During the lean coffee session last week at the European Testing conference, we were talking about the most important impediment for testers to get their work done. Most of which was the most important soft skill to have. The group agreed that the most basic of soft skills was communication. But we found it hard to really grasp what this actually means. What is communication and why is it so difficult for us? There is a lot of research out there about how communication works and how we can make it work for us. Yet so few people really master this skill.
There is however a good method to get a better view on how to get better at communicating with each other.
The Axen rose is a model that was developed by the Belgian therapist Ferdinand Cuvelier (only Dutch available). It is based on the work around the Leary Circumplex. Its main goal was to help identify different communication styles. This can in turn help to create more self-awareness as well as give you a structure to help you practice other styles of communication to improve your understanding and your ability to get things moving when you are collaborating with other people. Let’s quickly deconstruct this model to see how it is structured.
The circle is divided in 2 different dimension, from a high level point of view. Let’s first go into the horizontal division. The top half of the model focusses on the more top level approach to communication. This is easily identifiable with a communication style where you are more in control of the conversation. This is not a matter of positive or negative, keep in mind that in all areas of the axen rose, you can have healthy (positive) and unhealthy (negative) behaviour. I’ll go into that a little deeper when we go into the different areas specifically.
The bottom half of the model is where you are more coming from a more downward focused approach. This is when you are more submissive in the conversation than actually in charge of it. Let me stress once more that this can be perfectly healthy behaviour in certain circumstances.
When we look at the model in vertical slices, we discover three different zones. The left zone is what is called the zone of conflict. This means that these communication styles will be more focussed on countering, argumenting and general disagreement. This zone is extremely useful in situations where you want to challenge or be challenged about a certain topic. This could be a good start for improvement actions or team gelling.
The middle zone is that of removal. Here the main focus is to be able to end the communication as fast as possible, trying to remove yourself from the communication. When you are in a circumstance where you feel that you are running around in circles and not getting anywhere, it might be better to look for a way out.
The right zone is called the zone of harmony. Here the communication is more about alignement and balance. The main focus is on coming to a better joint undertanding. I personally feel that the name of this zone is too positive in comparison to the other two zones. It is counterintuitive with regard to the healthy / unhealthy view on each zone. It is perfectly possible to exhibit unhealthy behaviour in this zone when you try to give too much information or when you are too needy in receiving appreciation for instance.
To make it easier to identify with each zone, Ferdinand added animals to the model to depict each style of communication with an easy to relate to type of animal. I have found this to make the model extremely powerful to use and discuss with other people. Let’s go in to each animal in more detail in a next post.