L14- Voicing

If you grew up in North America or Europe and have lived and worked for some time in Asia, you must have experienced something similar to the following scenario in a meeting or conference among Asians:

    Many do not speak their mind in obvious deference to the boss, or for seeming fear of causing disharmony or ruining good interpersonal relationships, or because of a prevailing organizational culture against disagreements. The boss may be authoritative and he may have a habit of browbeating or putting down any idea of his subordinates. Women and juniors noticeably hesitate to speak most likely because they grew up in a culture where they are expected to just listen to men and elders. Opposing or different ideas that are suggested are expressed with painfully too much sugar-coating and diplomatic language.

If you are an Asian who has spent years in North America or Europe, you must have observed meeting or conference scenarios among Westerners similar to the following:

    Speakers are very direct and appear confrontational and even disrespectful. Ideas and counter-ideas fly in all directions and the debate is uncomfortable to Asian ears. The boss is not spared from opposing or critical views. People who are otherwise friends behave so strangely unfriendly and seemingly arrogant when they argue and debate their positions. After the meeting, everyone seems OK and so easily forget the heated and emotional meeting.

Have you personally experienced any of the above?

The manner that people voice their views in a group (including virtual e-group or discussion lists) determines whether and how far learning will happen in the group. If authentic sharing and group learning are objectives of a group, then it is useful for the group members to distinguish what are the more productive from the less productive ways of voicing.

From our experiences at CCLFI, and from the 12 Types of Learning described in another blog post, one way to be more aware of our habitual manners of voicing is through the following 12 Manners of Voicing:


The green areas tend to be more productive for group learning and mutual trust-building, especially those manners of voicing in the dark green area or described in bold letters. The brown areas tend to be less productive, especially the dark brown areas. I highlight respect — both intended and perceived — as a defining factor in how far communication and learning can or cannot proceed productively. This typology must be understood from the context of the earlier 12 Types of Learning.

If you are married or have been married, do you agree with me that during the courtship or dating stage your communications were in the green areas such as 3? After you are married or before you divorced or separated, did you also notice that your communications shifted more towards the brown areas? Couples married for decades stayed in Green Area 3 and/or at least one partner settled in the brown habits in Area 5.

Scientific discourse often lies in Areas 1 and 4. Generative dialogue lies in Areas 1, 3 and 4.

The stereotypically Asian authority-driven habits are also in the brown habits in Area 5 as well as in Areas 6, 10 and 12. These manners of voicing belong to Stage 1 of William Isaac’s four stages of dialogue. The Brown Areas 9-10 are more likely where stereotypically Western habits of speaking would likely land on; these latter manners of voicing belong to Isaac’s Stage 2. I will explain these stages in my later blog posts (L42 and L43).

These are only my personal impressions of stereotypes coming from eight years living in New York and travelling many times to eleven other Western countries; they are not the result of any statistical or scientific study so I may be wrong or inaccurate. My intention is to help us be more aware of our personal habits and unconscious group patterns of communication, and to contribute towards a more conscious and studied way of managing our group communications towards group learning and mutual trust-building.

What do you think?

Can you suggest how we can improve the 12 Manners of Voicing?

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