps us understand why people take action. If asked,
“Why did you choose your last project?” those who act on possibility will talk about the opportunity, choice or
variety of the project. Those who primarily act out of necessity
will refer to the step-by-step process of making their decision, the
reason(s) they must do it and the importance of finding the exact solution
before taking action.

[RELATED: Weave storytelling into every corporate communication, and craft copy that captures your brand voice.]

3. Frame of reference: Internal or external

Frame of reference explains how we judge our own actions: Do we reflect
internally for that evaluation, or do we seek feedback externally? Those
with an internal focus will require less feedback and recognition
than those who are externally oriented. They might not even take feedback
well. You’ll gain their respect if, when asked a question, you inquire,
“What do you think you should do?” The externally focused need
others’ validation and can be more easily persuaded to another viewpoint.

4. Convincer: Five senses and frequency

The convincer pattern demonstrates what a person must experience to become
convinced of something. If you ask, “How do you know when a person is
talented?” they will tell which of their senses must be triggered (“I need to see it, hear about it or be shown it”) and
the frequency of that demonstration (once, two or three times, or
continually). Use this information to frame your conversations
with individuals, and your persuasion skills will be enhanced.

5. Relationship: Sameness or difference

The relationship filter helps us understand how relationships are built.
Determining whether a person primarily sorts by looking for similarities or differences can be achieved by asking
them to describe the relationship of certain items, such as coins. Do they
highlight the similarities or the differences of the objects? Difference
people don’t build rapport well and may have a problem with routines,
relationships or job stability. Don’t tell them what to do-they’ll innately
want to do the opposite. When teaching, show difference people all the
exceptions first; help sameness people find productive routines.

6. Attention: Self or others

Attention focuses on how people show other people they’re paying attention.
It’s a subtle pattern that you must observe. Self-sorters are all
about themselves—they give little attention to what someone is saying until
it directly concerns or interests them. Those who sort by others
pay attention with eye contact and provide feedback when others are
speaking. This is an important quality in service industries and group
interactions. In the extreme, self-sorters can appear selfish, and those
who sort by others can come off as martyrs.

7. Focus: General or specific

When we have a general focus, we’re big-picture,
high-level-overview, forest-for-trees thinkers. We often speak in
generalities and are quick to summarize ideas or points. Those whose
primary focus is specific are motivated by details and sequences.
They want precision and exactness and are trees-for-forest thinkers. When
asked, “How do you solve problems?” do your colleagues answer with
specifics or a summary?

8. Action: Active or reflective

The reason pattern (No. 2) helped us understand why people take action;
this pattern helps us understand how and when people take action. Active sorters want to charge ahead immediately and get things
done. Those who sort reflectively prefer to analyze, consider
multiple options and wait until they fully understand a situation before
acting. Responses to, “How do you learn new things?” will reveal people’s
dominant pattern if we listen carefully to their word choices.

Michelle M. Smith is vice president of marketing at
O.C. Tanner, and an international speaker and author on leadership, motivation and
employee engagement.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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