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Are you and your client on the same wavelength?

Are you and your client on the same wavelength?
Read Professor Julie Hay's overview of the five personal 'wavelengths' - and discover which you use most often.

Imagine for a moment that people are radios. As we move around, we are tuned into and broadcasting on a particular wavelength. 

Skilled communicators are the ones who quickly, and accurately, identify the wavelength of the other person and then ensure that they themselves select a corresponding wavelength.

Unskilled communicators fail to identify correctly, or select an inappropriate wavelength to adopt for themselves. Poor communicators take no notice of the wavelength of the other person, or simply expect everyone else to fit in with them.

Although we all have basically similar radio equipment available to us, we do not all use it to full effect.

Some people tune in to one station more or less permanently. We may well believe that this demonstrates a certain constancy; that people ‘know where they are with us’. However, it also severely limits our ability to communicate competently with people.

We will only get on well with those who are already in a matching wavelength, and those skilled individuals who are willing to make the effort and switch themselves into a corresponding mode.

Most of us know someone who is like this – who is predictable and inflexible and expects others to accept them as they are. This is fine as long as we are prepared to make the extra effort to get along with them but says little for their interpersonal skills.

There are five wavelengths, or main styles, that seem to apply generally:

  • Controlling Parent – behaving as a real parent might do when establishing rules, being firm
  • Nurturing Parent – behaving as a real parent might do when looking after someone, being caring
  • Functional Adult – behaving as an adult might do when working jointly with a colleague, acting in a logical and problem solving manner
  • Adapted Child – behaving in a polite way as we were taught as a child, being courteous
  • Natural Child – behaving in a natural way as we might as a child, being friendly, creative

Each of us has all five styles available to us. However, we may not use them all to the same extent. Other people will judge our ‘personality’ on the basis of how much of each personal style we display.

They build up a picture of us by noting the wavelengths we are in – they may do this over a period of time so that they get a balanced picture – but they may also make a snap judgment based on the personal style we presented to them in the first few minutes of contact.

Tuning into the right wavelength

If we want to create a good first impression, and be more skillful in dealing with people, we need to increase our awareness of different wavelengths and to add consciously to our range of options when we identify any shortfalls.

Our process of choosing a personal style needs to include consideration of the effect we want to have on the other person. Although in theory you can pair any personal style with any other, in practice there are four channels that are especially likely to result in good working relationships:

Functional Adult – Functional Adult: when we want to engage in joint problem solving. This channel is particularly useful with people who like to focus on work issues and ‘get down to business’.

Nurturing Parent – Natural Child: when we want to be nurturing, encouraging, reassuring. This channel is especially liked by people who respond well to an interest in them as people, who like us to notice their appearance, ask after their family, and spend time in establishing a relationship with them before we get on with the task.

Natural Child – Natural Child: for having fun, being creative, and playing together. The most effective channel for people who like to share their enthusiasm with us, who may have unusual hobbies or exciting ideas to talk about, and who appreciate the chance to tell us about these.

Controlling Parent – Adapted Child: for giving instructions and telling people what to do next. Although our interaction is targeted at Adapted Child, it connects also with their Internal Adult as they think about what we said. This channel is preferred by people who are more comfortable if they receive clear instructions, and who then like to be left to get on with the job.

Each of us has a preferred channel. We will probably be reasonably comfortable with one or two of the others, and somewhat uncomfortable with the fourth.

What most of us do is use our own preferred channel most of the time. This is not particularly skillful – we will have more success if we match the channels we use to each recipient. Paying attention to the channel they use themselves will give us a good idea of the best way to initiate contact with them.

Last updated 26/11/2013

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