Conversational Wavelength

by Krishna on August 29, 2011

Often, we hear people use the term “we should be on the same wavelength”. What does that actually mean?

Here is my definition:

Conversational Wavelength

This is how a conversation should take place. A topic is discussed, both sides understand what the other is saying, they directly address each other and the discussion ends in closure. It doesn’t have to end in an agreement on the initial statement. I could start out by stating an opinion and you can convince me that it is not feasible, and then finally we agree on a different plan of action. To keep it simple, I have not added additional elements, such as whether A understood B’s response, or a possible counter-point such as “We will agree to disagree”, meaning that both sides do not reach any agreement, but that they acknowledge that the conversation is over by mutual consent.

But sometimes, this is not what occurs. Sometimes the following things happen in a conversation:

  • One person misunderstands what the other person says and goes and does something different.
  • One person goes off a tangent and the conversation never returns to the original topic.
  • Both sides seem to agree, but in reality, one person assumed that the other person agreed without confirming it.
  • One person agrees, but keep silent on future scenarios so that the agreement falls apart when new things happen.
  • During the conversation, the statements and questions of one person are misinterpreted as something arising out of their hidden motives.

I could go on, but I hope you get the picture. In real life, we seldom have straightforward conversations. There are many things that can derail a discussion. People bring a lot of baggage (good and bad past experiences) into a conversation that a transcript of the conversation never conveys what happened when they were talking. The following can help:

  • When a statement is vague, ask for more details. For example, “Talk more to your customers” may require answering the following questions: “How often?”, “What about?”, “How? Phone or email?”
  • Don’t assume that someone says X, but means Y. Take the literal meaning first. But if you are unsure, double-check.
  • Avoid bringing emotions into the conversation. Phrase actionable items as polite requests. Redo ego-bashing challenges as “what-if scenario” questions.
  • If someone changes the subject, allow some time on the new topic, but remember to come back to the original item

This is not “wavelength”, of course. It is more like training for better wavelength. Some people are natural conversationalists. Others are not, so with steps like this, you can have a conversation that ends in something getting done.


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