“Why do I always end up working when I’m with you?” Toby asked.

I looked down at the pile of folders we were organizing and laughed. “Toby, you don’t have to do this.”

“I know, but I see you working and feel I need to jump in.”

That conversation happened decades ago. But it illustrates how our different bents affect how we relate to each other. Besides personality differences, we have different learning styles.


I’m a kinesthetic learner. That means I listen and learn better when I’m physically engaged. Some of my best conversations take place on walks. I enjoy audio books because I can do mindless tasks while I listen. When I try to read, I often feel sleepy or distracted. Understanding how you and those around you work reduces misunderstandings.

Our learning styles affect how we communicate. If you have a fidgety listener in your orbit, take note. Those movements may be clues to how they’re wired. Cynthia Ulrich Tobias has written several books on this topic including The Way They Learn, and The Way They Work.

Her research shows that we process differently. Because you listen better by sitting still does not mean your child does. When you make your ten-year-old sit still, you may lose his attention. All he thinks about is “When can I move again?” His laps around the kitchen table while he rehearses his spelling words really may help him remember them.

Some people work best surrounded by a buzz of activity. An author at a conference complained his hotel was isolated. He didn’t know how he could work in such a quiet place. I’m the opposite. I need quiet to think.

What’s your style?

Kinesthetic Learners:

  • Work better in short bursts
  • Need frequent breaks or changes of environment
  • Need physical activity to accomplish a goal

Auditory Learners:

  • Need to talk through their ideas
  • Do better if they can read aloud
  • Remember content framed in music, rhythm, or poetry

Visual Learners:

  • Appreciate charts and graphs to understand a point
  • Focus better when bright stimulating colors are used in folders, notebooks, and presentations
  • Remember descriptive language that sparks their imagination

Take aways:

  1. Don’t presume everyone is like you.
    Maybe you need to be still to concentrate. When your spouse folds clothes don’t assume she’s not listening. Gauge the conversation by your exchange, not her posture.
  2. Embrace your particular style. Give yourself permission to operate in the mode that enhances your success. If you need background music to concentrate, use headphones. If you need quiet, create a quiet place to work. Communicate your unique needs to those affected by them.
  3. Appreciate other people’s learning styles.
    Don’t try to make your friend or child be like you. Encourage them to discover what works best for them.

The Psalmist wrote: “For you created my inmost being;
…I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Ps. 139:13-14, NIV)

Romans 12:2 says not to allow the world to press us into a mold. Do you think that applies to the way we listen and learn?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can comment here.


Debbie Wilson

Deborah W. Wilson

Photo by: Steve Browne

If you’d like to understand your personality better click here (affiliate link).

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  1. Cindy Finley

    Debbie, thanks for this! I had read Cynthia Tobias’ book years ago, but I love the recap and the reminder, particularly as my children are older and I’m coaching them as they try to create their best environment for learning. I look forward to seeing you at the October ISI!

    • Debbie

      Thank you Cindy. Your children are blessed to have a mother who helps them understand and appreciate their individual styles. I look forward to seeing you in October!

  2. Ann Musico

    I also read her book years ago when my children were young and it was eye-opening at that time. It’s so true – until we understand how God made us, it’s difficult to be our most productive.

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