The best communication practice: acknowledge, accept, adapt.
In workshops entitled "Skills for building effective dialogue" I often use Dr Mitchel Hammer's IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) to demonstrate the different communication styles that people develop due to their cultural background and also individual preferences. The science and research behind the IDI is that there are four types of communication styles based on whether we express ourselves directly or indirectly and whether our emotions are expressed in a restrained or expressive manner. These communication methods are known as discussion, accommodation, engagement, and dynamic styles.
Photo courtesy of Mark König - ,Unsplash
Having lived in a country where the inclination is strongly towards indirect communications, I have found myself at times baffled and confused about how to interpret a message - or, as it's the case more often - the lack of any message. I hear the voice in my head asking: was that a yes, a no, or a maybe? Why can't this person just say it as it is? If they just said what they mean, I wouldn't have to ask numerous times and I could move forward one way or another. On the other hand, perhaps I appear to them as too direct, blunt or bold. But precisely because of the indirect way they communicate, I will never know and therefore, our communications will remain ineffective or will come to a halt altogether.
So how can we turn this situation on its head so that all involved can retain their particular communication style whilst also establishing an effective communication channel? How can we enrol others into our sphere of influence?
The key to establishing and maintaining communications across the various styles is to have a strong sense of awareness, acceptance and adaptation. Acknowledging that we may be talking to someone from a different culture (even if they live in the same town or work for the same organisation as ourselves), puts things into perspective. We could get frustrated because the other person is different to us, or we can accept that people tick in different ways. The challenge then is to adapt.
I am someone who likes to use direct and clear language to say exactly what I mean in an emotionally controlled manner. The IDI puts me under the "discussion" type of communicator. However, as mentioned above, I know that some people are put off by my ways. So although I am aware and accept other people, I may lack the know-how to adapt because I am hard-wired to communicate in a certain manner.
It took a workshop aimed at young people to unravel this. The challenge set for the delegates was to find a constructive way to have a sensitive conversation with another person. I demonstrated how physically approaching someone head-on or directly from behind can be perceived as intimidating or even hostile. The delegates agreed that the best option was to move towards the person from the side. In this way, I could still directly address them, but in a roundabout way that allowed for physical, mental, and emotional space for the person to process our communication without feeling overwhelmed. This exercise was as much a metaphor for how we can establish a communication channel that is not too direct but still gets to the point.
If we focus our attention on wanting to enrol others into our sphere of influence rather than which style of communication we use to do so, we can achieve the best outcome for all involved.