the 5 Filters: how people hear you

BONUS: HopeStream Radio Interview on The Fiver Filters with Ron Hughes

If you work with words, you know people wear filters. Not everything gets in. There are gates that words must pass through before reaching someone’s inner sanctum. Listeners have the power to tune us in or shut us out. We know this. Different people listen for different kinds of words; they ask their own questions, set their own standards. Tapping into the inner monologue our listener is hosting while we speak, or while they read, is a great way to learn more about the filters at play—and how to respond.

There are five filters that represent five types of listeners, or readers. I call them the Scholar, Social Connector, Change Agent, Adventurer and Mystic.

While there’s some crossover between preferences of word choice, tone and intent, there’s a healthy, consistent thread that runs through each type.

If you work with words, and want to go deeper, here’s what your type of reader needs to hear:


THE SCHOLAR: listens for credibility, seeks engagement

This type of listener wants to learn, to be intellectually engaged. To have their imagination stimulated and ideas stirred. This means anyone wearing the Scholar’s filter needs to hear your credentials, and to discern a note of originality. They’re listening for clues, evidence that you’re established, if not an expert, in your field. You don’t need a degree or three, but you do need to credit your sources and generally know what you’re talking about.

This type of listener is unlikely to take words at face value. They need to know they’re embedded in something larger—coming from what they consider a trustworthy source. You need to speak in context, adding your own voice to other credible voices in your field of expertise to be heard by a Scholar. And, you need to demonstrate mastery of your material, including the ability to play with it, to be confident enough not to take yourself too seriously.

To reach this listener is a tall order unless you too wear the well-informed, demanding filters of your fellow Scholar.


THE SOCIAL CONNECTOR: listens for voice, seeks companionship

The Social Connector doesn’t need to know what you know; they need to know who you know, and that you care. Connectors have emotional antennae. They are roaming for bits of dialogue, stories told from the heart. They’re looking for faces and names they recognize or relate to. To reach a Social Connector, what you say has to be relevant to the needs of their circle. The Connector is very much the hub of their social world, of which empathy is the glue.

The Social Connector isn’t looking for someone who has all their facts straight, ducks in a row, i’s dotted or t’s crossed. They are not interested in clichés or other theories. They seek out empathy and entertainment. Their lives are full of real-world drama. So, they appreciate those who can laugh, cry, commiserate or commentate on the people and problems the Connector calls home.

Anyone with a strong emotional core and the ability to speak to personal issues with vulnerability and grace has the ear of this listener.


THE CHANGE AGENT: listens for passion, seeks completion

The Change Agent is on a mission, rarely without a cause to promote or a wrong to make right. They are listening to be empowered to succeed and inspired to continue in their good work. For them to hear what you say, they must hear the passion in your voice. They must sense potential.

This reader does not dwell on problems. They are fixers. Solution finders and world changers. They do not respond to sagas, dramas and documentation. They like bullet point presentations, graphs and charts that help them visualize the problem and spot the solution. The Change Agent is an action-oriented reader and listener, thriving on momentum, team building and real-world results. They are driven with purpose and compassion.

To reach this listener, speak bold and straight to their gut.


THE ADVENTURER: listens for opportunity, seeks immersion

The Adventurer is the person looking for a challenge, an opportunity to come alongside someone to make good things happen. It can be a mountain to climb, a conflict to navigate or a problem to tackle. This reader responds to the language of obstacles, summits and growth. The Adventurer doesn’t choose the shortest distance between two points; they prefer the scenic route because that’s where adventure is found, and life fully known—in the margins, on the edge, up on the summit looking out over the world.

This listener is wide open to hearing detailed stories, anecdotes and invitations. They tend to be leisurely readers because they’re loath to miss anything. They want to be fully immersed in the high-stakes drama of life, to feel what they read, to remember and learn from the experience. They’re in it for the long haul. Endurance. Perseverance. Overcoming. They know this is what it takes to win. They know these are the elements of true courage. And for them, showing courage is life’s biggest challenge and best adventure.

To reach the Adventurer, embrace the challenge, speak from experience, with deep hope.


THE MYSTIC: listens for truth, seeks growth

The Mystic is listening for truth. They respond to suggestion and intimation. This is a subtle and often refined reader. They are listening for words that align with what they already know and trust to be true. This reader is committed to the spiritual journey, to moving closer to God. This means they are not a consumer of information. Mystics aren’t looking to connect or find their tribe or build community. They are seeking peace.

As individuals, Mystics seek to see their life in light of eternity. They’re vested in their spiritual pursuits, making it a point to read widely on a few chosen themes. The ability to discern the meaning behind your words is important to them. They hold their inner lights in high regard. Above all they’re listening for notes of authenticity and spiritual alignment.

To reach a Mystic, speak gently, to their soul.


I believe each reader’s filters serve a good purpose, bringing listeners into any conversation as a full participant. The Scholar seeks intellectual engagement; the Social Connector emotional empathy; the Change Agent to be empowered and inspired; the Adventurer is listening for challenge and wants to feel immersed in what you’re saying; and the Mystic is attentive to signs of alignment and glimmers of a larger reality. These are five different types of readers. Each one listens for what’s important—even vital—to them. To better reach your type of listener, simply speak the language their filters predispose them to hear best.


This article is based on insights found in my book: Write to be Read, Speak to be Heard: a communication guide to the five filters.  Available on Amazon.

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