If behavior and physiology were made of a random set of factors, you would have to painstakingly pick up every cue and then put them all together. But representational systems are like the keys to a secret code. Knowing one fact gives you a clue to a dozen more. As we, there is a whole constellation of behaviors that go along with being primarily visual. There are verbal cues, phrases like ‘this is how it looks to me or I just can’t picture myself doing that’. Speech is usually fast, and breathing is high in the chest. The vocal tune is high pitched, nasal, and/or strained. There’s usually muscle tension, particularly in the shoulders and abdomen. Visually oriented people tend to point a lot. They often have hunched shoulders and an extended neck.
Auditory use phrases like ‘it sounds good to me and that doesn’t ring a bell’. Speech is more modulated, the tempo is balanced, and the voice tends to have a clear, resonant tonality. Breathing tends to be even and deep, coming from diaphragm or the whole chest. There tends to be balanced muscle tension. When people fold their hands or arms, it usually indicates auditory accessing. There is a tendency for shoulders to slouch somewhat and for the head to tilt slightly to one side.
Kinesthetic people use phrases like ‘it doesn’t feel right or I’m just not in touch with things’. They speak in a slow tempo. Many times they take long pauses between words and have a low, deep tonality. A lot of body movement tends to indicate tactile or external kinesthetic accessing. Muscle relaxation indicates internal, visceral kinesthetic accessing. A position characterized by upturned palms with arms bent and relaxed is kinesthetic. Posture tends to be solid, with the head sitting squarely on the shoulders.
There are other cues, and things vary somewhat from person to person, so careful observation is always needed. Each person is unique. But when you know someone’s main representational system, you have taken a huge step toward learning how to enter his world. All you have to do is match it.
Consider someone who is primarily in an auditory state. If you are trying to persuade him to do something by asking him to picture how it will look, and you talk very, very rapidly, you probably won’t get through to him. He needs to hear what you have to say, needs to listen to your proposal and notice if it clicks on himself. In fact, he may not even hear you, simply because your tone of voice may turn him off from the very start. Another person may be in a primarily visual state, and you approach him kinesthetically talking very slowly about how you feel about something, he will probably become irritated at your slow pace and ask you to please get to the point.
To illustrate these differences, we like to give the examples of a residential neighborhood. One house is located on a quiet, peaceful street. Almost any time of day you can walk out and hear the birds singing. It has a storybook interior that speaks so eloquently, it’s hard not to ask yourself how anyone could pass it by. Around twilight, you wander out to the garden just to listen to the birds, the breeze rustling through the branches, and the sound of the wind chimes on the front porch.
Another house is amazingly picturesque. You get excited just looking at it. It’s visually stunning, from the long white porch out front to the beautifully detailed wainscoting on the peach-colored walls. There are windows everywhere, so it has beautiful light at almost any time of the day. There’s so much to look at, from its winding stairways to its elegant carved oak doors, you could spend a day just exploring every nook and cranny, finding out what new things there are to see.
The third house is harder to describe. You have to go and experience it yourself; you just have to feel it. Its construction is solid and reassuring. Its rooms have distinctive warmth. In a way which cannot be totally defined, it touches something very fundamental in you. It’s almost nurturing. You feel like sitting in a corner and soaking up whatever vapors are making you feel so serene.