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What’s that you say?


If you are engaging with others, it is not just the practice of communication which is important. The individual words you use are critical to the success of your message. Kate Kirk and Lorraine Warne, Contributors on programmes at The Møller Institute, look at how being a ‘word detective’ can help you pitch your message perfectly.

Up to 90% of a leader’s job involves communication, whether they are sharing a vision, trying to motivate teams or deal with a crisis. In our post-Covid world, it is more important than ever that leaders have the communication skills they need to get their messages across.

There are plenty of communication channels for leaders to use, but now that we’re all much more familiar with operating online, it’s clear that good verbal communication is absolutely critical. Virtual meetings make it much harder to read the physical clues that normally help us to understand each other, so the words we use are more important than ever. Here’s an example of what we mean:

There’s clearly something going wrong here, and if you can put your finger on it (that’s a clue), you can learn how to create a picture (that’s another clue) and get your messages across.

We all have innate neurosensory preferences. They impact how we see and interact with the world, and how we interact with other people. There are four categories, visual, auditory, kinesthetic and auditory/digital. We’d love to go into a lot of detail on the neuroscience behind these preferences, but in this article, we’re more keen to give you a couple of tips to help you understand your own neurosensory preferences, and how to spot those of others. Why? Because if you only ever communicate in the style you prefer, those with different neurosensory preferences won’t hear or identify with what you say.

Here are a couple of the questions that are part of a test to help you identify your own neurosensory preferences:

1. When I am on holiday and at the beach; the first thing that makes me happy to be there is:

a) The feel of the cool sand, the warm sun or the fresh breeze on my face.
b) The roar of the waves, the whistling wind or the sound of birds in the distance.
c) This is the type of vacation that makes sense, or the cost is reasonable.
d) The scenery, the bright sun, and the blue water.

2. When I feel overwhelmed, I find it helps if:

a) I can see the big picture.
b) I can talk or listen to another person.
c) I can get in touch with what is happening.
d) I make sense of things in my head.

Which of those descriptions most appeal to you? If you liked (a) for question 1 and (c) for question 2, you may well tend towards the kinesthetic. If you preferred (d) for question 1 and (a) for question 2, you may be a visual person. You need to score the full set of questions to get a clearer result, but you can also listen to yourself in day-to-day life, and spot what kinds of words and phrases you use most often.

So in the example, the clues are there. One of the speakers is visual – they use the word ‘see’, because they like to think in images, pictures and patterns. The other is kinesthetic, they use the word ‘feel’ because that’s the sense their brain is wired to respond to, they like to ‘grasp’ things rather than ‘see’ them. How do you respond if you spot this difference? Reframe your message to match the other person’s preference.

By noticing the verbal clue in the first exchange, the first speaker has been able to reframe their message and create a stronger connection.

So try being a word detective. Listen to how other people talk and see if you can spot the words that identify their neurosensory preferences. It takes practise, but you’ll not only end up with better verbal communication skills, but also better listening skills. A win-win.


This insight was first featured in our leadership insights magazine Inspire, to view past issues click here.

Picture of Inspire magazine by Moller Institute