A dichotomy is when something is divided into two non-overlapping parts or opinions. Different groups can be discussed in terms of their preferences in communication styles, and knowledge of those dichotomies will help you develop more sophisticated communication skills.
In this lesson,
we will explore communication styles as you consider each side of a dichotomy. You will think about your own preferences and the preferences of others, and how this can make you a better communicator.
Dichotomies in Theory
Differences among groups of people can be identified by marked preferences among pairs of opposites like those in the following list. We will call these pairs of words “dichotomies.” Some examples:
- Cooperative and Competitive
- Assertive and Passive
- Direct and Indirect
- Individualistic and Team-oriented
- Optimistic and Pessimistic
Most people’s preference is shaped partly by the groups they belong to and the people they associate with, rather than by logical analysis and decision making. In addition, communication can be direct or indirect.
Think of direct communication as what you say, such as, “You have spinach in your teeth.”
Indirect communication can be subtler messages (“Check your smile!”) or even gestures and body language (tapping your teeth while making eye contact, for example).
Advantages and Disadvantages
Both modes of communication have some advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of the direct mode of communication:
- People easily understand what you are saying.
- You don’t waste time being sensitive about people’s feelings.
- You are more likely to produce a desired change in behavior.
Disadvantages of the direct mode of communication:
- Some people may think that you are rude and impatient.
- The listener may reject your feedback because they feel that you are unfairly focusing on only one part of their behavior.
- Your honest feedback and straightforward language may hurt the listener’s feelings.
- It may damage your relationship with the other person.
Advantages of the indirect mode of communication:
- You will not alienate too many of your listeners.
- You will appear to be sensitive and considerate.
- You will balance constructive feedback about undesirable behavior with praise for desirable behavior.
Disadvantages of the indirect mode of communication:
- Listeners may not understand what point you are trying to make.
- People may misunderstand your message.
- Listeners may exploit a vague message for their personal benefit.
Dichotomies in Action
Choose three of these dichotomy pairs.
- abstract – concrete
- accommodating – competing
- active – passive
- animated – lethargic
- arrogant – humble
- assertive – meek
- attached – detached
- big picture – details
- cooperative – competitive
- decisive – indecisive
- deep – shallow
- direct – indirect
- factual – intuitive
- formal – informal
- harmonious – disruptive
- hesitant – impulsive
- individualistic – team oriented
- listening – talking
- objective – subjective
- optimistic – pessimistic
- organized – chaotic
- patient – impatient
- personal – impersonal
- playful – serious
- realistic – idealistic
- reflective – impulsive
- simple – complex
- structured – flexible
- taking turns – interrupting
- tense – relaxed
- yes, and – yes, but
List the advantages and disadvantages or examples of each side of each dichotomy.
Dichotomy One: _____________________
Dichotomy Two: _____________________
Dichotomy Three: _____________________