As a White person, I feel the communication styles discussed in the Sue book are very accurate in my experience. Also, I think they accurately describe my communication styles. In regards to proxemics, I am more comfortable when individuals are at a farther distance than closer and in my personal space. I notice this in the way my office is set up. The chair for my clients to sit is about four feet away from my chair, which is out of my personal space. While at first, I thought this made the most sense for the set-up of the office, however, after reflecting on this, it is because that is where I feel the most comfortable with having someone sit. I have noticed that when individuals come into my personal space, I tend to back up from them or situate myself in a distance in which I am comfortable. This communication style is one that I feel I will be able to work through seamlessly. After reading and discussing this, I think just the knowledge of how different cultures use proxemics will be helpful in working past this bias. For example, before starting a session with a client, I can assure them that they can sit wherever they feel they are most comfortable.
Another communication style that I align with as a White person is the use of eye contact. When I was growing up, it was ingrained in me that making eye contact with the person you are talking to is very important; it is a sign of respect. In my life, I try to be consistent in making eye contact with those whom I am having a conversation. It is interesting to read that this may not be the best communication style when working with other racial and ethnic groups. When I have talked with individuals who do not make consistent eye contact, I have had the thoughts that this person is not listening or being rude. I have noticed the lack of eye contact in working with a variety of different races, including White people. Eye contact is another communication style that I feel that even learning about will help move past the previous biases that I have had about individuals who do not make eye contact. It is also interesting that White people make greater eye contact when listening, whereas Black people make greater eye contact when speaking. I have noticed that it is easier to make eye contact when I am listening to an individual speak than when I am talking. I have also noticed that when working with Black clients, they do make more eye contact when speaking than when listening. It can give off the impression that the client is not listening. However, this aspect is not something that I have noticed as much because when I speak I make less eye contact and the client would, in turn, be listening. Eye contact is something that I will be more conscious of when working with clients from different racial or ethnic groups.
I work at a residential transitional living program for homeless veterans. We provide the residents with transportation to medical appointments, jobs, and so forth. A Black client came to me with concerns regarding transportation. Specifically, he was unhappy with having to go to work earlier than scheduled due to having to transport other residents around the same time. I explained to him that there are compromises everyone has to make to accommodate the other nineteen residents and having limited resources. When I told him this, he became more animated in his communication, argumentative, moved closer, and raised his voice. I interpreted this as him becoming angry and more hostile. My reaction was to lean back in my chair as a way to step back from him. After learning more about different communication styles and reflecting on this situation, I realized that this in line with his communication style. He was not trying to be hostile towards me; instead he was trying to work through the problem and question the logic of what I was saying in his way of communicating. We were able to discuss the situation and our reactions to how it was handled and come to an understanding. Learning about different communication styles is very important because, without that knowledge, it is easy to take different verbal and nonverbal cues out of context. While there is more than just reading and discussing these issues, I do feel that even just reading about the different styles will give enough insight and give individuals the tools to be able to challenge and work through these biases.
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