As the world becomes smaller and international business and political agendas continue to grow in importance, it will become increasingly valuable to understand different cultures' communication styles. Communication is both verbal and non-verbal. While some cultures depend almost entirely on the spoken word to communicate, others like in Thailand rely heavily on non-verbal cues. Understanding a culture's expectations and customs related to eye contact, direct or indirect communication style and time orientation is crucial for establishing beneficial relationships.
Direct vs. Indirect Communication Style
Cultures that value getting to the point quickly without mincing words are direct communicators. In this type of interaction, the truth is highly valued with a concern for people's feelings taking a backseat to the conveyance of information. While indirect communicators value the idea of saving face and maintaining harmony, direct communicators are not afraid to use criticism and confrontational language. African Americans, Northern Europeans and European Americans are direct communicators. Indirect communicators rely on implication and suggestion to explain ideas, with an emphasis placed on saving face. In stark contrast to direct communicators, silence in a conversation is common and appreciated. Cultures that embrace indirect communication believe that interrupting another speaker should be avoided. Native Americans and Asian cultures consider a direct communication style inappropriate and even rude.
Cultural Etiquette Considerations
Factoring in personal space expectations between cultures enhances communication in any social or business setting. While Northern Europeans and European Americans feel most comfortable at an arm's length away in a social interaction, Hispanics would consider that distance unfriendly. Knowing what is expected is helpful. Eye contact and touch etiquette also vary dramatically in different cultures. Asian cultures do not believe in touching in public settings, and they don't favor direct eye contact. Like the Asian culture, Hispanics also view direct eye contact as a lack of respect. One significant difference between these two cultures is the way touching in public is perceived. Hispanics are a "high touch" society. Before meeting with a different culture, it is best to learn about these etiquette considerations.
A culture's perspective about time can make a big difference in how its people relate to other cultures. While most Europeans and European Americans seem to hold to the notion that time is of the essence, African Americans, Asians and Native Americans view time as a more fluid element with no control over them. This type of cultural difference can make planning an event quite a challenge if there are different cultures coming together.
Individualist or Collectivist Perspective
Cultures are categorized as having either individualist or collectivist traits. In individualist cultures like the U.S., individual achievement and rights are very important. In direct contrast, collectivist traits include putting the objectives of the group first and operating more as a "we" society. Asian cultures are considered collectivist societies.