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Learning Objectives

  • Learn to account for how another person may react to your messages.
  • Learn to recognize how temporary situations may influence the other person’s response to your message.
  • Learn strategies to better know the other person and recognize how their experiences might impact your communication interactions.


“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”
—Carl Jung


You have probably noticed that you don’t have control over the other person in a communication interaction. But, you can learn to understand the other person better, predict their behaviors, and plan responses in an effective manner. By considering the other persons’ perspective and what may influence how they hear and respond to your message, you will ultimately be better prepared to plan for and navigate the communication interaction.


When I communicate a message to someone else, how the other person reacts is:

The best answer is “c”. Although another person’s reaction to your message is not something you have much control over, it is to your advantage to try and predict her/his reaction and plan accordingly. By anticipating the other person’s reaction you are likely to prepare better in the first place and be able to adapt when the interaction proceeds differently than you anticipated.

Anticipating the Other Person and Reactions

As you prepare to deliver your message, it is important to consider who the other person is that will be receiving your message. Several characteristics contribute to "the Other" in your exchange: their personality and interpersonal style and their opinions, but also more temporary things such as what kinds of stresses they have in their life or even how their day is going.

Consider that even though your message may be well planned, the following factors could influence how your message is received. The other person could be:

  • having a bad day
  • under a lot of pressure
  • experiencing relationship difficulties
  • feeling homesick
  • tired from studying
  • overworked in the lab
  • struggling financially
  • dealing with difficult people daily
  • uninterested in what you are saying
  • managing childcare responsibilities
  • giddy over receiving a special award
  • excited about an upcoming opportunity to present research

The key is to consider the interpersonal style and personality of the other person in order to better predict how those will affect how your message is received. Include other factors that are less constant (such as the types of things on the list above) in predicting the other person’s response. For example, if your professor is up for a tenure review and a grant proposal is due next week, it’s probably not the best time to ask for a day off. Don’t be surprised if she says no! And don’t take it personally.

Getting to Know Your Audience

One of the best ways to predict what is going on with the other person is to make an inventory of what you know about her or him and then to try to fill in the gaps around the things you don’t know. If you don’t feel like you know the other person well, take some time to observe (not like a science experiment; rather pay more attention during the time you spend with the person).

For example, you may have observed that:

  • One of your classmates, Esteban, is always in a hurry and can’t be bothered with small talk.
  • A lab partner, Raymond, seems pretty tired lately.
  • An advisor, Dr. Hassan, is constantly telling you that he’s busy and to “reschedule for another time.”

Also, take into account what you know about their personal situations:

  • Esteban has another job outside of school doing consulting.
  • Raymond’s wife just had a baby.
  • Dr. Hassan has been asked to take on more advisees and teach an extra class now that Dr. Lu is department chair.

Consider the other person’s objectives in the moment:

  • Esteban is not terribly concerned with getting more publications and he constantly expresses that he can’t wait to finish his program.
  • Raymond wants to be involved in the planning, but needs morning meetings so that he can be home in the afternoons to help his wife caring for their new baby.
  • Dr. Hassan is stressed about getting a proposal in by the next day. Staying away from him is one option, but offering to proofread or check refs might be well-received.

Remember that successful negotiation requires a focus on common goals1. Understanding the other person’s objectives will help you to frame the communication in a way that is mutually beneficial. Accounting for each of these factors along with the other person’s interpersonal style and the other things in her immediate life will help you to better predict how the other person will respond.


  1. Babcock, L. & Laschever, S. (2009). Ask for it. New York: Bantam Dell.

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