4.4: Style-shifting

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Aim: To understand the concept and feel of style-shifting, and how to put it into practice.


Style-shifting is the ability to expand our own views, behaviors and thought patterns and chose the appropriate style according to the situation.

Cross-cultural communication

It is a significant skill to be able to adjust our style in situations where we are interacting with people from different cultures. The key is to learn the other’s cultural values and communication styles. For example, Japanese communication styles tend to be more indirect and formal than most European styles. An enthusiastic, direct and fast speaker, should therefore become more patient and silent and soften his / her voice when dealing with Japanese people.

Why style-shift?

Style-shift is always a personal choice depending on the situation. As a general rule in communication, if we want to interact effectively it is probably better that we make the most effort to style-shift.


A key ingredient in style-shifting is the ability to handle the discomfort we feel in doing something in a very different way to ”normal”. Here are a few simple style-shifts you can make to practice:

– Put your hands together and cross your fingers as you normally would. Which thumb is on top? Now cross your fingers with the other thumb on top.
– Fold your arms as normal. Now fold your arms with the other arm on top.
– Imagine shaking hands with the person sitting next to you very softly. Now strongly.
– Imagine holding a conversation and avoiding direct eye contact. Now keep strong eye contact.
– Imagine sitting close to the person you are talking with. Sit at a greater distance.
– Imagine using a lot of gestures as you talk. Sit on your hands.
– Imagine being very direct in your language. Be very indirect and polite.
– Make a lot of listening noises and nod. Be silent and still as you listen.

Monitor your inner feelings. Become familiar with this feelings and your inner judgments about what is ”wrong” and ”right.” Practice expanding your ”comfort zone.”

Bridging Culture Gaps – Working Together

We view others through our own cultural filters. In working together with those from different cultures a non-judgmental conversation needs to take place.

We need to become aware of our own cultural conditioning and the cultural conditioning of others. Style-shifts are discussed and maybe compromise third ways are agreed.


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