TOPOI Model: The five areas

Communication and intervention strategies


In the TOPOI model, five areas can be distinguished where, with regard to communication, cultural differences and misunderstandings can be detected. These five areas are Language, Order, Persons, Organization and Deployment. The model also offers various general communication and intervention strategies.

The five areas of the TOPOI model occur simultaneously in the practice of communication. In communication, the discussion partners will have to deal with all these areas at the same time. They are very closely interwoven and intertwined. The areas are only artificially distinguished in order to indicate them in a clearly recognizable way and in order to be able to make more hypotheses about the possible communication disorders.

The TOPOI model contains a number of questions for each area with which a professional can find out where the communication is missing or has gone wrong. The more questions that can be asked, the more possibilities there are to keep the communication open and workable. Three questions are central to each area:  What is my share? What is the other person’s share? What is the influence of the prevailing images, values, norms, meanings and views 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.

The TOPOI model can be used during communication as a frame of reflection when misunderstandings occur. A professional can then go through the areas for himself to see where possible differences and misunderstandings lie. The TOPOI model can also be used as a frame of reflection afterwards to analyse a conversation situation in terms of the area in which it has gone wrong or jammed and what could be done differently next time.

Literature: Hoffman, E. Interculturele gespreksvoering, theorie en praktijk van het topoi-model”

The five areas


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 what everyone says, does and understands of each other?
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 empathize.
  • 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 who one is for each other and for oneself?
Identity and Relationship

  • Investigate the roles (as whom) and expectations of the other person.
  • Listen actively.
  • Empathize and empathize.
  • 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 organization; 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 organization; power relations, time orientation, knowledge and image of the organization, procedures, rules etc.?
  • What is the influence of the communication of the ‘organization’ 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 motives?
  • Does everyone feel seen/recognized 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 are of the other.
  • Recognise the other person’s underlying motives. Investigate what the other person is doing his best for.
  • Empathize and empathize 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. If you didn’t before -and it is suitable for your organisation- try to use the 7 Stages Model to find out where your organisation is now, and go to the next step.

Getting intercultural

What should be changed?

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