Test Your Representational System: a coaching & communication ice-breaker

When you’re leading a group, it’s always important to keep in mind their experience of the senses. Why is that, you might ask? Because people communicate and understand differently, and much of that is connected to perception – i.e. the senses. Or, as Da Vinci put it so aptly, “knowledge has its origin in perception.”

St Barts BeachSo today I’m going to share with you an easy ice-breaker that I often use in my wisdom circle coaching. This will help your team understand each other’s way of experiencing the world AND understand that with different perceptions comes a different language-triggers. Once they understand their representational system (whether it is triggered by auditory tonal, visual, kinaesthetic, or auditory digital language), they can then adapt their approach to others based on how that other person interprets the world.

Is that confusing? Let me show you the ice-breaker to make things clear.

Just last week I returned from a lovely vacation of island hopping on a boat. And today – right now – we’re going to pull from that experience to test YOUR representational system. At the bottom of this post, I’ll link to a more comprehensive tool for testing these perceptions, but as a warm up let’s dive into this ice-breaker that you can use in your own work or coaching enviroment.

Now, please imagine . . .

1. You are looking down a far-stretching Caribbean beach. It’s a bright day with blue sky and sunshine. You look down to watch the clear, frothy water rolling up the shore then pulling back towards that immense ocean of turquoise. You glance at the beach and watch the people – looking at the couples holding hands, the families building sand-castles, and your own red towel that is spread out beneath you. Squinting at the sand, you see that it’s really made of tiny shells. Looking closer, you examine each tiny broken shell piece and note their colours of pale blue, pink, red, yellow. . .

2. You are laying on your towel with eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the beach. To your right a family is talking. They are teasing one another and laughing. You listen to their laughter – the giggles of children, the deep “Ha!” of the father, the voice of the mother who says, “Come here, you need more sun block.” To your left, you can hear the sounds of hammering as they build a gazebo for a wedding. And then your ears tune into the one sound that plays across everything – the crashing of the waves, not far from the base of your feet. Crashing, then pausing, then crashing again.

St Barts Beach Shells3. It’s a sweltering day on the beach. The towel beneath you is rough against your baking skin, and you slip your feet over its side to touch the sand and feel the hot grains between your toes. Pushing into the sand more deeply, your feet dig past the surface toward the coolness beneath. Now the sand feels wet and sticky on your feet – you enjoy the sensation against your skin. You need to cool down. Sitting up, then standing, you  run across the burning shoreline and splash into the ocean. It’s coldness hits you with wet refreshment, and, as you step deeper, you slide through the waves, immersed in the gentle pulling and pushing of the tide.

4. You are back on your towel after having walked the entire beach, which you guess is about three kilometres long. The weather is hot – it must be about 32 degrees Celsius today, and that means you need to reapply the sun block. Opening the container, you notice it’s about ½ empty, but that should cover you for your trip. You squirt out the sun block and rub it into your skin. As you continue rubbing, you turn over the container and begin to read the label, noting the directions and looking at where it was distributed – Walkerton, Ontario. Finishing with the sun block, you look across the beach then lay back on your towel. Travelocity was right, St. Barts is a perfect get-away destination.

Now – to which section did you relate more?

1. Visual: to have a visual preference in understanding your world & communication

2. Auditory: To have a auditory preference in understanding & communication

3. Kinaesthetic: To have a kinaesthetic preference in understanding & communication

4. Auditory Digital: To make sense of your world/figure things out to understand & communicate

What resonated with you the most? I’d love to hear it in the comment section.

Leonardo wanted to master all of his senses. In Michael’s Gelb’s book, he calls this Sensazione: “The continual refinement of the senses … as the means to enliven experience.

Once you understand the words & perceptions that works best for you, try this exercise with other people. That way, when explaining new ideas to them, you can tap into their understanding by using a language that works best for them.

And if you really want to dive into your representation system, here’s a tool I use with my clients. Soon, I’ll change this into an online assessment, but for the time being you can link here, follow the easy instructions and use it to evaluate yourself.

Again, I’d love to hear your feedback on this exercise. You’re welcome to share in the comments, or in our discussion on Linkedin.

Till next time!


Camille Boivin is founder of Sister Leadership, bringing her knowledge of resilience, perseverance, and changing perception to others. Camille is currently accepting applications for the Women’s Executive Network  Senior Executives Wisdom Peer Mentoring program. Applications to this exciting and knowledge-sharing program are available here.

Read more from Camille as she aspires to  help women explode their success. For more posts and experiences, join Camille at her Sister Leadership page, connect on Twitter, and follow on Facebook.

1 Comment
  1. MC Lessard 8 years ago

    What I like about the representational system in communication is that it nudges you to see the world from the perspective of the receiver. Not easy but really effective when mastered!

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