The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Totally Culture or Totally Individual?

Gente by Javier Lastras
Gente by Javier Lastras

“This is crap!”

Would you use these words to explain that you don’t like a proposal made by one of your colleagues, your supplier, your customer or your family members?

Do you differentiate between these situations and if so how?

A long time ago, this is something I might have said to my brother and probably also in some other circumstances. Nowadays this would feel like being very blunt. It feels like that since I learned more about feedback and differences in personality types. The essence of it is best explained through one of the core principles of the Process Communication Model®: “The way we say something often is much more important than what we say”.

Sure, this is a “no-brainer”. It is obvious that to have a successful exchange with somebody else, I have to use the same language they do, I will use the best words in order to persuade and I will also want to make sure, that the words are understandable. The later being for example the reason why I added a link to “no-brainer”, I wasn’t sure that its meaning “obvious conclusion” is understood all over.

In a face to face communication the amount of information available while communicating goes far beyond the information we can capture and only a small part of that is linked to words. Nevertheless “the way we say something” can be related to at least three aspects: the way we as a person perceive the world, the way we perceive the other and the individual context.

I tend to use the Process Communication Model to capture at least some of these individual aspects. It provides me with an easy method to structure and adapt the way I exchange with others and thus helps to reduce some of the complexity involved in communication. Going beyond, a widely asked question in that field is if Personality Type models can be used across cultures?

Having lived in several countries as well as changed several times my main language I have a special interest for this connection and started researching it. A few days ago I had the pleasure to meet Erin Meyer, one of the leading experts on the complexities of cultural differences. During her lecture I thoroughly enjoyed the way she unfolded the complexity of cultures and also noted several points which fit into “the ways different personality types would say something”.

One of these is described in her article How To Say “This Is Crap” In Different Cultures, where Erin explains what she calls “downgraders” and “upgraders”. The idea is that when giving feedback, in some cultures the feedback will be more direct than in others. One method to identify the difference, is to observe if words are included to either make the message feel less strong (downgraders) or stronger (upgraders).

In cultures using upgraders, the feedback will be more direct and use words like precisely, absolutely, strongly resulting in sentences like “this is absolutely inappropriate” or “this is totally unprofessional”. Whereas in cultures preferring a more indirect feedback downgraders like might, slightly, a little will be used to say for example “we are a little bit out of time” when there is none left.

A similar concept exists in the Process Communication Model, where a predictable distress sequence can be described for each Personality Type. Among the behavioral cues to be observed, we find the addition of “superfluous” words in the first degree mask (Driver) as well as an attacking behavior in the second degree masks.

A person showing a “Please You” Driver might phrase his feedback with “Maybe you could …” or “If I may suggest a little detail …”. On the other hand a person showing an Attacker Mask would phrase her feedback with “This lacks any precision” or “This report is totally lacks content”.

As usual concepts from two different models cannot be identical, but further research could provide more insight and link other behavioral cues with observed cultural behavior.

And already now, combining both types of cues enhances our ability to adapt and understand more than before.


[Original publication via, Juni 04, 2014]

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