©Arlene R. Taylor PhD    www.arlenetaylor.org

articles200408“What’s your sensory preference?” She was what the really elderly tend to refer to as a sweet young thing.

I smiled and replied, “My sensory preference is auditory.”

“Well,” she said, settling down in an office chair, “we’re different. I like being different.”

I wondered if she meant she liked being different from me or from some other individual or what, but I didn’t ask.

“I’m writing a paper for school and I need to know several things,” she said, removing a checklist of items from her backpack. “First, tell me how knowing your sensory preference is helpful.”

“I can tell you how identifying my sensory preference has helped me,” I replied. She smiled, nodded, and opened her notebook.

“Knowing that I’m auditory has helped me understand the reason I tend to gravitate toward some environments and avoid others. For example, if I have a choice I always select a restaurant that doesn’t play loud music.”

“Oh,” she said as her pen stopped speeding across the page. “I don’t care about loud music but I absolutely, definitely, totally care about how the restaurant smells. If I detect the odor of cleaning fluids, I’m outta there.”

“It also helps me understand how sometimes I am slower at taking in visual data,” I added, “like finding an item on a bulletin board or tripping over something on the floor.”

“Oh, I get it. They didn’t make any noise so you didn’t hear them,” she said, laughing delightedly at her own wit.

“Yes,” I said, “you are getting it. When I attend a lecture I prefer to have the seminar handout in front of me so I can read and jot down notes and listen at the same time.”

“But reading is visual!” exclaimed the girl.

“Actually, you can read with your eyes or your ears or your fingers,” I said. “Reading and listening are decoded in the same part of the cerebrum.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” she said. (I love someone who can be honest.)

“Along that same line,” I continued, “if I must take in data visually or kinesthetically, I know that I will need to pay close attention because the data will be coming to me outside of my preference.”

She continued writing until suddenly her head shot up and she said, “What did you say? I didn’t hear you! Oh, guess I’m not auditory.” We both laughed.

“I’m happy to repeat it, knowing you aren’t an auditory,” I said.

She sighed. “It’s really comfortable knowing you know I’m not auditory. I’m always asking people to repeat things and sometimes they get irritated.”

“I’m able to communicate more effectively with individuals whose sensory preference differs from mine,” I said.”

“So, I need tips to help people increase their skills,” the young woman said, checking off the next item on her list.

“That’s easy,” I replied. “Recently I made a presentation on the sensory systems and provided the audience with a Sensory Preference Assessment and a handout.”

“Great!” she crowed. “Saves me writing! Thank you!”

I handed her a sheet of paper that had the following six tips printed on it:

  1. Knowledge: Identify your own sensory preference so you know how you tend to communicate with others—unless you make a different choice. Be alert to situations that could be improved through using a different sensory system.
  2. Choice: Make a choice to connect with others in their sensory preference (if you know what it is) and use all three systems when you have no idea about their sensory preference.
  3. Competency: Develop skills in each of the three sensory systems and become comfortable with each system.
  4. Implementation: Communicate with others in their sensory preference when you know what that is. Use words and phrases that match theirs whenever possible. When in doubt, use all three systems!
  5. Creativity: Be innovative and creative in using the sensory systems. Try something new! Brainstorm alternative ways to connect with others in their sensory preference.
  6. Acceptance: Learn to accept kindnesses from others even when those doesn’t come to you in your preference, realizing that the other person is likely trying to communicate with you through his/her sensory preference. Otherwise you may miss a great deal of affirmation because it came to you in a non-preferred sensory system.

“I’ve got questions about #3 and #6,” she said, chewing the end of her pencil.

“Okay,” I replied.” Take number three. When I meet someone for the first time I smile (in case they’re visual), shake hands (in case they’re kinesthetic), and repeat their name aloud (in case they’re auditory).

“Got it, got it,” she said. “Now number six.”

“If I am giving a present to a close friend (and I know all their sensory preferences), I would likely give a jar of home-made strawberry jam to the kinesthetic or a fragrance I’m sure they love; an audio book or music CD of a favorite artist to the auditory; and flowers or a gift certificate for a silk scarf to the visual.” I paused. “It took me a bit longer to be gracious and enthusiastic when someone would give me scented bath soap, for example. Now, even if it isn’t an auditory gift, I can feel affirmed by their gesture, knowing they’re giving me something they like based on their sensory preference.”

“Got that, too,” she said. “Boy, I’m going to give a bit more thought to what I give my friends. Thanks.” And she was gone like a small whirlwind.