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Update Your Communications File Cabinet with Good Dialogue and Trustworthy Practices

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Friday, August 18, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Is it possible to not communicate? That was a question Minna J. Holopainen of InFlux Communications, LLC, posed to a rapt audience at the 2017 ASAP Global Alliance Summit “Profit, Innovation, and Value for the Partnering Enterprise” held in San Diego, California, last March. “You are communicating even if someone calls, and you decide to not pick up the phone. We are all at the same time engaging in communication practices. We swim in streams of communication practices all drawn from a pool of meanings developed over a lifetime,” she explained in her practical session “Cross-Cultural Communication Skills for Building Collaboration in Alliance Partnerships.”

“Think back as far as you can remember. Think of the first chair you sat on,” she coached the audience. “Think of all chairs you’ve seen or heard about? Can your chair file in you mind be like anyone else’s? They can never be exactly the same,” she said. “Now think of a more abstract example: A good friend. For some, a friend is someone who laughs at you but doesn’t bother you. To someone else, a good friend checks in every day.”

Every day we engage in a common practice that updates our files. We reconstruct each time we communicate. According to this model, communication is not merely a transmission of ideas. It is meaning and activity, explained the San Jose State University lecturer.

Holopainen then talked about the importance of maintaining our “trust” file, which is so essential in alliance partnershipsor any partnership, for that matter.  The “trust” file can be added to in positive or negative ways: “We create something. There is an outcome. What happens if things go bad? Whose fault is it? It’s shared. We are all in it together,” she added. “Learning Outcome No. 1: Trust is mainly communication.”

Relationships move into a sphere of harm when you call someone stupid, she emphasized. “You want to move to the sphere of value. How do you move from one sphere to another? In communication, you discover your differences and get challenged.”

Dialogue is also important. Speak in a way that helps others listen. Listen in a way so that others will want to speak, she said. Pay attention. Dialogue has three key components:

  1. Hold your ground. Say what you want.
  2. Be open to the other, not in the way that you can trick someone later, but be open to be changed by the action.
  3. Stay in the tension between 1. and 2.:  Keep a balance between autonomy and collaboration.

She then applied her communication theories to cross-cultural skills. You can remake good cultural communication skills by practicing good communication behaviors. You need to manage both the relationship and the task, she said. 

“Instead of teaching ‘This is how to communicate with this one specific culture,’ it’s more difficult than that. Instead of teaching specific skills for Japanese, we need to teach skills to deal with diversity. Be open to your ear and ask: ‘Am I making this person uncomfortable?’”

Communication is an art. You make it work for you in the way it fits in your relationships, she noted. But be sensitive about when it’s appropriate. Storytelling is a great technique: It carries the listener into the story world … and into a framework that starts making sense, she explained. When you apply it to the situation, you understand it better and can start feeling empathy more easily. “There are also organizational stories. It is a whole system of values packaged,” she concluded. In the art of storytelling, “you can be strategic about how to make good stories that are inclusive.” 

Tags:  Alliance Partnerships  Communication  cross-cultural  culture  InFlux Communications  Minna J. Holopainen  storytelling 

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