Even though there are hundreds of communication theories out there, and you probably know some already, you should give this one a look. It is considerable easy to grasp and particularly useful for the general understanding of communication, and more so for intercultural communication.
Let me ask you:
Why are messages so often differently understood by the receiver than they were originally intended by the sender?
Are you aware that you also have four ears? I reveal a secret: You do. And another secret: every person you are talking to has four “beaks”. And the same works the other way around!
In this model it is explained that there are four facets of each message that is conveyed, to the same extend there are four facets in the way the message can be received. This helps to understand the potential of misunderstanding, values and perceptions in conversations, the context of conversations and the intentions, to only name a few aspects which play a role in communication.
To learn how to use it in everyday communication, follow the exercise below. The picture will enlarge by clicking it.
Important note and food for thought:
Communication is a crucial part of human interaction at work. Take note that the sides of the square are the same length referring to the fact that all four facets in communication are of same importance, yet each layer of the model is misunderstood depending on the individual. To learn more on communication nuances, please read “Accents and perceptions” article.
Everyone communicates differently and only because there is communication (as in an exchange of words and signs), it does not mean that the communication is effective. Find out more about different ways to communicate read “Different ways to communicate” article.
We all speak differently! In terms of speed, word choice, loudness, but also due to accents and dialects or fluency in a foreign language, to only name a few linguistic aspect. As this might be well known, what is less so known is the effect this has, particularly unconsciously, on our perception of a person or a group.
Let me ask you:
Did you know that the accent can significantly alter the perception, and consequently behavior, about a person or a whole group? That sometimes this perception of language-based bias can be positive or negative, depending on the context and outcome of the interaction?
Look at the example exercise on the next page to understand better what this is about/ to learn about your possible biases about accents.
Why is this important?
Certain accents and simple alterations in the way someone speaks can, mostly unconsciously or unreflectedly, cause to trigger prejudice or preconceptions about individuals and groups. Different pronunciation of words can be caused simply due to the transfer of someone’s own mother tongue’s linguistic traits to a foreign language.
Why do we have unconscious biases? Humans have a need to understand and get uncertain situations under control. By unconsciously categorizing and assuming about the interacting partner, we try to make sense of the other person in order to fall back onto what we know and how we can interact with that person.
It is scientifically shown that ethnocentrism negatively influences the perception of non-native accent speaker’s social perception, attractiveness and task performance, among other aspects. So, become aware of your own ethnocentric tendencies (ethnocentrism = characterized by or based on the attitude that one’s own group is superior) to not let your perception about a foreign individual influence you.
Food for thought:
Has it happened to you that you feel uncomfortable and unsure about your accent when you speak? Why do you think that is? Think about the previous input in this chapter and think about things like categorization, stereotypes, being judged and what that means, etc.
Communication is the first and most obvious way we get in contact with one another. We actually convey much more information through our body language than we possibly think, such as through posture, facial expressions, gestures and the look in the eye. Especially in intercultural exchanges this is crucial as non-verbal communication holds a potential for misunderstanding because the interlocutors don’t share linguistic and cultural backgrounds; consequently non-verbal communication gains a pivotal role.
Let me ask you:
Do you know what signals you send with different tones of your voice to your counterpart?
What affect does it have when your counterpart does not look at you while speaking with you?
Why is this important?
A large part of our communication is done through non-verbal communication. What that is? Researcher define it “as the transfer and exchange of messages in any and all modalities that do not involve words.”*
Aspects like paralanguage, voice, tonality, speaking rhythm and intonation, gestures, mimics, body posture, physical appearance and many more play a role.
What’s the tricky part with this? Every single person communicates with body language, but 1) it is up to each person how you interpret it, 2) this interpretation is culturally related, context dependent and unconsciously done, and 3) only very few people are consciously aware about their non-verbal communication habits.
It is essential to have awareness about your own perceptions: As body language is to a great extend employed unconsciously, the interpretation of such is as well, as we are looking at the world through our own eyes (to read more on this, please visit Culture-Why does it always start with me.) It behaves the same with body language: crossed hands and leaning back in a chair may not automatically mean disinterest or dismissal. The more we understand the role socialization plays in this, the less likely it makes us feel frustrated or confused when these situations occur.
An example from a Finnish context:
“We Finns are accustomed to a firm handshake to show our trustworthiness and sincerity. People who have a very light handshake, like a “dead fish” as we say, are interpreted to lack strength of character or to be indifferent to meeting us. In certain other cultures, our firm handshake is a sign of aggressiveness whereas a light handshake is the proper, polite and respectful one.” – Finnish senior HR consultant
The picture will enlarge by clicking it.
Your body language should be congruent with what you are saying. That’s why it is important to know how your unconscious body language is in order to persuade the image you want to get across.
Important to also recall and keep in mind: Body language is highly context dependent. Do you have the same body language when you talk to your boss as when you talk to your partner/child/friend? Not very likely, so keep this in mind when interpreting the body language of the counterpart.
Food for thought and things to consider that play a role in non-verbal communication in an intercultural context: