Dr. John Kappas, founder of the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, did extensive research and documentation to discover why it is that sometimes you can say the same thing to two different people and get very different responses.
Some people take in information literally. Straight ahead. At face value. If someone is literal and you show him your phone while saying, “This is a phone,” his response will probably be something like, “Yes, it is a phone.”
Other people take in information inferentially. Inferential people are more likely to analyze why you say. If you do the same thing with someone who is inferential, that person will probably have a response like, “I know. Why are you telling me that’s a phone?”
There is no wrong or right about either approach. It’s simply a matter of the way you perceived the world from the caregiver who raised you. In most cases, that was your mom, but, of course, it could’ve been your dad, another relative or perhaps your adoptive or foster parent.
Let’s say one day when you were a kid you were feeling especially naughty, and you went to do something you knew you weren’t supposed to, and your caregiver said, “Don’t do that. If you misbehave, I’m sending you to your room.” If you went ahead and did it anyway, and your caregiver sent you to your room, what you learned is that people mean what they say. As an adult, you continue to interpret that way.
If, on the other hand, your caregiver said the same thing, but when you misbehaved, she said something like, “Didn’t you hear me? I said I’d send you to your room, now you’d better behave.” And then when you misbehaved again, said, “Do you want to go to your room? You’d better start behaving.” What you learned was that people don’t mean what they say. “I’ll send you to your room,” really means “You have another few chances to misbehave.” So you grow up looking for the real meaning in people’s words.
One way you can determine if someone you know is literal or inferential is to ask questions that only have two answers, for example, yes or no. If the person answers with a yes or a no, he or she is probably perceiving you literally. If he or she gives an explanation instead, you’re likely dealing with an inferential person.