TOPOI Method


The TOPOI model was created by Edwin Hoffman and is based on the work of Interaction Academy of Antwerpen. TOPOI means in Greek 'places' (topography). The model covers 5 areas where misunderstandings may arise in communication.

1. TONGUE: VERBAL AND NONVERBAL LANGUAGE

2. ORDER: POINT OF VIEW AND LOGIC

3. PERSON: IDENTITY AND RESPECT

4. ORGANIZATION: ARRANGEMENTS AND POWER RELATIONS

5. INTENTIONS & INFLUENCE: EFFORT AND MOTIVES

The TOPOI model is used to analyse communication and is based on the assumptions that communication is universal, and the emphasis is on interaction, not culture. In addition, it is assumed that communication is cyclical, intercultural communication requires an open attitude and being pessimistic about communication but optimistic about people. The TOPOI model is an excellent analytical tool to detect possible misunderstandings and conflicts during and after the conversation.

1. The TOPOI Model Analysis on LANGUAGE


Meaning of verbal and nonverbal language

Each culture and country has its own verbal or non-verbal code. Misunderstandings are usually caused by misinterpretation of the codes. Language, as a mean of expressing emotions and thoughts, can also subvert a lot of misunderstandings. Communicating in a foreign language can also lead to misinterpretation of words.

What can you can ask yourself?

• Whose language is spoken (dominance of the language)?

• What is the meaning of what is said?

• What is everyone's body language and nonverbal language? 

• What are the interpretations of each other's words and behaviour?

• What is the influence of each other's environment on what is said, done and understood?

What can you do?

• Perceiving the words and nonverbal language with all senses.

• Research or inquire about meanings.

• Explain meanings.

• Providing feedback.

• Ask feedback.

• Examining the influence of environment on everyone's signification.

2. The TOPOI Model Analysis on ORDER/ARRANGEMENT


Point of view and logic

Arrangement is the order and the way of perceiving reality. Everyone interprets the world, behaviour, emotions and relationships in their own way. When communicating, you should not focus on your views and interpretations, but learn to be more open and understanding to the needs of other people. In other words, in order to communicate effectively, you need to find a thread of understanding with each interlocutor and be able to empathise with their role. Everyone can perceive reality in their own way, and you should not focus solely on your own views. To sum up, order is a way of defining a problem.

What can you can ask yourself?

• What is everyone's perspective and logic?

• What is everyone's interest or loyalty?

• What is everyone's frame of reference; values and norms?

• What is commonly shared? • What are the differences?

• What is the influence of environment on everyone's perspective and logic?

What can you do?

• Ask for the perspective/logic of the other. • Active listening (acknowledge).

• To empathise and feel. • Research or inquire about meanings.

• Explain own perspective/logic. • Placing commonly shared first.

• Examining the influence of environment on everyone's perspective/logic.

3. The TOPOI Model Analysis on PERSONS/PEOPLE


Identity and respect

This area consists of personal and social perspectives. Everyone has their own point of view that sets them apart from others. On the other hand, social perspectives are the impact of messages communicated to us on a specific topic. There are various stereotypes, jokes and cultural prejudices that have a tremendous influence on our own views.

What can you can ask yourself?

• Who, in what roles, are you to yourself?

• Who, in what roles, are you to the others?

• What are the mutual expectations?

• How does one see the relationship?

• What is the influence of environment on these relationships?

What can you do?

• Investigate from what role and expectations one speaks to the other person.

• Active listening.

• To empathise and feel.

• Ask yourself and explain from what role and expectations you speak.

• Examine the interpersonal-relationships.

4. The TOPOI Model Analysis on ORGANISATION


Arrangements and Power Relations

Organizational issues can also contribute to misunderstandings in intercultural communication. If someone does not know the procedures or rules in a given organization, e.g. at a university, it can lead to many misunderstandings in communication.

What can you can ask yourself?

• What is the influence of the organization; power distance, instead of conversation, function, responsibilities, available time, the agenda, the goals, rules, agreements, procedures, etc.?

• What is the impact of the organization of the other; power distance, time orientation, knowledge and image of the organization, procedures, rules, etc.?

• What is the impact of the communication of the 'organization'; power distance, legal positions, procedures, availability of facilities and resources, manners, laws and regulations, etc.?

What can you do?

Consider the power distance.

• Explain own organization.

• Change your own organization.

• Study and recognise the 'organization' of the other.

• Investigate the impact of the 'rules' and the power distance in the wider area of communication.

Motives

Intentions and efforts relate to what the purpose of communication is. Influence is an effect that affects our interlocutor. Unfortunately, our intentions may differ from the final result of communication, which is also influenced by our interlocutor. The most important thing is to establish at the very beginning of the conversation that our intentions are good, because our interlocutor expects it. For example, university staff should be sensitive to the needs of their clients/students.

What can you can ask yourself?

• What are everyone's motives, needs, fears, desires?

• Why are making an effort?

• What are possible underlying motives?

• What do you see of the other person “making an effort”?

• How does their environment influence "making an effort"?

• How do they show that they are making an effort?

• Are they seen/recognised by making an effort?

• Is there a distinction between intentions and their effort?

What can you do?

• What are everyone's motives, needs, fears, desires?

• Why are making an effort?

• What are possible underlying motives?

• What do you see of the other person “making an effort”?

• How does their environment influence "making an effort"?

• How do they show that they are making an effort?

• Are they seen/recognised by making an effort?

• Is there a distinction between intentions and their effort?

Unfortunately, you have to be prepared for misunderstandings and you need to know how to deal with such a situation. The TOPOI model emphasises that judgments and prejudices cannot always be avoided. You should always try to share a common interest, play an active role in communication, be optimistic about the interlocutor and thanks to the model presented, we can feel more confident in our communication skills.

The TOPOI model contains many helpful questions that will help you analyse the results of a conflict and prepare for a difficult interview. The more questions we are able to prepare for a given interview, the greater the chances for positive and effective communication. Each area focuses on our participation, the participation of the interlocutor, the influence of norms, values, meanings and opinions of the environment on communication among people. It also provides tips on how to deal with misunderstandings in each area.

How to deal with misunderstandings in five areas example

The exchange student tells you he is angry because no one at the university is willing to helping him, because he is a foreigner. What can you ask yourself:

• Why can a student be angry?

• Why does the student say that no one wants to help him?

• What are the mutual expectations?

• Why do employees avoid contact with him and why nobody wants to help?

• What influences student and staff behaviour?

• What is the influence of the organization?

• What are everyone's motives, needs, fears, desires?

Probably the student feels tired of how hard it is to find himself in a new country surrounded by a foreign language and new procedures. He has to speak in a different language, adapt to the rules of the university and the group of people with whom he will spend the student exchange period. Employees, on the other hand, often do not know how to communicate with exchange students and that they have to spend much more time with them than with regular students.

The TOPOI model can be a valuable tip that will improve the working comfort of employees who deal with students or employees from other countries on a daily basis. The TOPOI model can also be used as an analysis of our everyday conflicts and how can we improve relationships and communicate effectively, regardless of culture, language, religion, beliefs, habits or gender. Using it at work when dealing with students from international exchanges or with partners from other countries will help us develop and become more tolerant and open to other people. It will also help us to communicate effectively, avoid conflicts and approach work professionally in an intercultural environment.