Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
A ‘visual perceiver’ shares how we can improve communication and deepen our relationships by recognizing the different ways we process information
Sitting in the white tiled kitchen of the airy house we rented in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, it struck me that I think differently from others, and that my thoughts are formed from taking in the visualization of pictures and imagery. It was a true ‘aha’ moment, the kind of moment that leaves you almost dizzy with disbelief.
It had been a long day of meetings in my then-corporate career of business intelligence, and my colleague and I were attempting to wrap things up. As we went over the day’s meetings, we were just not able to get on the same page. I had no clue what conversations he was referring to, and he couldn’t understand why I kept describing the way things ‘looked’ in the meetings, yet I was incapable of remembering what he considered to be important facts.
“The meeting where the minister spoke about the new transport infrastructure plans,” he said, frustrated.
All the meetings seemed to melt into one for me at this point.
“What? The one whose office had mustard yellow curtains and where his assistant kept glancing over at him to make sure he was ok with where the meeting was going? Is that the one you’re referring to?” I replied.
“I’ve got no idea what the office looked like, but when we were there, we discussed…” he said.
And on and on we went trying to understand each other’s thought process.
About half an hour and two coffees into it, something clicked, and I asked him, “So you don’t ‘see’ any pictures in your mind when you’re thinking?’
“No, why would I see a picture? I just think,” he quipped back.
“Oh ok, I get it… but when you think, you’re seeing the words in your mind? Like pages out of a book or subtitles on a screen?” I questioned.
“No, I don’t see anything.”
He didn’t see anything. How was that even a thing? But there it was. My thoughts came in the form of pictures. His did not.
To some this may seem obvious; of course everyone thinks in a different way from each other, but do we really acknowledge this on a day-to-day basis? Do we walk through life asking each other, “how are you seeing this?”
The answer of course is no. We are not taught to ask our colleagues, partners, or even kids this question. Which is one of the reasons communications can be so challenging, especially for people who are neurodivergent.
We tend to believe that if someone isn’t seeing the world the way we do, or receiving information the way we do, that they are wrong, or we are wrong. Either way, someone is right, and someone is wrong.
In my conversation with my colleague, who was right? Who was wrong? Or were we just different?
I should mention that I was country director for the agency I worked with, so my neurodivergence hadn’t hindered me professionally. In fact, it was what gave me a hidden talent that didn’t come easily to others.
See, my capacity to think in pictures meant that I could always picture in my mind all possible scenarios for every meeting, conversation, and choice, and therefore I was prepared for all of them. Where my colleagues and workers would be caught on the spot, I never was because what people thought was my ability to think on my feet was actually me being 10 steps ahead of everyone else.
People who are on the Autism spectrum often think visually, in pictures, and this is one of their many superpowers. They also have the ability for hyper focus which allows them to home in on details. When you combine these two abilities you are armed with a person who can take an idea from concept to fruition, knowing every step in between.
The way to do this in daily practice is by asking questions such as,
What do I know here?
What else is possible here that I haven’t considered?
What is required here for this to work?
What am I perceiving with this?
What information is relevant here?
By asking these questions you shift your perspective from a closed one to a more open one, thus the trajectory of where your heading begins to change and expand.
Most of us are taught from a very young age to find the answers that will get us the results we are looking for in school, life, work, and even relationships. So, when we are told to do things a certain way, most of the population accepts it as fact and does what they’re told.
The ones who create beyond the norm though, are the ones who don’t accept these realities as fact and are in a state of curiosity and question about everything.
Neurodivergent people have the ability to be in question about everything because they have had to be since they were little. Where school may be easy for a neurotypical child for example, the neurodiverse child must be in question about, “What are we supposed to be doing here? What does the teacher require? How is everyone seeing this? What do I need to deliver?” This then can quickly expand into “Why are we doing it this way?” And “Is there an easier way to do this?”
What if being in question about everything is one of the most evolved ways of functioning? Would you be willing to start asking questions about how the people around you function, how they think and receive information, what ideas they may have, and what you also know that you may have not tapped into yet? Or were you taught, like many of us were, that asking too many questions means you weren’t smart enough to get it the first time around, or that you would annoy the people around you?
However, if there were no right or wrong way of thinking or receiving information, would you be willing to ask more questions? What would you choose to be curious about? Which areas of your life have you concluded that you have the right answers for, or that you’re no good in? If you were to begin asking questions about those parts of your life, could that create an improvement, some change, and perhaps an increased sense of peace and ease?
What if you were to view the world through the eyes of curiosity and question?
You might find that you have more talents and abilities than you know!
You may also enjoy reading How to Use Enneagrams to Find Your Best Self, by Stacy Walden.