Communication is governed by cultural factors like shared values, believes, personal faith, attitudes and group behaviour. So while working in a multicultural environment, observation, understanding and decoding of non-verbal cues becomes more important to achieve success in communication.
Undermining cultural context can send wrong messages to the audience. Your good intentions can be overshadowed by the use of inappropriate non-verbal gestures and postures. If there is no congruence between your spoken words and gestures, people may misinterpret your message as fake, false, deceptive or masked. Your credibility and honesty will be at stake.
Let us analyse the relevance of cultural context in communication with the help of an example. Once an American advertising agency was negotiating with a Japanese company for promoting their product. The two parties decided to meet in person. A meeting was scheduled and representatives from both sides sat together for a formal discussion. While most of the talking was done by the executive from the American company, the Japanese representative was less talkative but he frequently nodded in agreement for most part of the conversation. He rarely intervened but sometimes responded with phrases like ” I am not sure” or ” We shall think about it”
The American executive was pretty enthusiastic about the way the meeting turned out. He shared his enthusiasm with his boss and told him that the Japanese counterpart agreed to most of his ideas and seemed interested. His boss was not equally happy. The subordinate could not relate to the concerns of his boss and felt confused.
Can you think why the American boss was not happy with the outcome of the meeting ?
The reason is that the boss of the American company was aware of the Japanese culture and could read their non-verbal cues.If you are working with a Japanese company you should know that they rely more on non-verbal cues than on spoken words to communicate. Their culture may be defined as a high context culture or a closed culture.
High context cultures are reserved, They emphasize relationships and a sociable atmosphere while negotiating. High context cultures like Japan, China, Arab countries, Indonesia etc. avoid confrontation and debate as opposed to low context cultures like Unites States, France, Germany. U.K. etc. that promote arguments, conflicts and open discussions.
Japanese people make use of metaphors or indirect expressions to convey their messages. They say ‘Yes’ to confirm that they have heard you or understood you. So it should not be cofused as a ‘Yes’ in the real sense of the word. This does not indicate that the person from Japan is in total agreement with your ideas. Also, Japanese never express their disagreement with a direct or straightforward ‘No’. So they use phrases like, “I am not sure” or “I will think about it later.” These are polite ways of turning down your proposal.
An understanding of cultural cues, and heightened sense of cultural sensibility can improve communication across cultures.
Cultural sensitivity can be enhanced by adopting the golden rule for Intra-cultural communication:
Acknowledge the cultural differences i.e. overcome Ethnocentrism
Respect other cultures; refrain from stereotyping
Read about other cultures
Observe non- verbal signs and signals of various cultures and become aware of their meaning
Use humour carefully and without offending cultural values
To learn more about Intra-cultural communication check my video lesson on Inta-cultural Communication
and Cross -cultural communication.