The term congruence is most often used in geometry. It means agreement and alignment. We can also be congruent in our communicating.
All behavior is our way of showing what is going on inside us. It is a kind of communication. I may not actually say “I like you”, but many different parts of me can tell you this. I may show it by rapport, through body language, the way I talk to you, or through doing supportive things for you.
Channels of communication
We have many different ways to get our message across – even if we don’t want the other to know, or don’t know consciously ourselves. Our words, tone, gestures, body language, eye gaze, facial expressions all say something. We can think of these different ways as channels or tracks. Our representational systems are different channels
In a video, there are several tracks, for the music, for the picture, narration, special and sound effects. Have you ever watched a movie and felt something was not quite together? In the movie Troy for instance, I noticed a bedraggled bunch of barbarians is on its way to fight and in the background is the sound of the stomping of a vast disciplined army.
When all of our communication channels are saying similar things, we are congruent. Our message matches overall without conflict. My words are saying “I like you” and I am saying it in a warm tone with smiling eyes.
Powerful communicators express themselves congruently. We unconsciously accept what they are saying because they truly believe it at that moment. Unfortunately, it may not be true, but for them at that moment with a certain definition/meaning, it is. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”
The basis of lie detection is congruence – the words matching internal processes. My words say “I didn’t do it”, and my heart rate has just surged, perspiration increased and I glanced away (or whatever my individual unconscious response to a lie is)
When our channels are not saying the same thing, we are in conflict at some level. I am saying, “I like you”, in a harsh tone of voice with my mouth imitating a budgies bottom.
Incongruence doesn’t just show itself when talking to others. Signs of conflict or lack of alignment.
- Hesitancy about doing something
- Doubts about a course of action
- Use of the words such as “but”, “although”, “however”
- Changing your mind about something frequently depending on your state
Incongruence isn’t a necessarily bad thing. It is powerful information that something is not right or there is a conflict. Have you ever dated someone and then later realized you had overridden a certain feeling that something was wrong with your compatibility? Checking out those intuitions about workplaces or smooth sales people can save a lot of heartache.
In every situation, there is an upside and a downside. We cannot expect perfect solutions, only workable or optimal ones. I can be completely congruent about doing a project because I can accept the downside.
Many people make themselves incongruent by their mental strategies.
- Looking for all the things that could go wrong
- Searching for flaws in a person
- Questioning whether you are doing the right thing
- Looking for something better
Types of Incongruity
- Simultaneous – Mostly, this is what we’ve discussed – when the person gives conflicting messages at the same time. My words and tone don’t agree. I have reservations about a course of action because I can see an upside and a downside and they are about even. I am not sure I want to work with someone. Something is not quite right.The NLP Reframing technique and the NLP Swish are useful ways to integrate this kind of incongruity. Changing strategies (creating doubt) or Meta Programs (i.e. Global Specific or Chunk Size Meta Program, Relationship Filter) can be helpful.
- Sequential – This is when the person gives conflicting messages one after the other. Here we are dealing with two separate parts or two different maps of the same territory. Choosing one response at one time and then another at another time.You may notice this kind when someone says “on the one hand I want X, but on the other I want Y”This kind of incongruity is usually state dependent. One part wants to smoke and one doesn’t, it’s a parts conflict.
Consider someone with a drinking problem. When sober and hung-over, she congruently never wants to drink again. She can make all kinds of agreements and commitments and sincerely believe them. When in drinking mode, someone else made all those commitments. The drinking part needs to make the commitment, not the sober part
Parts negotiation and the Visual squash are useful ways to integrate a sequential incongruity.