Communicating across preferences

Have you noticed that sometimes people don’t perceive your messages the way you intended? As leaders, we know that people have different communication styles and preferences. It can be challenging to adapt our own styles and help people understand what we want to say.

A Google search for “communication style differences” yielded about 3,650,000 results. Clearly many people recognize the challenge! Most of the resources I saw dealt with verbal and non-verbal communication preferences across cultures.

One resource that I particularly liked was a Cross-Cultural Communication 101 course from the U.S. Department of State. While it was written to assist U.S. citizens who are traveling and working abroad, it could also be useful for those of us who work with a multicultural audience. Some of the communication factors they cover include:

  • Different gestures, such as head nodding or finger pointing, mean different things across cultures.
  • Time has different meaning across cultures. For example, what is the appropriate time to show up for a party that starts at 8:30?
  • People from different cultures prefer different amounts of personal space.
  • Conversation norms, such as appropriate tone and volume levels, also vary across cultures. Are the two people in the photo above angry with each other or excited?

That last one is a challenge for me. As I was growing up with a mostly-female peer group, it was acceptable to talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences. In fact, the more engaged we were the more likely that was to happen. As an adult, that behavior doesn’t always express support and engagement. Sometimes, as my daughter would say, it’s “just rude.”

Even when working with a group of people who all grew up in Minnesota I’ve seen different preferences for verbal and nonverbal communication styles. Paying attention to my audience and adjusting my behavior accordingly has been a helpful leadership strategy.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

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