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Communicating with the Client: how neuroscience can help

By Andréa de Paiva 

Have you ever had to convince a client that was insisting about questioning your project? Certainly yes. This is one of the largest challenges faced by architects: communication with clients. How can we make people understand the architect's choices and their relevance to the project? In today's article we will discuss how neuroscience can help us understand the challenge of communication!

Brain communication and neuroscience. Source:

Communication is the process of passing an idea that is happening in one brain to others. This means that when you communicate effectively with your client, you are literally implanting an ideia into his or her head. The neuroscientist Uri Hasson studies how the process of communication works and his research shows how the brain reacts when we communicate [1].

Uri Hasson measured brain activities in several groups of people while they were communicating. What he found out was: when communication is successful, the sender's brain and the receptor's brain show the same activation patterns, process know as neural entrainment [2]. In other words, the idea in the senders head activates his brain in a specific way. When he communicates such idea, he codifies it (transforms it in words or in a sketch, for instance) and conveys it through a channel (his own voice or the sketched paper) to the receptor. In its turn, the receptor has to decode the received message in order to understand it. This is why the code has to be recognized, like when people speak the same language, for instance. These are the basic necessary elements to ensure that the receptor's brain will activate the same patterns as the sender's brain.

Neural entrainment. Source: ideas.ted - Uri Hasson
Source: ideas.ted - Uri Hasson

This is why codes and narrative structure are so important. The communication process works almos as a mirror, the challenge is to make the image inside the other's head look similar to the one inside your head. In order to achieve this, when communicating to clients, it is fundamental that architects use a language that can be understood by them. Specific architectural terms, for instance, might not be comprehended by everyone. Such terms can make us seem more experts about the subject, but this is not useful when we want to be understood. The same works for technical drawings or sketches: not everyone has a trained look to interpret drawings. As a result, this code might not be processed as expected, interfering on the comprehension of the message.

It is not a coincidence that communication flaws happen so often. They are the main reason that causes clients to question so much. Most of the time we are used to worry only about saying what we think, but our real purpose should be to make sure the others will be able to absorb the content. Something that is obvious to us is not necessarily obvious to everyone. Therefore, the challenge of architects and neuroarchitects is to turn the process of communication with clients the most efficient as possible. This is why subjects like neuroscience applied to soft skills and storytelling are so important. But those will be discussed on the next articles....

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[1] HASSON, U., STEPHENS, G., SILBERT, L. (2010) Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A: 107(32): 14425–14430. Published online 2010 Jul 26. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1008662107

[2] HASSON, U., GHAZANFAR, A., GALANTUCCI, B., GARROD, S., KEYSERS, C. (2013) Brain-to-Brain coupling: A mechanism for creating and sharing a social world. Trends Cogn Sci: 16(2): 114–121. Published online 2012 Jan 3. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.12.007

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