Written by: Alena Ipanova, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Back in my student times, I went to an engineering job fair in Sweden. My peers wondered why, as the area I studied at that time was about Intercultural Communication. Something that might sound fluffy for engineering minds. Yet, I was curious and open to pursuing a communication research project in the engineering field.
I remember talking to thirty-plus companies, and when it came to my professional area (communication), the common phrase I heard was "We don't have anything for you in terms of communication. We are engineers, communication is not our part. We don't do that!"
My response got them laughing "What do you mean, you don't do that? Don't you communicate with your colleagues at work?"
I landed a communication research project in one of the tech companies in Sweden, but the point of this story is rather to emphasize that we all do that – we do communicate! Whether with words, silence, body language, smile, or rolled eyes. Whether we want it or not, the way we communicate impacts how well we understand each other, relate to each other, and work together.
As Tony Robbins wisely put "The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives." And today it warms my heart to see that more than 90% of engineers that I train in Cultural Intelligence and Intercultural leadership choose to focus on improving their communication with others as the main part of their final Action Plan.
Such skills as active listening, the ability to ask powerful questions, and developing trust might get the highest score in terms of importance. Yet, in my experience in the Cultural Intelligence field across various industries I see a clear pattern – three dimensions where misunderstandings happen more often as people might be reading the same book but on different pages, hence the storyline breaks.
I believe that understanding these cultural value dimensions might lay a solid foundation for your further work with communication skills development regardless of which industry you are in.
Let's explore these dimensions that might have a profound effect on the quality of our daily interactions at work and beyond.
1. Direct vs Indirect communication style
In communication, the distinction between direct (low-context) communication and indirect (high-context) communication, plays a crucial role.
Direct communication is more explicit and straightforward, “I say what I mean” type. Indirect communication is contextual, characterized by implied meanings and reading between the lines.
Imagine a conversation where you've impatiently thought, "Get to the main point!" Or perhaps encountered someone who seemed too direct, leaving you craving more context.
People vary in their preference for communication styles – some favor straightforward, explicit communication, while others lean towards a more subtle, indirect approach.
We might often exhibit a dominant communication style, but the dynamic nature of communication means that we may adapt depending on the context. For instance, one might employ a direct approach in daily interactions with colleagues but adopt an indirect and rather avoiding style during conflict situations.
The assumption that a person's communication style aligns with their preference for giving and receiving feedback can be misleading. Interestingly, the polls conducted in my training among 3000 engineers revealed that more than 60% of respondents had a disparity in how they prefer to give feedback versus how they like to receive it in terms of direct and indirect communication.
2. Hierarchical vs Egalitarian leadership style
The hierarchical Leadership style is formal, often with top-down decision-making processes.
The egalitarian Leadership style is more informal and consensus-oriented. The organizational structure is flat. The emphasis is on collaboration, open communication, and collective decision-making.
Much like the interplay between direct and indirect communication styles, we may lean towards a particular leadership style but often blend elements of both depending on the context. For instance, a leader might embrace a hierarchical approach when urgent and decisive action is required while opting for an egalitarian approach in situations that benefit from collective input and collaboration.
One of the most common challenges that I see people who relocate for work face stems from the gap between what they are used to and their new reality.
Imagine you've been working in a traditional hierarchical structure where your manager took all the decisions and your tasks were clearly defined not only in terms of what needed to be done but how exactly it needed to be done. Then you relocate to another culture/work culture with an egalitarian structure. Your manager tells you their door is always open for you to come with questions or just for a conversation. You might not dare to approach your manager in this way as you are used to something very different. Besides that, no one tells you how to do things, you have to decide that on your own. Wouldn't that be frustrating?
3. Task vs Relationship-based trust
Task-based trust hinges on the fulfillment of specific responsibilities and the successful completion of assigned tasks. This type of trust is deeply rooted in competence, reliability, and the consistent delivery of results. People place their confidence in others based on demonstrated skills, a reliable track record, and the expectation that professional obligations will be met.
On the other hand, relationship-based trust is constructed upon interpersonal connections, mutual understanding, and a shared sense of values. Unlike task-based trust, this form of trust transcends the confines of specific tasks, emphasizing the quality of relationships between individuals.
Imagine a scenario where your team is engaged in a critical project, and you discover that two team members are still testing functions promised for deployment to a client on a specific date. As stress level increases due to the looming deadline, the response from the other two team members "Don't worry, we have good relationships with our client, they'll understand," highlights a reliance on relationship-based trust.
Understanding the foundational basis of trust for both you and your colleagues becomes pivotal in situations like these. It prompts reflection on the interconnectedness of task and relationship-based trust and how these dynamics influence the team's approach to challenges and deadlines.
In this context, recognizing the balance between task-oriented efficiency and the strength of interpersonal bonds contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of trust dynamics within the team.
How to get to the same page with others now when you are aware of the impact these three dimensions might have on your communication at work?
Step 1. Get clear on your communication, leadership, and trust-development approach by diving into the following powerful questions:
What characterizes my dominant communication style in interactions with others?
Which form of communication resonates most with me, and conversely, which type of communication tends to be bothersome?
How does my communication style shift during conflict situations or when conveying a negative response?
What are my preferences regarding leadership styles, and how do I navigate between them in different situations?
In terms of feedback, what is my preferred method of receiving it, and how do I typically deliver feedback to others?
What specific elements form the basis of my trust in my team, colleagues, and manager?
Step 2. Discuss these three dimensions with your team, your colleagues, and your manager. Here are a couple of ways you can do that.
Share and discuss each others' preferences when it comes to communication, leadership, and trust development. Identify the gaps that might be between your team members' preferences and brainstorm on how you could bridge these gaps to create more synergy and understanding between your team members.
Take a more dynamic approach by encouraging team members to define each other's communication styles, leadership approaches, and trust-building preferences. Initiate a guessing game where team members speculate on each other's preferences, and then facilitate a collective discussion to enhance mutual understanding.
If you're eager to unlock the full potential of effective and enjoyable communication within your team, I'm here to support and guide you on this transformative journey.
Alena Ipanova, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Alena is an inclusive leadership enthusiast, passionate about people and cultures. Her mission is to help individuals and organisations reach their full potential by developing the ability to better relate to and work together with people who think and behave differently. With the background in psychology, education, intercultural leadership and 15+ years experience in international training programs in Europe and Asia, Alena supports individuals, teams and organisations in their growth and development. Working across different sectors and industries, Alena combines best practices and research to address the needs of her clients and help them generate impactful solutions