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Summary of Normative Communication Styles and Values

The purpose of the Summary of Normative Communication Styles and Values chart is to identify arenas of difference between ethnic groups that can destroy trust and respect when the differences are unknown to one or both parties in a communication. These unknown or invisible differences in communication style and values also create difficulties because they may be presumed to be individual personality or ethical issues. .

To use an example from another field, persons with disabilities often find that they are left out of conversations, not given eye contact, and subtly avoided or excluded in other ways at a personal level. This avoidance may be invisible to all but the persons with disabilities. Children are taught, at an early age, not to stare at people who are different. They are taught not to ask persons with disabilities "embarrassing" questions. In short, children are taught that it is not socially safe to interact with persons with disabilities--or anyone who is very different from them. One result of such training may be for adults to unintentionally avoid persons with disabilities, as well as persons who are different from them in other ways. As children we were not sure why we were discouraged from interacting; as adults we are often not even aware how and when we avoid interaction with others.

The chart may therefore be used in a training or self-assessment activity, as well as for information to improve communication. (See the Assessment Tools section of this guide.) As a self-assessment or training tool, the chart may help in the following ways:

  • Provide participants with a sense of excitement and interest regarding the exploration of less-obvious ethnic differences
  • Help participants feel more comfortable talking about issues related to ethnic and cultural differences
  • Increase the awareness of participants regarding their own ethnicity, as well as the ethnicity of others; this awareness is a foundation for improving cultural competence.
  • Provide an assessment tool for clarifying ethnic patterns

How are individual differences taken into account in a summary of ethnic patterns? How about the problem of stereotyping people?

One cannot know an individual's communication style or values based on group affiliation.

Individuals may vary from group norms because of bicultural skills, adaptation to the mainstream culture, assimilation, variations in heritage, amount of exposure to cultural norms, living abroad, or other reasons. Persons may not have the heritage and/or cultural affiliation they "appear" to have. Even if they do, they may vary from the group norms on some values or communication behaviors.

If individuals can vary so much from how they "appear," how can one use a summary of patterns? What is a "correct" use of the comparison of group patterns?

Even though individuals vary from group norms, research has shown that normative patterns do exist for each ethnic group.

One purpose of the summary of patterns is to help those who are ethnically "European or Anglo American" to understand that they do, in fact, have an ethnic pattern that is normally invisible to them. European Americans are not just "Heinz 57" or just "Americans," although these are common responses when European Americans are asked to state their cultural affiliation; when applied to themselves, culture is often a fuzzy concept. European Americans focus more on the present and the future, rather than trying to understand how their views--handed on from others--fit within the world community. This too is an ethnic or cultural value.

How can we adapt effectively if we are cannot see how our views fit within the larger world community?

European Americans do have a specific ethnic experience, a point of view, and a set of biases about what "normal" should be. That view about normalcy affects how they treat others in powerful--and invisible--ways.

Invisible biases need to become visible, and be seen in relationship to other communication styles and values. Research on intercultural communication suggests that this is a vital early step in handling discrimination and is certainly necessary in order for mainstream agency administrators to improve their cultural competence. Each of us has biases; we gain our biases naturally as we are socialized within any culture or ethnic group.

Having biases is not what causes most of the harm.

People are hurt when we fail to "see" our biases, understand them, and then use our improved self-understanding to become more effective in adapting our views and behaviors to the needs of others.

What is your communication style? Go to My Communication Style and check the boxes to summarize your own communication style when working with someone in a work setting. Then compare your communication style with the normative communication style of someone with a different ethnic background. Go to Normative Communication Styles to see different patterns from your own. Where are the biggest differences? Do you have a strategy to bridge those differences?

Next Chapter
Ten Myths That Prevent Collaboration Across Cultures

First Chapter
Executive Summary and List of Chapters

Candia Elliott, Diversity Training Associates
R. Jerry Adams, Ph.D., Evaluation and Development Institute
Suganya Sockalingam, Ph.D., Office of Multicultural Health, Department of Human Resources, Oregon
September 1, 2010

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