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Active Listening – Sensory Preference and the MPH Framework

Two frameworks to listen with your brain.

Really. Listen with your brain? C’mon!

How does that work?  Actually, how does that help?

In this second blog on listening, I’ll set out why we should listen with our brain. And how that can be of use – in life, in work, in your relationships.

First, we will cover Sensory Preference – and specifically visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

And then we will move on to a great framework by Mick Cope, in his really interesting book “The Seven Cs of Consulting”.

In that book he sets out a cool 3X3 framework – his MPH Framework – covering the following filters;

How does listening with your brain work?

Clearly we use our ears to hear the words being spoken. On their own, it is how we communicate in all that we do and believe. But words alone only unearth a shallow steam of knowledge and understanding. It is not until we listen with our brains, and start to interpret those words, that we surface a far deeper understanding of the meaning of those words.

What do the words say about a person? What do they say about how a person interprets the world?
And how can we use that deeper understanding for the benefit of all?

My hope is that, through a combination of sensory preference and Mick Cope’s nine filters, this article gives you some techniques and ideas to help you in your everyday interactions and those that are most important to you.

The premise for all this is that we all interpret the world in a different way. We all hold a different map of the world, so we all navigate our world along a different route.

The first interpretation we make is a sensory one;
Visual – Pictures
Auditory – Sound
Kinaesthetic – Feelings.

Let’s address these in turn.

Firstly, a confession. I am a visual person – my preference and style is very strongly picture biased. I remember pictures rather than feelings.
Clearly this is not to say I don’t have emotional attachment and feelings. But in my day-to-day interactions I work best with visual representations.

How would others identify my preference?  My language is visual. Phrases and language clues would include;

“Can you tell me what that looks like?”
What is the long-term vision?”
“Do we have a roadmap we can look at?”

On a deeper level, those with a visual preference are typically shallow breathers – they breathe in their chest.
And any hand gestures are typically high up – chest height and above!

How do I interact with those with a Visual preference?

Where you can, and where it feels natural to you, use visual language. I’ve given examples above and there are more in the Cheat Sheet.

They will likely respond best to the “big picture” view of a problem, or task, or project. And perhaps less well in the detailed next steps of a task.

You might consider using those with a visual, picture preference to remind people / colleagues / a team of the longer-term vision. To hold them to task on achieving that longer-term vision as much as the immediate next steps.

And I’m sure with this deeper understanding of their personal preference, you will find your own ways of interacting with them more and more effectively.

Having set out the visual preference, covering auditory and kinaesthetic becomes a little easier.

An auditory preference is all about sound. Where as I see the world, they will tend to hear the world.

Their phraseology will therefore use words that relate to sound;
“Yep. Clear as a bell”.
“I’m all ears”.
“Could you describe that for me? In detail?”
“Shall we call on George for his view?”

How do I interact with those with an Auditory preference?

Again, use auditory language cues where you can.
Listen to the rhythm of their spoken word, and respond appropriately. You may need to speak a little more slowly than you are used to.  You may need to adjust your volume too.

Your aim should be to engage and communicate – talk – with them in a way that matches their preference. It will give you the best chance of a deeper understanding of each other, and likely lead to better outcomes.

On a personal, one to one level, you might want to consider catching-up on a regular basis. It suggests a rhythm that might play to their preference.
But experiment. Try different things. At least you now have a better understanding of their world. And the rewards of generating a better / deeper relationship will surely be high!

People with this preference could be identified by phrases such as;
“This fit’s hand in hand with Anne’s project”.
“Can we get some concrete data and evidence first?”
“How do we feel about this idea? Will it catch on?”.

Any gestures made will be more guttural – they will come from the stomach.
Breathing will likely be slower and deeper.

How do I interact with those with a Kinaesthetic preference?

Matching their language choice with words that are feeling based will obviously work best.

From a work perspective, and especially project and change management, “Vision” statements and infographics will not really engage these individuals. You will need to generate an emotional investment in the project or change to “bring them on the journey”.
However, once emotionally committed, they could champion the change and inspire others to follow.

Having set out the three preferences, and suggested how to interact with those preferences, a question for you   . . .

What is your sensory preference?

Take some time to reflect on the examples given. Is it obvious?

Pick a recent event or experience that is fresh in the memory, and talk about it out loud. Record it on your phone and play it back. Which language cue’s are most prevalent?
Perhaps equally important, which hardly feature at all?

You have now identified your own Preference. And the one you might struggle to understand.

Reflect again and see if there has been some real progress and struggles in attempting recent tasks. Do they match your preferences established above?
Could it be due to the way those tasks were portrayed? The words and senses used?

Food for thought, perhaps?

Mick Cope’s “The Seven Cs of Consulting” contains a number of frameworks that I think are great. You will find some in other blogs.
Given the overall push of this blog – listening with your brain – his MPH Framework fits nicely.

We have just covered sensory preferences. The MPH Framework references nine “Filters” that most people use to map their world.

It fits into a rather neat 3×3 grid or matrix.

The M of the MPH Framework is about Magnitude.

This filter will mean the person wants to “chunk up” to a higher level of information. Their map of the world sits at the organisation and industry level, in a work context.
Relating this to a sensory preference briefly, these are the “big picture” people.

These are your middle-ground people. They are uncomfortable at the big picture end of the stick but equally are not engaged with the nitty-gritty of tasks and next steps. They will want just enough information to make a choice or a decision. No more and no less. In organisational terms, they are probably at Function and Department level.

Love the detail. They will want to really understand an item or problem before they start to think about solutions. They will be task-focused.
They will tend to struggle with the abstract, big picture stuff most.

The P deals with Periodicity.

People with a Past filter relate everything to what has already happened or been discussed. They will want to reflect and recall the past before they can consider the here and now. They may have an emotional attachment to the past – a kinaesthetic preference – that fits with this periodicity filter best.

These people are all about what it means now. What is happening now.
They may recall the past, or consider what is next, but primarily they will want to focus on now.

This filter aligns with those who want a longer-term view of things. Perhaps, even a “Vision” of what this will look and feel like 6 months / a year down the line.
They will likely be least comfortable talking about the past – it is too far removed from the vision and future they want to understand.

Finally, the H in the MPH Framework covers Holistic filters.

This filter covers our emotions, our beliefs and values. It is these things that set our moral compass in all that we do.
These people will be concerned about their own and others’ feelings. Other’s motivations.

These are your rational thinkers, who desire data and evidence. Consequently, they often provide sage guidance and bring a degree of calm to a situation.
They are also likely to be practical and pragmatic.

Your doers, basically. They will want to get on and make a start. They will want to talk about and distil things into Actions and Next Steps. And will want to know who is doing what and when.

How do I use this increased level of understanding?

As with the sensory preferences covered first in this article, awareness is a really good first step. Being aware that not everyone thinks and interprets the world the same and then making an effort to understand others better, can only be helpful.

Where do you fit into Mick Cope’s MPH framework? What are your default patterns and preferences? And again, what does your gut tell you about those Filters you are least likely to use or relate to?

In a work context – and PMO specifically – we are constantly collating and writing reports. It’s probable then that those reports will look something like this:

Macro / Micro  –  Present  – Head

Could you perhaps develop those reports to cover more of the MPH Framework?

  • A Past lens would add value with the identification of patterns.
  • A Projected lens would add real insight.
  • Alignment of the report and its content to strategic objectives would address the Meta lens.
  • A clear Call to Action (where required) would address the Hand filter.

The next time you are asked to pull a “Programme Comms” together, think about how many of the nine filters you address. And would there be a benefit in trying to look at ways of addressing a few more?
Is there enough for the Heart filter, in terms of aligning values and beliefs in the programme or project? Have you set the communication in some form of context and where you have come from? And are heading to? Is it a general Communications piece, or does it need a Call to Action (Hand)?

Perhaps think about the personalities who are leading some of your bigger programmes. What are their strengths and preferences, and how could you compliment those to drive the programme forward?

I hope that is useful and explains how we “Listen with our Brain”.  And I’m sure you will find other ways to use them. Ultimately we want to listen to better understand others, for the benefit of all – true “Win / Win”.


The Den

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