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How Learning Styles Help Your Listeners Hear You Better

When it comes to communication, the listener’s learning style can play a big role in how well they keep up with and understand what we have to say, therefore it is important that we look at how learning styles affect our ability to communicate with others, especially our spouse.

We each have different learning styles, which is a description of the preferences we have that help us learn best. In a formal class, it is possible that my ability as a student will be diminished if the teacher presents the lesson in a way that works against my preferred learning style. Similar things can happen when we speak to people. In principle, both are about conveying information to elicit some response. 

Consider someone with a “hands on” learning style. Essentially this means that they learn best by doing, while they may have great difficulty with writing and find verbal lessons difficult to deal with. In contrast, give them a practical subject or practical learning exercises and they are in their element and enjoy learning this way. This type of leaner also needs to be convinced that what they are asked to do is worthwhile. That means they may need to understand “Why?” before effective learning can take place.

Why are Learning Styles Important for Effective Communication?

In essence all forms of communication are about conveying information in order to achieve a response. This is what teaching and learning is about, too. Your preferred learning styles affect how you are able to receive, absorb and integrate information, whether in a formal lesson or an informal face-to-face conversation. The same is true for other people. If we can accommodate their learning styles when we speak with them, then our attempts at communication are more likely to be successful. If you don’t know the other person, then it’s obviously difficult to specifically tailor how you interact with them. Of course, everyone is a mix of learning styles with specific preferences.

This means that whether it’s a one-to-one conversation or a family meeting, and especially in a conflict situation, accommodating learning styles is very important in helping our listeners keep up with us and absorb what is being said.  There are several models about how people learn and a full consideration of learning styles can get somewhat involved but the concepts below are a good start.

A Simplified View of Learning Styles:  Selecting the Correct Structure and Selecting the Correct Style of Communication

The following, greatly simplified view of learning styles will help you structure what you have to say.  There are three methods that can help form a logical structure to help organize your communication: Why? What? and How?

1.        I NEED TO KNOW WHY?
Explain why it’s important:  
Some people need to understand the reasons why something is important. It is really part of the “What’s in it for me?” issue, but if you fail that test then they will not be interested in listening to what you have to say. Then, they may well switch off because they are not convinced that what you have to say is relevant to them.

2.        I NEED TO KNOW WHAT IT IS ABOUT?
Convey what it’s all about:  
These people need to have a more theoretical view of the issue at hand because they can then work out the implications and requirements for themselves. Minimize that detail and they will find it harder to respond.  Specific details and complete information is key.

3.        I NEED TO KNOW HOW TO DO IT?
Set out how to do it: 
“Just tell me what you want me to do?” might be the request from these people. They need to understand the practical, pragmatic process in which they are to engage. They need to understand the how so they know how they are required to respond.

When you are planning your communication, whether it be written or spoken, one-to-one or one-to-many it is helpful to accommodate as many styles as possible and tailor your style of your communication to you audience’s learning style. If you know the person you are to communicate with well, then tailor your message to address their specific learning style.  Consider the three structure of communication styles below:

I LEARN BEST BY DOING:  Encourage exploration for the experiential leaners.
“What if?” might be the question uttered by the explorers, the doers, the experiential learners. They need a challenge to go and do something and learn from the experience. They may need a pointer on how to begin.  They learn best by touching and a “hands on” approach.

I LEARN BEST BY HEARING:  Use words for the verbal learners.
Verbal learners like the written and spoken word. They can take in what you say and process it all. Some may prefer the written word, others the spoken word.  They learn best by writing, speaking and/or repetition.

I LEARN BEST BY SEEING:  Use images for the visual learners.
Visual learners use images, pictures, charts, maps drawings and the like to express themselves and learn. They are able to visualize information and may find a “words only” communication more difficult to deal with.  The learn best by seeing a visual representation of what you are communicating.

CONSIDER THIS:
Think about your spouse, members of your family, those with whom you work, and others with whom you communicate regularly.  From your knowledge of them, what do you think their learning styles are? How can you use this insight to make you more effective as communicator the next time that you speak to them?   

What do the people you consider to be good communicators do to help you understand what they say?

PERSONAL REFLECTION:

Where do you each fit in the simplified learning styles model?  Do you need to know WHY?  WHAT? Or HOW?   

What is your preferred structure of communication – Experiential, Verbal or Visual?  What do you find the most challenging?

How does this differ from your spouse?  Does this cause conflict in any way?  How does it help you as a couple?

CONNECTING CONVERSATION TO HAVE WITH YOUR PARTNER:

How does my preferred learning style affect our communication as a couple?  How do I feel about sharing this with you?

Adapted from an article by Mike Waddell.  Mike Waddell is Claybury International’s Director of Ministry Development, which offers leading edge leadership and organizational development services to commercial organizations. 

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