Which Way do You ‘Chunk’? – How the way we process information affects our relationships

A key aspect that can affect our communication within relationships is how we each evaluate and process information.  I realised this many years ago, when I trained as a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner, as well as training as a practitioner in various personality profiling tools like Myers-Briggs Personality Type (MBTI) and the Enneagram.  It was learning these techniques, alongside extensive further studies and observation over the course of many years that has brought me greater levels of awareness of the differences between people’s communication and information processing styles.

We are NOT all the same – we each have a unique way of seeing the world and an individual ‘map of the world’ which forms our individual reference points.  Unless we are aware of this and consciously respect the views and perceptions of the other person, or people involved, then there will always be a power struggle as one person is desperately trying to defend their position and trying to get the other partner or parties to see that their view is ‘right’.  Without this awareness, it’s hugely frustrating when the other just doesn’t seem to ‘get it’ or to ‘get them’.

As individuals, we tend to each have either an auditory (sound based), visual (seeing) or kinaesthetic (feeling) preference for how we’ll take in and make sense of information.  Once we understand this and consciously explore the differences between ourself and our partner, relative or colleague, it can help build respectful and conscious communication that honours and works with the differences between us, rather than trying to negate them, or ‘shout over’ the other person, to try to get your voice heard and force the other person to understand you.

In addition, NLP teaches that people ‘chunk’ information in different ways.  Chunking means how they break down and process information to make sense of it.  Some people prefer to ‘chunk up’ and can only really handle general or abstract levels of information – they prefer to see the ‘big picture’ and they do not cope very well with detail.  Other people may prefer to ‘chunk down’ and then can only really make sense of something if it is presented in a detailed and specific way.

If you have two partners who each have a different preference for how they process information, ie. one ‘chunks up’ and the other ‘chunks down’ – then that can present huge difficulties and conflicts in communication.  This is particularly the case if the person who needs detail in order to make a decision and needs to rationalise something presents this to the other partner or colleague, who may find all of that detail totally overwhelming.  Then each party becomes exasperated by the other and they may feel baffled as to why they can no longer communicate or have challenges in relating to each other.

I’ve experienced this in my own life on various occasions.  One in particular was during an extensive and expensive house project of a property that I undertook with a partner a number of years ago.  We were remodelling, rebuilding and restoring a period property together which involved managing lots of different tradesmen and craftsmen and copious amounts of decisions to be made on a daily basis.

We experienced problems as I’m a mix of big-picture thinker, whilst also being very detail orientated, particularly in areas such as planning and design.  My partner, in contrast, was more of an ‘abstract’ thinker and I found that his laissez-faire approach seemed too casual with a lack of detailed research to back up some of the key decisions.  In contrast, I also know that my more detailed approach caused huge frustration for him.  As a result of our differences in information-processing, a lot of conflict arose during this project where we struggled to communicate and make decisions together.  I happened to train in NLP in the middle of the building project and it was then that I realised that this difference in the way that we each processed information was a key source of our communication difficulties!

In my coaching and training, I now help individuals to explore their own ‘map of the world’ and their unique preferences, as well as helping them to develop a better understand of others.  Once you have this self-awareness, you can start to observe how other people interact with you and learn to identify their preferences too.  Armed with this conscious awareness, you can honour and respect each others’ way of being in the world and adapt your communication style in order to build optimum levels of understanding and connection.

Often this understanding can help you modify your communication styles to get good results – for example, if you’re a detail-focused person who likes ‘chunking down’ information yet your boss is a big picture thinker, then it helps you understand how to pitch an idea to them or negotiate an important point if you edit the detail and just give them the key concepts and ideas that you want them to take action on.  Having this understanding can really help to boost your emotional intelligence and create or improve your chances of obtaining optimum outcomes!

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