NLP Communication and Sensory Acuity

November 7, 2009

Seeing more of what is going on with another’s behaviour

7% linguistic
38% tonality
55% physiological

It is important to hold in mind that Mehrabian’s research was conducted in a very specific context. Having said that, the non verbal elements of all communication (tonality and physiological) seem to carry more weight than the words do, particularly where the context is emotional. In the context where the content is intellectual e.g. a lecture the tonality and physiology add weight to (or subtract from) the message.

Face to face communication is a continual loop of both verbal and non verbal messages between two people. People trained in NLP communication skills ensure that when they communicate, all three channels are congruent i.e. their words are supported by appropriate tonal qualities and body language. This means the listener is more likely to respond. In turn the NLP trained person continually listens and observes the people who (s)he is communicating with.


Whenever an internal representation shifts something will also shift in a person’s external behaviour.

Internal shifts

Change in sensory representation
Images, sounds and feelings

Externally shifts

Facial changes
Body language
Tonal shifts

On our NLP courses, participants learn to develop their own sensory awareness by detecting the subtle movements in another person’s physiology and voice tone. In NLP this is known as calibration which means detecting differences.  The larger movements are easy to detect. It’s the finer shifts that require a high level of awareness. If you are naturally good at reading people i.e. knowing when they are lying, hiding emotions etc. you have probably developed the skill of calibration unconsciously. Some people have their attention orientated internally which is fine for self awareness, however to detect change in others it is important to also have your attention oriented externally.


Things you see in another person’s physiology

Small shifts

Skin colour
Minute muscle changes
Lower lip changes
Pupil dilation
Breathing changes

Larger shifts

Arm folding
Leg crossing
Leaning forward and back


Things you hear in another person’s verbal expression



You may think that the subtle changes in skin colour, pupil dilation, breathing, arm and leg movement etc a lot to see. If you are new to this fine level of observation you would be justified in thinking it’s a big leap, however it does get easier with practice. There is an NLP process for expanding your awareness. You do this by expanding your peripheral vision while staying focussed on the central object. Peripheral vision is your wider range of vision and provides you with information regarding movement in the general vision field. Many animals have a more developed peripheral vision than humans which helps keep them safe by detecting small changes in their environment. Foveal vision also known as tunnel vision provides you with high quality but narrow stream of visual information. Tunnel vision is useful on focussing on one piece of information.


The process below is simple format to help you expand your visual awareness.  Practice the format until you can easily access a wider scope of vision and you will discover that observing the small changes in peoples physiology easier to detect.

  1. Sit comfortably and focus on spot on the wall ahead of you

  2. Relax your breathing

  3. Expand your awareness so you are aware of half a metre either side of the area of focus, while still focussed on the spot

  4. Expand your awareness so you are aware of one metre either side of the spot, but still focussed on the spot of focus

  5. Now expand your awareness to two metres, while focussed on the spot

The above will give you a heightened expanded awareness in the visual field. Most people find that the process brings about a relaxed alertness.

As you increase your visual awareness will soon realise that some people are more explicit than others. You will also find that each person has their own set of physiological distinctions for different experiences and emotions. In NLP we don’t assign a universal language on body movements. Each person has their own unique body language with different types of experiences and emotions.  In NLP we calibrate people as they access different experiences.  By doing this you will recognise each individual’s characteristics for the various states they access and accurately be able to read their non verbal signals.

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