Communication Reorientation
Terry Braverman and Company

Communication Reorientation

Quote for the week: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

Isn’t it true that we feel happy and energized when there is a good natural flow of communication that results in clear understanding? Conversely, when we are stuck in unresolved communication calamity it tends to deplete us, like pulling the stopper from a bathtub drain.

Know that even though we may all be speaking English and have positive intent, there are differences in communication styles that can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. Having a strategy to adapt our communication style to another’s style can provide a positive outlet to avoid and defuse conflict.

In the 1970s a new paradigm for creating rapport via adaptation of communication style was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. It was called Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP. This model has been revised and refined over time by some, including myself. I don’t call it NLP anymore because it sounds too much like brain surgery or psychological warfare. My term is “Primary Modalities of Language,” or PML.

Essentially there are three primary modalities by which we impart and receive communication…

Visual: via images, pictures, mental visions

Auditory: via sounds, voices

Kinesthetic: via physical sensations

And with each modality comes a specific vocabulary…

“I see,” “It looks like,” “It appears to be…”

“I hear you,” “It sounds like,” “It rings a bell…”

“I feel that”, “It touches on,” “It taps into…”

These are the basics I am alluding to, but when you apply this formula to different people it gets you through the first door to their primary communication orientation, i.e., entering their world. If you’re in a foreign country it is advisable to use some of the local language for rapport. Likewise in this case, use some of the primary language when relating to people who are more visual, auditory or kinesthetic than you.

Besides vocabulary, how can you determine a person’s primary modality? Oftentimes, their profession is a strong clue. For example, if it’s a musician, chances are excellent that it’s going to be auditory; an artist who paints landscapes is primarily visual; a massage therapist, kinesthetic. There are also physiological cues that I will elaborate on in the next edition.


Going to Brazil for the first time, I had purchased a pocket language dictionary to learn words and basic conversation in Portuguese. On the plane, I was focused on finding words to use in certain situations that would serve as a portal to further interaction. So if someone sneezed, for example, I could say the equivalent of “Gezundheit,” or “God bless you,” in Portuguese. The word is “saude.”

In a pocket dictionary where the letters are very small, it’s easy to do a misalignment on the English to Portuguese translation. So, one day as I was having lunch at an outdoor café in Rio, there were three beautiful young Brazilian women at a table next to mine. When one of them sneezed, instead of saying “saude,”I said, “Sou daudi-o,” which means, “I miss you.” Shock registered on her face, as she threw up her hands while looking at her friends as if to say, “I don’t know this man!”

My first time in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, I walked into a stall at a large outdoor market. There was a fascinating Buddha statue perched on the front counter. Always one who strives to engage and impress by using the local language, I asked the owner a question about the statue. His reply in English: “But, what are you going to do with a live pig?”


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