We encounter the world around us through five senses. These sense are used in tandem, but some are more dominant as perceivers in any given situation. We also have preferred sensory systems that we lean on to make up our minds on a subject.

In case you missed the five senses lesson in elementary school, let me recap:


  • Sight/Visual-perception through the eyes
  • Hearing/Auditory-perception through the ears
  • Touching/Kinesthetic-perception through the nerves in the skin
  • Tasting/Gustatory-perception through the tongue
  • Smell/Olfactory-perception through the nose

We use these five systems (know as the representational systems) because they are only ways to acquire natural information that allows us to code it, store it, contextualize, and recall information for processing. Each of us tends to have a dominant sense on which we most rely.

Sometimes we will even dampen other senses to focus on the intake through a single sense. If you have ever closed your eyes while listening to music or smelling something you have participated in this exercise.

Our preferred information processing style, also called learning style, is actually hard-wired into our brains.

Research shows us that each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more of the brain during learning, we remember more of what we learn. Researchers using brain-imaging technologies have been able to find out the key areas of the brain responsible for each learning style.

  • Visual: The occipital lobes at the back of the brain manage the visual sense. Both the occipital and parietal lobes manage spatial orientation.
  • Aural: The temporal lobes handle aural content. The right temporal lobe is especially important for music and speech.
  • Physical: The cerebellum and the motor cortex (at the back of the frontal lobe) handle much of our physical movement.

    Our language tends to represent the sense on which we most prefer. A speaker might say, “I want you to see this,” or “let me paint you the picture” even though he or she is using only an auditory medium.

    If you are going to influence a person, it helps to know what sense is their preferred sense of acquisition.

Here is a valuable online test to gain more insight into your team’s learning style.

One way to learn this is by listening to their language. Language gives us strong clues about a person’s preferred learning style and sensory acquisition.

A person who prefers visual language might use the following terms:

  • angle
  • appear
  • clarify
  • clear
  • demonstrate
  • dream
  • illustrate
  • examine
  • visualize

An auditory learner might use:

  • listen
  • hear
  • mention
  • alarm bells
  • accent
  • sound
  • use lots of sound effects (boom, bam, thud)
  • lend an ear

A tactile learner:

  • grasp
  • grab
  • handle
  • touch
  • feel
  • lend a hand
  • use lots of hand gestures

We’ve all seen this at work.

The visual person says, “Do you have a clear picture of what I want?”

The auditory person says, “Does that ring a bell?”

The kinesthetic person says, “Have you come to grips with that problem?”

These simple linguistic clues give us doorways to influence. The best influencers quickly realize which sensory door is most open. They can pivot quickly to contextualize their message of desired change to their audience’s open sensory door.

For example, if a visual sensory person is being engaged:

  • use visual language.
  • have charts and diagrams available.
  • if you are telling a story have pictures that correlate with the story on slides to keep them engage.
  • look sharp and organized as an unkempt appearance and scattered papers might make them discount you.
  • schedule a face to face meeting, as they want to see your face and expressions.
  • be aware of visual clutter and distractions (people walking by a window during a meeting, etc.).

Also, with a visual sensor:

  • be ready to listen because they often formulate visual imagines in their minds that they then have a more difficult time expressing verbally.
  • allow them to draw or sketch out their feedback, even if it’s on a napkin. They are processing as they do this, even if it is not beneficial to you.

If an auditory person is involved:

  • don’t bog them down with visual data
  • use the power of story
  • don’t think are not listening if they look away while you speak
  • diversify your tone and consider using “sound effects” type words
  • don’t be afraid of a phone call meeting as they place less emphasis on the visual
  • make sure there are no noise distractions (phones ringing, hallway chatter, etc.)

Also, with a auditory sensor:

  • get them talking to provide feedback; as they hear themselves out loud they get clarity.
  • understand that at times they will simply be “talking out loud” as a part of their processing. Holding them to a “well you said this” standard when they are in “talking out loud” mode is not ideal.
  • listen to their tone of response as well as their words.
  • don’t ask for written responses.

If an kinesthetic person is involved:

  • know they will be reading your body language so avoid crossed arms and other blocking postures.
  • don’t make them sit for long presentations.
  • include activities where they can move about.
  • have props or hands on equipment for them to touch.

Also, with kinesthetic sensor:

  • provide them the option or move about during your conversation or presentation.
  • consider having a walking conversation.
  • provide ample breaks during long meetings.

When seeking to influence others, observe to determine the learning style of the chief decision maker. Whether you are doing a formal presentation in an attempt to change minds and outcomes or having a one on one conversation, entering the world of the person you are attempting to influence through their most open door of learning is the best option. Strive to understand before being understood. Always think why the other person would be influenced by you, it is not always about how good you are at persuasion but first think about what they want and how they would want to be influenced for a particular work or situation. Do the groundwork first – a thorough research on how would they benefit from your solution or proposal would go a long way in making the influence exercise shorter and more effective.


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina