People communicate their thoughts, ideas, knowledge and fears differently in conflict situations. Managers and team members should know and understand these different styles of communication to avert conflicts over perceptions of someone’s actions or words. Team-building exercises before field deployment help people to get to know each other and understand how their colleagues communicate. Empathy for another viewpoint greatly aids in prevention and resolution of conflict.
M.R. Hammer claims that people’s communication styles about conflict lie along two continuums. The first continuum is how we voice our disagreements. Do we give others clues about our views and describe them with stories and metaphors? This is an indirect style. At the opposite end of the continuum is the direct style, in which a speaker bluntly explains exactly what they disagree about. A direct speaker will often look a listener in the eye, while an indirect speaker might prefer to send a subtle message.
The second line described by Hammer is the expressiveness continuum. Some people are very extroverted and expressive with their emotions. They may show their emotions openly on their face or even communicate with their whole body how they feel. People at the opposite end of this continuum are very quiet, introverted people, or are not comfortable showing their emotions openly to others, especially to a group of unfamiliar people.
This type of person keeps their emotions controlled, but tries to speak clearly and accurately about their disagreements directly to the other person. They often use objective facts rather than opinions and feelings.
These people also prefer to keep their emotions in control and to speak indirectly, using metaphors or other techniques to prevent a conflict from escalating and damaging the relationship.
People in this group are more comfortable with feelings and express them more openly. They try to be direct about what their concerns are and are often passionate in their conversation.
This type of person is expressive of emotions and distress about the conflict; however, they are not comfortable with talking directly about the content. This style uses a more associative argument structure and relies on mediators to deliver messages.
There is no ‘normal’ or ‘correct’ style of communication, it simply varies between people and cultures. Communication styles can vary between people from the same family or community, and between people of the same gender. As we work with people from different communities and countries, it can be expected that we will meet people whose communication styles may differ from our own. It is, therefore, important to clear up misunderstandings and misinterpretations early on in a relationship, and to be open to different styles of communication.
Hammer, M. R., (2005) The Inter-cultural Conflict Style Inventory: A conceptual framework and measure of intercultural conflict resolution approaches, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, pp675-695