TOPOI Model:
How is the communication in your organization?

Dealing with misunderstandings in five areas


Communicating with someone with a different cultural background requires an open, reflective attitude. With an open attitude we mean that you are willing to listen and look at other views and habits. That you are aware that your view of life, people and the world is just one view; that there are multiple possibilities to look at reality.

With regard to the TOPOI model, you can make general cultural differences workable by translating them into a number of aspects of communication. The TOPOI model is an analytical tool to detect possible misunderstandings during or after a conversation. In this way it is a helpful instrument to interpret the outcomes of interviews.

Just read the extended explanation of the five areas dealing with misunderstandings.


TOPOI model five areas


TOPOI model has five areas and stands for:

  1. Language
  2. Arrangement
  3. Persons
  4. Organisation
  5. Deployment

The TOPOI model contains a number of questions for each area, enabling a professional to find out where communication is lacking or has gone wrong. The more questions that can be asked, the more opportunities there are to keep communication open and workable. Each area focuses on three questions:

  • What is my share?
  • What is the other person’s share?
  • What is the influence of the prevailing images, values, norms, meanings and opinions of the social environment on everyone’s communication?



In addition, the model offers suggestions for dealing with the misunderstandings that have arisen in each area. These are mainly aimed at self-reflection, clarification and research.


If one of the teachers you are interviewing tells you  that he is angry to get always the same questions about diversity 

you can asks yourself what do you do, that the other person is telling you this in this way.

You may also ask yourself what you are doing if the teacher is telling you this in this way.

And you can ask yourself what is the influence of others on both of us, the interviewer as well as the interviewee.

The TOPOI model can also be used retrospectively as a reflection framework to analyse a conversation situation in terms of the area in which it went wrong or crashed and what can be done differently next time.

Literature: Hoffman, E. Intercultural conversation, theory and practice of the topoi model

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The following section is optional, only for those interested in getting a more detailed explanation about TOPOI model five areas


Extended explanation five areas of TOPOI


Analysis: What can you ask yourself? Interventions: What can you do?
Meaning of the verbal and non-verbal language

  • In whose language does each speak (dominance of his own language)?
  • What is the meaning of what everyone says?
  • What do everyone’s body language and non-verbal language mean?
  • What are the interpretations of each other’s words and behaviour?
  • What is the influence of everyone’s environment on each ofher and for oneself?
Meanings of the verbal and nonverbal language

  • Perceive the words and the nonverbal language with all the senses.
  • Investigating or enquiring about meanings.
  • To explain meanings.
  • Giving feedback.
  • Asking for feedback.
  • Investigating the influence of everyone’s environment on the interpretation of meaning.
View and Logic

  • What is everyone’s view and logic?
  • What is everyone’s perspective, interest or loyalty? What is everyone’s frame of reference; values and norms?
  • What is common?
  • What are the differences?
  • What is the influence of everyone’s environment on everyone’s view and logic?
View and Logic

  • Asking for the other person’s view/logic.
  • Active listening (acknowledging).
  • Empathize and emphasize.
  • Investigating meanings/questions.
  • Explain one’s own view/logic.
  • Putting the common first.
  • Investigate the influence of everyone’s environment on the view/logic.
Identity and Relationship

  • Who, in what roles, is one for oneself?
  • Who, in what roles is each for the other?
  • What are the mutual expectations in this respect? How does everyone see the mutual relationship?
  • What is the influence of everyone’s environment on each other and for oneself?
Identity and Relationship

  • Investigate the roles (as whom) and expectations of the other person.
  • Listen actively.
  • Empathise.
  • Asking and/or explaining yourself what roles/expectations you are speaking from.
  • Investigate how everyone sees the mutual relationship.
  • Investigate the influence of everyone’s environment on how everyone sees themselves and others.
Arrangements and Power Relations

  • What is the influence of one’s own organisation; positions of power, place of conversation, function, responsibilities, available time, agenda, goals, rules, agreements, procedures, etc.?
  • What is the influence of the other person’s organisation; power relations, time orientation, knowledge and image of the organisation, procedures, rules etc.?
  • What is the influence of the communication of the ‘organisation’ in everyone’s environment; positions of power, legal positions, procedures, available facilities and resources, manners, laws and regulations, etc.?
Arrangements and Power Relations

  • Taking Power Relations into account.
  • Explain one’s own ‘organisation’.
  • Arranging one’s own ‘organisation’ differently. Investigating and recognising the other person’s ‘organisation’.
  • The influence of the ‘regulations’ and the power relations in the wider environment on communication.
Motives or motivations

  • What are everyone’s motives; motives, needs, fears, wishes?
  • What does everyone do his/her best for?
  • What does everyone see of each other’s underlying motives?
  • What does each see of the other what he/she does his/her best for?
  • What does everyone’s environment see as ‘doing their best’ and what influence does this have?
  • How does everyone show each other that he/she sees that the other is doing his/her best?
  • Does everyone feel seen/recognized in his/her motives or motivations?
  • Does everyone feel seen/recognised in how he/she does his/her best?
  • Does everyone see the difference between intentions and effects of how he/she does his/her best?
Motives or motivations

  • Investigate (recognising questions) what the underlying motives of the other are.
  • Recognise the other person’s underlying motives. Investigate what the other person is doing his best for.
  • Empathise with what the other person is doing his best for.
  • To show, to say that one sees the other’s commitment.
  • Investigate what the other person experiences as recognition.
  • Asking where and from whom the other person feels recognition.
  • To investigate the influence of the environment on ‘doing one’s best’.
  • Explain what they do their best for themselves.
  • (Let) look at the effects of how everyone does his best.
  • (Let) work with the effects of communication.

Reflect on the data you gathered during your desk research and the interview(s), from the point of view of the five areas proposed in TOPOI model.

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