The Art of Influence

April 1, 2010

NLP Representational Systems

A sales director invited me to present a proposal to his company for sales training. The sales director had been on one of my courses and I observed that he placed a high value on visual information and used the visual system more than the other two. Looking good was a major aspect of his personal and professional life. He liked to look good and liked others who looked good. Naturally he would be using his own criteria to determine what looks good.  He wore tailored suits, an expensive watch and drove a ‘flash’ car.  He spoke quickly from the top of his chest (a trait of people who are making internal images) using lots of visual language. The day I went to make my proposal I dressed accordingly; I arrived in an expensive suit, perfect creases in my trousers, shining shoes and dazzling white shirt. I had prepared a visual presentation full of visually pleasing graphics, to accompany the projected results the sales director would see as result of the training. I was ready to go into visual mode of speaking and make a crystal clear presentation illuminating the development areas in the business, and I offered a solution that provided visible differences in performance so when they looked back at the course, they could only see it as incredible value. Take the note of visual language.

Anyway, when I arrived I found the sales director had been fired and his replacement was his complete opposite in terms representational systems. The new guy was highly kinaesthetic speaking slowly, breathing from the diaphragm using a lot of touch when he spoke. One of the first things he introduced was a ‘comfortable’ dress code” which in his mind would optimise performance. He said “I feel that if people feel physically comfortable they will have an inner ability to perform”. The day I arrived, he and a lot of other people were there in casual clothes.  The sales people now only wore suits when they met clients. This would have never happened under the previous sales director because in his world ‘looking good’ was more important than ‘feeling comfortable’ at work. Mr Kinaesthetic took my hand and shook it with a degree of deliberation. I think he was getting a feel for me through touch. He told me while he felt bad about his predecessor’s demise, he now had to channel his energy into rebuilding things. Nearly every verb described touch or feelings. I listened for a while and this man was communicating so dominantly in the kinaesthetic system, I doubt he would have even process a visual word. I had to change my approach and fast.

I removed my colourful tie, saying I wanted to get comfortable. I then said, I am glad we connected today and although we have never met I can get a feel already for your inner desire to help your sales force grow. My sense is that today we should lay the early foundation of a course, and when we have something concrete; we can begin to build together from the ground up and sculpt the course to the different team’s requirements. Once we feel we have it right we can roll it out across the organisation. I doubt anyone had fully utilised this man’s dominant representational system in this way and I could see he was quite taken with what he had heard, he was connected with his feelings as I spoke.  He enthusiastically came forward and said ‘”lets kick it off now”. The result was that we did build the courses together and then rolled them out across the organisation with great success.

If it was the highly visual guy I could have said “let’s start from a blank canvas and sketch the beginnings of a course that we can then add shades of difference for different teams, by having a clear perspective on the big picture so that we can see the whole organisation benefit from this material”.

If I was presenting to someone who was highly auditory I might say, “Let’s talk first so I can listen to your requirements, after our initial conversation we can orchestrate the course and when we are ready articulate our plan to the board.

In these cases, I am giving the same message but using different representational language systems to ensure my language matches the clients processing styles so the messages are received with less resistance. To improve your communication and influence skills, listen to the style of language a person is using and adapt your language. This will usually create a sense of rapport with another because you are ‘talking in their language’ that is connecting with their inner experience. When you do this people will respond to you with statements such as:

“I see what you mean”
“I hear what you say”
“I get a feel for what you mean”

It is important to remember that people process information in all three systems; it’s just that they can be paying attention to one system more than the other two in any given context. Over time a lot of people unconsciously place more value on one system than the others and as a consequence tend to rely on that system. However, some people may prefer to use different systems in different contexts. Representational systems are certainly not archetypes.  If all of this is new to you, and you would like to be more influential, I recommend that you take a course to develop your ability to detect and utilise representational systems. It will certainly be worthwhile, I secured a major contract from the highly kinaesthetic sales director, I doubt if I would have been successful if I had remained in visual mode.

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