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Sensory Language Lights Up Your Meaning

Why does sensory language have a comfortable familiarity about it? Partly because we hear it sprinkled throughout daily conversation, and also because it's recognized by us on more levels than just the conscious and logical.

Sensory Example

"If you don't make a total commitment to whatever you're doing, then start to bail out the first time the boat starts leaking."

Lou Holtz

Sensory language speaks to our subconscious and senses, as well as our thinking faculties. It causes us to create pictures or sounds or feelings or additional thoughts, in our mind. They are effective forms of communication because by addressing this added dimension, they deepen our understanding.

Language that speaks to the senses is sometimes a subtle form of metaphor;

  • dead metaphors - these tie a physical action to a thought, idea, or concept. ex. She grasped the idea. This falls in the category of kinesthetic language examples.
  • complex metaphors - these identify one thing with another that is not present. ex. He struck a chord in me. In this example there is really no chord being struck. Watch for these throughout the examples below.

For the more common use of metaphors, check out the full article on metaphor examples.

How We Take Sensory Language On Board

The world we know is the one we have come to know through our senses. We gather information endlessly and process it into usable bits. We process this information largely via the:

  • visual
  • auditory
  • kinesthetic
  • auditory digital methods

If you are familiar with Neuro Linguistic Processing (NLP), you will recognize these 4 methods as the primary Representational Systems. What all that means is just that we primarily build our understanding of information through:

  • pictures
  • sounds
  • feelings
  • thinking to oneself

So, if we gather information and understand it predominantly through these 4 methods, it makes sense that if we want to clearly make our point and be more fully understood, we will use language that speaks to these modes of understanding in others. And this is exactly what sensory language does!

Enjoy the examples of sensory language below, and have fun making up your own. If you would like to share your examples of sensory language, I'll add them to the lists.

Visual Information Processing

People who are learning predominantly visually will appreciate seeing pictures and actions accompanying a presentation of new information. They are very interested in how things look. They respond well to sensory language that encourages them to create pictures in their mind... words like "see, look, clarity, view, vision and picture".

Visual Examples:

  • I see what you mean.
  • Things are looking up.
  • His words painted a picture for us.
  • Her viewpoint was very clear.
  • He shed some light on the matter.
  • She had a bright idea.
  • I imagine it is true.
  • She created a vision of peace.
  • It was easy to picture what he meant.
  • I could see what she was saying.
  • Look closely at his point of view.
  • The outlook is bright.
  • I have a vision of how things could be.
  • That throws some light on the subject.
  • It was clear to me that John knew his material extremely well.
  • I could see that Sally was passionate about sharing this important message.
  • Mike’s vibrant language painted a dynamic picture for us.

Auditory Information Processing

When a person is processing information primarily through the auditory system, they are keen to learn by listening. Vocal tone and vocal quality will be very important with these people. Sensory language that works well to transmit meaning in this mode of learning includes "speaking, talk, listen, sound, harmony, and wavelength."

Auditory Examples;

  • It was clear as a bell.
  • It was music to my ears.
  • You could hear a pin drop.
  • It was easy to tune into.
  • Listen to this.
  • That rings true.
  • It sounds like he meant it.
  • You could hear the conviction in his voice.
  • It sounded like a dream come true.
  • She struck a chord with the audience.
  • We are on the same wavelength.
  • He was speaking his truth.
  • Her calming tone was soothing.
  • Every word he spoke was paced to perfection.

Kinesthetic Information Processing

When processing via the kinesthetic mode, people learn by 'getting a feel' for something. This feeling can be an inner or emotional feeling that is experienced, or it might be physically acquired by actively participating. This is the group most likely to appreciate exercises that involve them in practicing a new skill. Sensory language that is effective with these audience members include "feel, sense, hold, touch, grasp, and solid."

Kinesthetic Examples;

  • Everything flowed.
  • It made my heart soar.
  • She jumped on the idea.
  • I caught the meaning.
  • It felt right to me.
  • I had a gut feeling.
  • It was a solid proposal.
  • It was a sticky situation.
  • Just one step at a time.
  • She had a grip on reality.
  • The idea nudged me forward.
  • The message was easy to grasp.
  • He was full of concrete ideas.
  • I got the feeling of what he meant.
  • There was a balance in the views presented.
  • The facts he presented supported his argument beautifully.
  • She really stirred my imagination with all the specific travel details presented.
  • He built a solid case and convincingly swayed us to his point of view.

Auditory Digital Information Processing

Auditory digital processing focuses on 'things that make sense'. Facts, figures and logic resonate with this group. People in the auditory digital category are often busy thinking, and experience an internal dialogue in their mind. Steps, procedures, and sequences work well for these who appreciate greater aspects of mental organization. Words that are effective with these people include "sense, thought, understand, think, steps, and decide."

Auditory Digital Examples;

  • This makes sense.
  • The concept was easy to understand.
  • On second thought.
  • It was logical.
  • I thought to myself.
  • I mulled it over in my mind.
  • My mind worked it through.
  • I thought it over.
  • He shared his understanding.
  • The steps made sense.
  • The sequence was logical.
  • It was a motivating decision.
  • He helped me decide.
  • Her argument was coherent.
  • My mind latched onto the idea.
  • She presented all the facts and easily convinced me of her depth of knowledge.
  • His description of the details allowed even a novice like me to understand.
  • She capably offered the pros and cons, and gave a very thought provoking presentation.

Our Preferred Processing System

Each of us has a preferred system (ie. visual, auditory, kinesthetic, auditory digital) that we use more than the others. Yet, we may subconsciously change which system we are placing the most emphasis on, depending on the circumstance. Because of what’s going on in our lives, what task is at hand to learn, or the specific context or setting we are in, we will automatically begin to filter information more through one system than another. One system is not any better or worse than any other, they all serve us well.

It's thought that in any group of people:

  • approximately 40% will be processing primarily through the visual sense
  • approximately 40% will be predominantly using kinesthetic
  • the remaining 20% are split between auditory and auditory digital in how they process information

Knowing that everyone has their preferred sensory processing mode, listen to find out what your friends, family, and co-workers' might be. Then use sensory language tailored to that when you are:

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