We all accept that human beings have different and unique ways of communicating, speaking, and interacting, and we have all had the experience of struggling to connect because of those differences. But new scientific research is revealing how and why we are different and building a better understanding of what we can do about it to better connect with each other.
New technologies now allow us to see inside human brains and understand what occurs when we speak and listen to each other. Scientific findings suggest that the different ways that people communicate is the result of the different ways our brains are “wired” to think, speak, listen, and act.
The problem with the way we have been thinking about communication skills in the past is rooted in misunderstanding that there may be one right way to communicate. In reality there are benefits to each of the unique ways that people speak and interact with each other. The challenge lies in the fact that when different brains get together we may not be processing our communication in the same way. So, if we continue to neglect our biological differences, we will continue to have communication challenges and difficulties. It’s not that people don’t want to connect, it’s that they can’t. They are stuck working with their own brains. It is a little like asking your dog to meow to your cat. No matter how much training you do, a dog will never be able to “speak” like a cat.
Early descriptions of our brains divided it into two major parts. The left half was thought to be where logic, reason and language were housed, while the right half comprised the creative centers of the brain. However scientific findings have shown us that this line of thinking is terribly over simplified. Our brains are far more complex than that.
The brain has four major lobes that influence how we speak with and listen to others. Although they are interconnected and work in unison to help us connect, our brains do have specializations. Everybody uses all of these brain parts to function in our day-to-day lives. However, new research suggests that people may have dominant brain areas that have stronger influences on our social interactions, thinking, and behaviors. In addition to the four lobes, we also have a complex center of the brain.
The major areas of the brain are as follows:
- The frontal lobe, which is primarily concerned with our reasoning and problem solving as well as our ability to be social and connect with other people.
- The parietal lobe, which is primarily concerned with movement, orientation, perception of stimuli and our senses.
- The occipital lobe is responsible for our vision and understanding what we see.
- The temporal lobe is where our auditory reception is housed along with some of our speech making.
- Is comprised of the cerebellum and internal brain (sometimes called our reptile brain). When we feel fear, our brain instantly triggers our body to respond with fight or flight…without any thought at all. Although each of these areas has some primary responsibility of our daily life, they also work together to make us who we are.
My research into how people interact with each other is leading our understanding of how these five areas of the brain influence our communication type. You see we each have some principal influence by these areas of our brain that makes us communicate differently. I have identified five different communication types or ways of speaking and interacting.
First let me tell you about the five types. See if you recognize yourself and others in any of these:
Jeremy Teitelbaum is on the faculty of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is the author of Communication Strategies for Professionals used by thousands of college students, and the forthcoming book Speak from the brain: The science of connection and influence. He has been teaching, training, researching, and consulting in communication for 20 years. For an online assessment to determine your own communication type click here.
Social Communicators are strong at social interaction, comfortable in social situations, good at reading people and body language and often very focused on making sure there is harmony among a group.
Contextual Communicators do not like to leave things up to the context of a situation and would rather tell it like it is…even if that means they are not being politically correct. This group is direct and to the point. In some cultures this can be seen as overly strong and forceful.
Linguistic Communicators are very focused on language and words. They often prefer to talk about details and are very literal. They usually enjoy reading and sometimes writing. If you have ever asked someone “can you hand me the salt” and instead of receiving salt, you were told: “Yes…I can hand you the salt…” you have met a linguistic.
Visual Communicators like to talk in pictures and are good at describing what they see. They often enjoy the visuals arts as well. If you have ever said to someone “do you see what I’m saying” you just may be visual. (The linguistic communicator would respond with “no, how can I see what you are saying…I hear what you are saying”).
Cerebral Communicators are deep thinkers and will be very careful about what they say. In groups they are often thought of as the quiet ones, because they speak up less, but when they do, it is very well thought out and calculated. They need time to process what they are hearing.
The majority of us have one dominant type that strongly influences how we talk with others. About 20% of people seem to have two dominant types. And only about 5% of people have three dominant types. The challenge is getting people with different communication types to talk so they can understand each other.
You will be a more effective communicator if you can adapt to all of the Communication Types. There is a very good chance that in any group you will have each of these types represented. So to truly connect, you must speak to each of the five types. So, if you are giving a speech, making a sales presentation, working with a team, or leading others, there are five things you can do to more effectively communicate.
Remember, just because you favor one or two of the above, your audience members will not be the same. So, if you want to really connect with everyone you have to speak to them the way they want to be spoken to. The more you can do that, the more effective, persuasive, influential, and collaborative you will be. And try this in all of your interactions: with your coworkers, family, friends, and clients. Whether speaking to one thousand people or one person, it’s our brains that really do the listening.