Do you Think in Words or Images?

Apr 5, 2017Posted by: mdctraining


By Roger HB Davies

When you think, do you think in words or images?

In a way, this simple question started it all.

It was a question we routinely asked in the early 1980s of participants who took our business-communication workshops. In other words, if I mention the word “boat,” can you see the image of a boat, or the actual word?

Words or images? A McLuhanesque question, if I ever heard one. Which of course it was, put forward by my partner at the time, Dr. Eric McLuhan.

McLuhan: The name in communication, earned by Eric’s father, Dr. Marshall McLuhan, media guru, academic — and probably the world’s most famous theorist on communication and media studies.

Many people don’t realize the McLuhans were among the first to undertake left-and right-brain research.

Their research led to insights that people think in either words or images. Our preference indicated a bias in our thinking: left-brain-dominated people tend to think more in words; right-brained people tend to think more in images.

This bias indicated to us how to successfully approach an audience, and how to approach communication-skills training.

In those early days, our question about words or images produced an audience response of 50/50. Today, we ask the question and few realize it’s even possible to think in words at all. For many of us, images are all we can “see.”

In fact, much communication has become so visual, so instant, and so non-reflective, it’s easy to forget its classical roots.

Those versed in classical rhetoric know communication involves three objectives: to inform, to persuade, to entertain. But how to make this relevant in today’s increasingly right-brain world?

The McLuhans’ research showed us that the skill of writing demands what we now term a whole-brain approach. We were interested in learning more, and started to apply our right- and left-brain knowledge to the broader field of communication.

What was left-brain communication? What was right-brain communication? These were the initial questions as we profiled audiences during our workshops and focus groups.

We asked questions, and people like you answered. We recorded their observations. The results helped us to “photograph” the communication process, and establish patterns and a model to define the ways we all communicate.

Before we started our research, we thought we could easily document the analytical way of communicating (the Think! pattern). So much of how we communicate is clearly analytical or sequential: writing, spelling, the syntax (order) of the language, etc.

Visual communication (Leap!) was also fairly easy to define, although not quite as obvious as we first thought.

What did surprise us was that a third distinct style or pattern emerged, just as important. This was the style of what we call Relate!, involving the “people” skills in the communication process.

As we now all know, it’s the style critical to good communication.

Once we had mapped out what turned into a three-part model, we started to apply it ourselves in running a training company, in communicating with clients and staff, in marketing, in hiring. The model made me a more effective manager, salesperson, marketer, entrepreneur.

For years, I used these findings, these insights, without reaching beyond our clients and our immediate circle. However, the feedback and results around me proved rewarding and encouraging.

  • Sales staff saw how to communicate more effectively with prospects, how to shift styles to make a sale, not through manipulation, but through good communication.
  • Chairpersons realized how they could manage meetings differently, and adapt to styles around the table.
  • Our trainers found the concepts helped them in the classroom to communicate with all learning styles.
  • Spouses said they better understood their significant other.
  • Parents reported insights into their children.
  • Business owners used the concepts to manage their staff, to inform clients, and to sell their ideas.

That provided the good news. But we’ve all seen the “losses” involved in miscommunication, including:

  • Conflict
  • Lack of creativity
  • Lost Sales
  • High staff turnover
  • Poor morale

Put more positively, you will find profit in good communication. It is how you project your ideas and yourself to the world. It is how you convey your professional expertise. You can’t know enough about the subject.

You may be the technical expert, but until you communicate what you know, that expertise is severely limited.

I therefore believe our findings will help you — whatever your background.

Look upon communication as an athletic pursuit. World-class athletes all possess natural skills. They also hire coaches to refine their talents. That’s why we see ourselves as coaches – to help you get the results you want!


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