November 18, 2019 ~ 4 min read

Introducing the MAP for interpersonal communication

SpeakingWritingWeekly Tips

There's something magic about acronyms. I've written before about a number of reasons we like them, but the short of it is: They help us remember things.

For that reason, I've been working on some acronyms to help remember key concepts about communication, and I'd like to introduce one today.

This acronym describes some key characteristics about how people perceive information. Keeping these things in mind will help you better structure and act on your communications, whether you are writing or speaking, one on one or one to many.

Here it is: MAP. Standing for Memory. Aura, and Perspective - three key characteristics of perception that should inform our efforts every time we speak or write.

M is for Memory

The first letter, 'M', is for memory. This is something I've written about before, and is a super important and powerful factor in structuring your communications.

People can only hold a limited set of "chunks", or ideas, in their head at one time. The exact number varies a bit by person and idea type, but is always less than or equal to nine and for most items may be five or less.

This means that you cannot tell people too much all at once. And you must structure your writing or speaking to allow it to "chunk" naturally, using tactics like starting with your conclusion to create structure and allow listeners or readers to not have to remember everything all at once.

I'll explore more implications in the future, but this is possibly the most fundamental limitation we have as communicators. If you want to be understood, you must structure what you say or write to minimize the burdens on short-term memory.

A is for Aura

The second letter, 'A', is for aura. I use 'aura' to describe the combination of the halo effect and the horn effect, two related and universal biases.

The affect is simple: People overgeneralize.

If someone feels positively about you in one dimension, they will feel positively about you in others. If they think you are nice, they're more likely to think you are truthful, and smart.

Conversely, if someone feels negatively about you in one dimension, they will feel negatively about you in others. If they think you are a jerk, they're also more likely to think you are stupid, wrong, or a liar.

This has a number of implications for communication. It means you'll want to work on improving your relationship with the people you're communicating with.

It means that injecting some humor can help you to teach. That dressing nicely can make you more likely to be believed. And that being kind can help your criticisms to be heard.

How you are perceived is global, and if you want to be heard, you cannot neglect how you come across.

P is for Perspective

The final letter in our 'MAP' is 'P' for perspective. Everyone views the world from their own perspective, and if you want to be heard you need to figure out how to connect to that perspective.

Sometimes this is as simple as setting context. Restate a problem or highlight why you're writing an email to reconnect your audience to a previously shared point.

Other times this requires a lot of time to invest a relationship, build a mental model of another person's needs and desires, and co-create a shared language.

Regardless if you are trying to communicate without understanding your audience's perspective and connecting to it, you are doomed to fail. You may be heard, but you will not be understood.

Wrapping up the MAP

So that's the MAP. I hope it's valuable to you. Personally, I've found that formulating this has given me a structured way to think about and explain a lot of the practices I've learned over the years, and a quick way to remember them.

Do let me know what you think, if anything is confusing, or you have any questions.

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Kevin Ball

Hi, I'm Kevin Ball (alias KBall). I'm a software engineer turned trainer and coach focused on communication and leadership skills. You can follow me on Twitter, or check out my software-focused work at