In the field of communication, there is something that is known to great communicators but often ignored by many others, which is the ability to sense the values and beliefs held by others and making it a point not to offend by infringing on these values/beliefs. It is important at this point to highlight that others usually do not tell us what values/beliefs that they hold in their conversations and sometimes, these values/beliefs are held by them at a subconscious level and hence they are unaware of it as well.
It is interesting to note that we are not born with such values/beliefs in life but rather, they are either inculcated into us by our parents/teachers or we have developed/ pick up such values/beliefs at some point in our lives. They may be positive or negative but the more important thing to take note is that we usually live our lives according to them and hence it is important not to infringe on others’ values/beliefs so as to avoid offending them.
So, what are these values/beliefs? These values/beliefs vary among individuals and groups, hence it is almost impossible to define them. They run the gamut from positive values such as being respectful to elders and being filial to our parents to not-so-positive ones such as prioritising leisure over work and being too individualistic to the point of being self-centred. Most of us usually live by our values/beliefs for years and thus, it has become habitual. While it’s possible to be acquire new values/beliefs and get rid of new ones, what is important for all communicators is to note the existing values/beliefs held by different individuals and communicate to their values, since doing otherwise will hinder the success of most communications.
However, if people whom we converse do not overtly state their values/beliefs (which usually does not happen), how are we able to identify the values/beliefs held by them? Usually, a person’s receptivity to our responses to their questions/comments in the midst of the communication process is reflected in their non-verbal responses, such as their facial expression, tone of voice, gestures, body language and emotions.
Here are some examples of signs of discomfort when people’s individual values are breached:
- Changing the subject: When someone’s values/beliefs is breached, they will usually try to change the subject. One common example will be asking the age of someone, especially a lady. If she holds the belief that a lady’s age should never be revealed, she will change the subject of the topic. Hence, it is important for communicators to take note of such abrupt change in other’s response, as well as their tone of voice (which might become cold at this point) and their facial expression (which may become a little stern at this point as well).
- Drop in the frequent of eye contact: When we sense that the other party seems to reduce the amount of eye contact with you. While this often implies anger, a more probable cause might be the fact that we have inadvertently mentioned something that has gone against their values/beliefs. This is especially so if we are the ones who are talking and they are the ones who are listening. Once again, it will be good to observe their facial expressions and tone of voice to confirm this.
- Remaining very silent for long periods of time during conversations: When one’s values/beliefs is infringed, there’s a strong tendency for him/her to remain silent for a substantial period of time, often without eye contact with the speaker. Sometimes, he/she might respond but their responses are often very curt (which is an indirectly indicator to cut short the conversation but most speakers do not notice this subtle indicator). One good way to resolve this issue and to verify this is to ask the listener for his/her point of view. They might relent and respond positively to our point of views but we should be able to tell if they agree whole-heartedly from their body language.
It is important to note that while a person may comply with our points of views verbally, they are often unable to conceal their true feelings non-verbally, so we should be very observant of any changes – no matter no subtle – in their tone of voice, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and other aspects of body language.
We should be mindful of other’s values/beliefs so as to better communicate with them. However, this does not mean that we should adhere totally to their point of view. Rather, we should make clear our point of views and in the event that we sense that some individuals are not receptive to our points of view, we should immediately invite them to voice their thoughts on the issues. Great communications take place not because we are willing to be submissive and comply with other’s points of views but rather, we should make clear both our stand and be receptive to others as well so that communications can be continuous and meaningful.
In another words, great communicators agree to disagree.