How people communicate often embodies all of their values and beliefs, so it is probably no surprise that the Communication Dimension of the CultureWizard Intercultural Model® actually encompasses all the other Dimensions in the Model. Ranging from Direct to Indirect, the Communication Dimension outlines the many different ways people frame and convey messages to one another. Therefore, it may be the one most important for business people to be aware of when working with people across cultures.
I was once in a meeting with a Nigerian colleague who whispered that I should adjust my posture—I was “too open.” I observed my feet about shoulder-width apart, arms at my side. This seemed benign enough to me, so I looked back at my colleague, who stood with her feet zipped together, hands interlaced in front of her body. The expression on her face told me this was gravely significant, but it took another moment for me to realize what she meant: I was standing in a sexually provocative stance! Not my finest cross-cultural moment.
As an American with a pretty Direct Communication style, it never occurred to me that my body language could send such a strong message. To my colleague, however, these messages were deeply entrenched in her everyday behavior. It was therefore crucial for us to recognize one another’s background before we could build mutual trust and understanding.
You can better capitalize on intercultural business relationships by always being aware of how a given culture’s Communication style may manifest in multicultural environments. To get you started, here are some identifying features of Direct versus Indirect Communication societies.
Signs of a Direct Communication Culture:
- Verbal language tends to be explicit—even blunt, sometimes.
- Non-verbal language only supplements or emphasizes the words of the message.
- People place high importance on individuality and freedom of expression.
- The idea of “saving face” is less important than being forthright.
- Efficiency of communication takes precedence over style and eloquence.
- People require less context and background information. They often just want “the gist.”
- Silence or hesitance is off-putting and often viewed as a sign of inattention.
Signs of an Indirect Communication Culture:
- Verbal language may only subtly express the intended message.
- Non-verbal language (eye contact, gesticulation, etc.) is very important in determining the message.
- Silence and hesitance can be used as a tool for communicating, and is often a way of showing respect.
- People require more context and background information.
- People prioritize group harmony over personal wishes or agendas.
- People intentionally frame their message such that nobody (themselves included) will “lose face.”
- Tone and eloquence are valued.
To further improve your awareness of cross-cultural dynamics in the Communication Dimension, read our detailed blog post, The Communication Dimension: A Key To Cross-Cultural Awareness That Propels Business Success