Skip to content

People Respond According to Their Internal Maps: Role of Internal Maps in Communication and Relationships

    Have you ever had a conversation with someone and felt like they just weren’t understanding you? Or maybe you’ve tried to explain something to someone, but no matter how many times you said it, they still didn’t get it.

    It’s frustrating, right? But what if we told you that it’s not necessarily your fault, or theirs? What if we told you that people respond according to their internal maps, and that understanding those maps can help you communicate better and build stronger relationships?

    In this article, we’ll explore what internal maps are, how they influence behavior, and how you can work with them to improve your communication and relationships. So let’s get started!

    • An internal map is a mental representation of the world that we carry with us, including beliefs, values, memories, and experiences.
    • Our internal map shapes our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and influences how we respond to different situations.
    • Understanding that everyone has their own internal map can help us practice empathy, active listening, and flexibility in our communication and relationships.
    • While we can strive to understand someone else’s internal map, we may never fully comprehend it due to its complexity and uniqueness.
    • Expanding our own internal map can help us grow as individuals and broaden our understanding of the world.
    • When our internal map conflicts with someone else’s, practicing empathy, active listening, and seeking common ground can help navigate these situations.

    What Are Internal Maps?

    People Respond According to Their Internal Maps

    Internal maps, as mentioned earlier, are mental models that help us make sense of the world around us. They are personal lenses through which we perceive, interpret, and engage with our experiences, beliefs, values, and culture. These internal maps are formed over time through our experiences, beliefs, values, and culture, and they shape our perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours.

    For example, if you grow up in a family where honesty is highly valued, your internal map might include a strong emphasis on truthfulness and integrity. This internal map would influence how you interact with others, how you make decisions, and how you perceive the world.

    Internal maps can also be applied to physical spaces, such as neighborhoods or cities. A mental map of a place might include the physical characteristics of that place, such as boundaries of a neighbourhood, or the attributes of a place, such as a neighbourhood’s perceived unsafe areas. These mental maps can be helpful for wayfinding and navigating new environments.

    Internal maps are not limited to geographical spaces; they can also be applied to abstract concepts, such as emotions, relationships, and beliefs. For instance, if you have a strong internal map of empathy, you might be more likely to understand and respond to the feelings of others.

    Internal maps are formed through a combination of our experiences, beliefs, values, and culture. They are influenced by our upbringing, our education, our relationships, and our environment. As a result, our internal maps can be both a reflection of our individuality and a reflection of the broader society in which we live.

    Understanding our internal maps can be helpful for personal growth and self-awareness. By examining our internal maps, we can gain insight into our beliefs, values, and behaviours. We can also identify areas where our internal maps might be limiting or distorted, and work to develop more accurate and helpful mental models.

    To summarise, internal maps are mental models that help us make sense of the world around us. They are formed through our experiences, beliefs, values, and culture, and they shape our perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours. Understanding our internal maps can be helpful for personal growth and self-awareness, and it can also help us navigate new environments and engage with others in more meaningful ways.

    The Role of Internal Maps in Behaviour

    So how do internal maps influence behavior? In short, they serve as a sort of filter through which we process information and make decisions.

    People Respond According to Their Internal Maps

    Think of internal maps as the navigational tools of your mind. They are the ingrained set of beliefs, values, and preferences that you’ve developed over time, often shaped by your experiences, culture, and personal reflections.

    These internal maps act like filters, coloring the way you perceive and respond to the world around you. Let’s break it down with an example. Imagine honesty is a key point on your internal map. When someone aligns with this value, you experience positive emotions like trust and respect. However, if someone deviates from this honesty principle, it might trigger negative emotions such as upset or betrayal.

    Now, consider punctuality as another element on your internal map. If timeliness is crucial to you, being late might irk you, evoking feelings of frustration. On the flip side, if flexibility is a prominent feature on your internal map, you might be more understanding of delays.

    The interesting part is that these internal maps not only guide our reactions but also shape our decision-making process. They serve as a subconscious compass, influencing the choices we make in various situations.

    Moreover, internal maps are not static; they evolve over time based on our experiences and the lessons we learn. Recognizing and understanding your internal maps can be a powerful tool for personal development. It allows you to navigate challenges, make better decisions, and foster positive relationships.

    In essence, our internal maps are like personalized blueprints, guiding us through the maze of life. They impact not only how we perceive the world but also how we interact with it. So, embracing self-awareness and regularly examining and adjusting these internal maps can be a key aspect of personal growth.

    See also  What's The Missing Link Between Where You Are And Where You Want To Go

    Understanding and Working with Different Internal Maps

    Understanding and navigating the diverse landscape of internal maps is indeed a key to fostering effective communication and building stronger relationships. Here are some strategies to put this knowledge into action:

    Here are some strategies for recognizing and working with different internal maps:

    Practice active listening. Active listening is a powerful communication skill that goes beyond merely hearing words; it involves a genuine effort to understand the speaker’s perspective. Here’s an expanded look at how to practice active listening:

    • Engage in Mindful Conversation:
      • When entering a conversation, consciously set aside distractions and focus your attention on the speaker.
      • Put away electronic devices and clear mental clutter to create an environment conducive to active listening.
    • Suspend Judgment and Preconceived Notions:
      • Approach the conversation with an open mind, temporarily shelving your own opinions and judgments.
      • Recognize that everyone has a unique internal map shaped by their experiences, and this diversity contributes to rich and varied perspectives.
    • Demonstrate Non-Verbal Engagement:
      • Use non-verbal cues to show that you are actively engaged. Maintain eye contact without staring, nod in agreement, and employ facial expressions that convey attentiveness.
      • These non-verbal signals reinforce your commitment to being present in the conversation.
    • Reflect on What You Hear:
      • Instead of passively absorbing information, take a moment to reflect on what the speaker is saying.
      • Consider the underlying emotions, motivations, and the context of their words. This reflective pause enhances your understanding.
    • Avoid Interrupting:
      • Resist the urge to interrupt, even if you disagree or have an immediate response. Allow the speaker to express their thoughts fully.
      • Interrupting can signal a lack of respect and hinder the free flow of information.
    • Ask Open-Ended Questions:
      • Foster a deeper understanding by posing open-ended questions that encourage the speaker to elaborate.
      • These questions invite a more comprehensive response, providing insights into the nuances of their perspective.
    • Paraphrase and Summarize:
      • Periodically paraphrase or summarize what the speaker has said. This not only confirms your understanding but also shows the speaker that you are actively processing the information.
      • It helps to clarify any potential misunderstandings and reinforces the connection.
    • Empathize with Emotions:
      • Pay attention to the emotional tone behind the words. Acknowledge and validate the speaker’s emotions.
      • Demonstrating empathy fosters a deeper connection and understanding, making the conversation more meaningful.
    • Be Patient and Give Space:
      • Allow moments of silence for the speaker to gather their thoughts. Silence can be a powerful tool in communication.
      • By being patient, you create a space for the speaker to express themselves more fully.
    • Offer Feedback and Affirmation:
    • Provide feedback that reflects your understanding of the speaker’s perspective. This could be as simple as saying, “I see,” or “I understand.”
    • Affirming their thoughts reinforces a positive and collaborative atmosphere.

    Pay attention to body language and tone of voice. Nonverbal cues, often overlooked but immensely significant, play a crucial role in understanding the intricate layers of human communication. Let’s delve into the expanded realm of paying attention to nonverbal cues:

    • Body Language as a Silent Communicator:
      • Body language is a silent communicator, conveying a wealth of information beyond words. Observing gestures, posture, and facial expressions provides insights into a person’s emotions and thoughts.
      • For instance, crossed arms might indicate defensiveness or resistance, while an open posture suggests receptivity and comfort.
    • Tone of Voice as an Emotional Palette:
      • The tone of voice acts as an emotional palette, painting the spoken words with sentiments that words alone may not convey.
      • A hesitant or shaky tone might signal uncertainty, indicating that the topic at hand may be conflicting with the individual’s internal map.
    • Eye Contact as a Window to Comfort:
      • The eyes, often referred to as the windows to the soul, can reveal a great deal about someone’s comfort level.
      • Avoiding eye contact may signify discomfort or a reluctance to engage with a particular topic. On the other hand, steady eye contact can denote confidence and sincerity.
    • Gauging Congruence Between Verbal and Nonverbal Cues:
      • Pay attention to the alignment or dissonance between verbal and nonverbal cues. When words and body language are congruent, it enhances the authenticity of the message.
      • Incongruence, where nonverbal cues contradict spoken words, may indicate underlying tension or unspoken concerns.
    • Microexpressions and Subtle Signals:
      • Microexpressions, fleeting facial expressions lasting just milliseconds, can provide glimpses into genuine emotions.
      • Subtle signals like a raised eyebrow, a slight smile, or a furrowed brow can convey nuances that might not be explicitly articulated.
    • Recognizing Comfort and Discomfort Zones:
      • Every individual has their comfort and discomfort zones, and nonverbal cues can offer clues about these boundaries.
      • Leaning in might signal engagement and comfort, while leaning back or creating physical distance could imply a need for space or discomfort.
    • Cultural Sensitivity in Nonverbal Cues:
      • It’s essential to consider cultural variations in interpreting nonverbal cues. Gestures and expressions may carry different meanings in diverse cultural contexts.
      • Being aware of cultural nuances helps in avoiding misinterpretations and promotes cross-cultural understanding.
    • Adapting Communication Based on Nonverbal Feedback:
      • Nonverbal cues serve as real-time feedback during a conversation. Being attuned allows you to adapt your communication style accordingly.
      • If nonverbal cues indicate confusion or discomfort, adjusting your approach can contribute to a smoother exchange.

    Practice empathy. Empathy, a cornerstone of meaningful connections, involves more than just acknowledging another person’s emotions. Let’s explore how to practice and cultivate empathy in our interactions:

    • Stepping into Their Shoes:
      • Cultivating empathy begins with the conscious effort to step into the other person’s shoes.
      • Imagine experiencing the situation from their perspective, considering their emotions, thoughts, and the context that shapes their worldview.
    • Understanding Emotional Landscapes:
      • Empathy involves delving into the emotional landscapes of others. Take a moment to understand the range of feelings they might be experiencing.
      • Recognize that emotions are complex and multifaceted, and different situations can elicit a spectrum of responses.
    • Exploring Influencing Factors:
      • Go beyond surface-level understanding by exploring the factors influencing their behavior. This includes considering their background, experiences, and current circumstances.
      • By acknowledging these influences, you gain a more comprehensive understanding of why they may respond the way they do.
    • Deviation from Expectations:
      • Empathy becomes especially crucial when someone’s behavior deviates from your expectations.
      • Instead of jumping to conclusions or making assumptions, try to understand the factors contributing to their actions. This perspective can unveil hidden struggles or challenges.
    • Avoiding Assumptions:
      • Empathy and assumptions are often at odds. The more empathetic you are, the less likely you are to make snap judgments about someone’s actions.
      • Resist the temptation to assume motivations or intentions, as these assumptions can hinder genuine understanding.
    • Promoting Compassionate Understanding:
      • The essence of empathy lies in promoting compassionate understanding. It’s about acknowledging the validity of the other person’s feelings and experiences.
      • By expressing genuine concern and understanding, you create an environment where open communication and connection can flourish.
    • Active Listening with Empathetic Intent:
      • Actively listening with an empathetic intent is a powerful way to cultivate empathy.
      • Focus on not just hearing words but understanding the emotions and nuances behind them. Reflective listening, where you acknowledge and validate their feelings, fosters a deeper connection.
    • Offering Support Without Judgment:
      • Empathy extends beyond understanding to offering support without judgment.
      • Instead of imposing your own judgments or solutions, empathetic support involves being present for the other person and providing a space where they feel heard and valued.
    • Empathy in Conflict Resolution:
      • In conflicts, empathy plays a pivotal role in finding common ground. Understanding the underlying emotions and concerns of all parties facilitates more effective and compassionate resolutions.
      • It fosters an atmosphere where individuals feel acknowledged, reducing tension and promoting cooperation.
    • Continuous Cultivation of Empathy:
      • Cultivating empathy is an ongoing process. Regularly reflect on your interactions, seeking opportunities to enhance your understanding of others.
      • Embracing empathy as a constant practice contributes not only to your personal growth but also to creating a more empathetic and compassionate community.
    See also  Unless You Create Your Own AURA - Success Would be Impossible

    Be flexible. Flexibility in communication is an invaluable skill, allowing us to navigate the diverse landscape of individual preferences and internal maps. Here’s a deeper exploration of how being flexible in communication enhances understanding and fosters stronger connections:

    • Recognition of Diversity in Internal Maps:
      • Embrace the understanding that each person possesses a unique internal map shaped by their experiences, values, and cultural background.
      • Recognizing this diversity lays the foundation for flexible communication, as it acknowledges that what resonates with one person may differ significantly from another.
    • Adaptation to Communication Styles:
      • The heart of flexibility lies in adapting your communication style to align with the preferences of the person you’re interacting with.
      • If directness is valued, adopting a straightforward approach can be more effective. On the contrary, if diplomacy and tact are essential, adjusting your communication style to be more nuanced demonstrates a keen awareness of the other person’s needs.
    • Tailoring Your Message:
      • Consider the specific language, tone, and level of detail that best align with the other person’s internal map.
      • Tailoring your message to resonate with their preferences enhances the likelihood of effective communication and minimizes misunderstandings.
    • Navigating Between Directness and Tact:
      • Striking a balance between directness and tact is a skill within flexible communication. Understanding when to be straightforward and when to employ diplomacy ensures that your message is not only clear but also considerate.
      • This nuanced approach acknowledges the importance of both honesty and sensitivity in different situations.
    • Empathy in Communication Flexibility:
      • Flexibility in communication is rooted in empathy. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes helps you better grasp their communication preferences.
      • By understanding their perspective, you can tailor your communication in a way that resonates with them, fostering a deeper connection.
    • Open-Mindedness and Adaptability:
      • Being flexible in communication requires an open-minded and adaptable mindset.
      • Recognize that what worked in one scenario may not be as effective in another. Flexibility allows you to adjust your approach based on the evolving dynamics of the conversation.
    • Respect for Different Perspectives:
      • Flexibility is a manifestation of respect for the diversity of perspectives. It signals a willingness to appreciate and honor the uniqueness of each individual’s internal map.
      • By adapting your communication style, you demonstrate that you value the richness that diverse perspectives bring to the conversation.
    • Building Bridges Through Flexibility:
      • Flexibility in communication acts as a bridge between differing internal maps, facilitating smoother interactions.
      • It encourages a collaborative atmosphere where communication becomes a shared exchange, leading to better mutual understanding and cooperation.
    • Enhancing Team Dynamics:
      • In professional settings, flexible communication is a catalyst for effective team dynamics.
      • Recognizing and adapting to the varied communication styles within a team fosters a more harmonious and productive work environment.
    • Continuous Learning and Improvement:
      • Flexibility in communication is a skill that evolves with continuous learning and self-reflection.
      • Regularly seeking feedback and being open to refining your communication style ensures a commitment to growth and adaptability.

    Build rapport. Building rapport is akin to crafting a sturdy bridge that spans the gap between individuals, fostering trust, and paving the way for effective communication. Let’s delve into the nuances of establishing connections and nurturing rapport:

    • Recognizing the Fundamental Importance:
      • Understand that establishing a connection is not just a nicety; it is a fundamental aspect of meaningful communication.
      • Recognizing the significance of rapport sets the stage for building relationships that are grounded in trust and understanding.
    • Seeking Common Ground:
      • Actively seek common ground with the person you’re communicating with. This could be shared interests, values, or experiences.
      • Common ground serves as the bedrock upon which the rapport is built, creating a sense of familiarity and shared understanding.
    • Art of Identifying Shared Interests:
      • Identifying shared interests involves keen observation and active listening. It could be a passion for a hobby, a similar career trajectory, or a mutual enthusiasm for certain topics.
      • Shared interests become conversational catalysts, providing a natural flow for discussions.
    • Values as Bridges Between Internal Maps:
      • Values are powerful connectors between internal maps. Identify and appreciate the values that resonate with both you and the other person.
      • Acknowledging shared values establishes a common ethical ground, strengthening the bond and promoting a sense of unity.
    • Experiences as Building Blocks:
      • Shared experiences, whether personal or professional, act as building blocks for rapport.
      • Reflecting on past experiences together creates a sense of camaraderie and reinforces the notion that you are both on a shared journey.
    • Active Listening for Rapport Development:
      • Active listening is a cornerstone of building rapport. Pay close attention to the other person’s words, emotions, and nonverbal cues.
      • By demonstrating that you are fully engaged in the conversation, you convey a genuine interest in understanding their perspective.
    • Creating a Positive and Open Atmosphere:
      • Foster a positive and open atmosphere during interactions. Positivity is contagious and contributes to a more pleasant exchange.
      • An open atmosphere encourages the free flow of ideas and opinions, building a foundation of trust.
    • Reciprocal Sharing:
      • Building rapport is a two-way street. Share aspects of yourself as well, allowing the other person to understand you better.
      • Reciprocal sharing creates a balanced and equitable connection, where both parties contribute to the rapport-building process.
    • Nonverbal Cues in Rapport:
      • Pay attention to nonverbal cues during the interaction. Nonverbal communication, such as mirroring body language or maintaining eye contact, reinforces the sense of connection.
      • Nonverbal cues can convey trust, sincerity, and a shared understanding, enhancing the overall rapport.
    • Trust as the Ultimate Outcome:
      • The ultimate goal of building rapport is the establishment of trust. Trust forms the bedrock of any meaningful relationship.
      • As rapport develops, trust grows organically, creating a solid foundation for effective communication and collaboration.
    See also  Employee-centric Learning Experiences: Igniting the Path to Success



    1. What exactly is an internal map?
      • An internal map is a mental representation of the world that we carry with us. It includes our beliefs, values, memories, and experiences, and influences how we perceive and interpret the world around us.
    2. How does our internal map affect how we respond to things?
      • Our internal map shapes our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It determines how we interpret and respond to different situations, and can influence our communication style, decision-making, and relationships.
    3. Can our internal maps change over time?
      • Yes, our internal maps can change as we gain new experiences, learn new information, and evolve as individuals. We may also consciously work to shift our internal maps through self-reflection and personal growth.
    4. How can we recognize when someone is responding based on their internal map?
      • We can often recognize when someone is responding based on their internal map by paying attention to their nonverbal cues, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. We may also notice patterns in their behavior or communication style.
    5. Can we change someone else’s internal map?
      • No, we cannot change someone else’s internal map directly. However, we can influence their map through our own behavior and communication style, and we can create opportunities for them to gain new experiences and learn new information.
    6. How can we use knowledge of internal maps to improve our relationships?
      • By understanding that everyone has their own internal map, we can practice empathy, active listening, and flexibility in our communication and relationships. This can help us build rapport, avoid misunderstandings, and create stronger connections.
    7. Is it possible for two people to have the same internal map?
      • While it’s possible for two people to share similar beliefs, values, and experiences, it’s unlikely that they would have identical internal maps. Each person’s internal map is unique, shaped by their individual life experiences and perspectives.
    8. How can we expand our own internal map?
      • We can expand our own internal map by seeking out new experiences, learning from diverse perspectives, and challenging our own beliefs and assumptions. This can help us grow as individuals and broaden our understanding of the world.
    9. What happens when our internal map conflicts with someone else’s?
      • When our internal map conflicts with someone else’s, it can lead to misunderstandings, disagreements, and even conflict. To navigate these situations, we can practice active listening, empathy, and flexibility, and seek to find common ground and mutual understanding.
    10. Can we ever completely understand someone else’s internal map?
      • While we can strive to understand someone else’s internal map through active listening, empathy, and communication, we may never fully understand it. Each person’s internal map is complex and unique, shaped by a lifetime of experiences and perspectives. However, by seeking to understand and respect each other’s internal maps, we can build stronger, more meaningful relationships.


    Understanding and working with internal maps can be a powerful tool for improving communication and building stronger relationships. By recognizing that everyone has their own internal map, and by practicing active listening, empathy, and flexibility, you can navigate the social and emotional terrain of life with greater ease and effectiveness. So the next time you’re struggling to communicate with someone, remember that they’re responding according to their internal map, and that understanding that map can help you find common ground and build stronger connections.

    Watch the video to better understand the concept.


    Leave a Reply