What does it really mean to be on the same wavelength?

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To be on the same wavelength, you have to surf the same wave at the same speed

If you’re like me, you’ve probably found yourself in conversations or situations that felt weird or off. It may arise unexpectedly: you know the person you are chatting with is passionate about the same things as you are, has the same values and interests, and yet the conversation you’re having is awkward. When this happens, we often use the expression: we are not on the same wavelength!

Have you ever wondered where this expression comes from? As a physics engineer, I’ve certainly wondered this myself, moreover, I’ve looked at the question using basic physics to try to explain the phenomena. I’ll explain below.

But first, let’s look at a few examples of situations where we might not be on the same wavelength.

Not on the same wavelength: an example

It’s an extraordinary weather day, and you’re going skiing with a new friend that you just met last week. Like you, she gets a huge kick out of skiing, so she was delighted to accept when you invited her to come along at the weekend. The plan looks perfect – she may just become your new favourite ski partner.

Once you hit the slopes, you begin to realize that you are not on the same wavelength after all. She likes to ski non-stop from 8 am to 5 pm without missing a single second, not even pausing to eat. During descents there is no time to take pictures or talk, she’s already down impatiently waiting at the chairlift. Even while waiting for the lift there shall be no chatting – she prefers the singles line to go faster.

What’s happening? You both like skiing. You go often and you’re both good skiers. So—what’s going wrong?

Put simply, your and your new friend’s speeds aren’t the same, even if your frequency (that is, your passion for skiing) is.

On the same wavelength at work: another example

You are in charge of a project. At your regular team meeting, you suggest closing out this project in favour of moving onto other things. You believe there are only a few minor details left before the project is completed. Naturally, you assume everyone would be on the same page but the meeting doesn’t go as you thought it would.

It turns out that the details you consider small are actually important to another team member. So to close out the project now will signal to that person that the details they care about, and have been working hard on, don’t matter. In addition, they may perceive that their views are not being considered. It’s not ideal for team spirit and will set the tone for your next collaboration project.

What is interesting here is that both options are possible and potentially viable. We could either close out the project, or wait. So why not wait? Why not go at a speed that works for everyone?

Sometimes we think it’s better to go faster, but is it the only metric? 

Oftentimes, waiting doesn’t change much in terms of outcomes, but it will make a great deal of difference to the team to be on the same wavelength. If all that remains are small details as you believe, then everything should be quickly resolved and not have any real impact. And if in the end the details are bigger than expected, maybe the project wasn’t really finished. So there are several cases where waiting has its benefits.

Going at the right speed is essential to involving everyone, and creating a safe and inclusive work environment.

If in our example speed had been critical to an external customer, the team could have banded together and helped each other out to finish up the blocking details more quickly – small or large. That way, everyone would still be on the same wavelength to finish the job.

On the importance of synchronization

Speed is often an overlooked concept in our lives, yet it is crucial. It’s important to synchronize our:

  • conversations
  • decision-making
  • actions

Bonus: A parallel with physics of waves

Curious to know more about my physics analogy? There are two important elements to being on the same wavelength:

  1. speed
  2. objectives/passions (frequency)

Often, the solution to properly interacting with colleagues and partners is to adjust your speed and to clarify your common objectives. The most fascinating thing for the physicist engineer in me is that there is a basic formula that links these concepts of speed, wavelength and frequency together:

“λ = v/f”

λ = wavelength, v = speed, f = frequency

To be on the same wavelength, there are two elements which you must adjust and adapt: speed and frequency (frequency, as I wrote in my previous blog post, are the passions and goals that keep us vibrating).

How to get on the same wavelength

Start today! Add speed and frequency as parameters in your life. Being aware of them will allow you to adjust them. The next time you are in a weird situation of discomfort, ask yourself:

  1. Is speed at stake?
  2. Am I trying to move too fast for the team?
  3. Are others moving too quickly for me?
  4. Is it urgent? Why do I have to go so quickly?
  5. What is really important to me in this situation?

So go ahead! Use the expression and the concept of being on the same wavelength and you will:

  • go further in one shot as you’ll be synchronized with others.
  • develop a better style of leadership.
  • achieve your goals much more often, and do so while building strong relationships.

What’s next?

I hope you liked this blog post and concept. If you have questions and want to continue the discussion, let me know in the comments below. Remember,

You can’t go faster than the speed of the slowest element in the system (e.g., team) if you want to stay synchronized and safe.

Tell me what you observed when you adjusted your speed and frequency to get on the same wavelength! 

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