cultural differences and miscommunication
What is Culture?
For some it refers to an appreciation of good literature, music,
art, and food. For a biologist, it is likely to be a colony of bacteria
or other microorganisms growing in a nutrient medium in a
laboratory Petri dish. However, for anthropologists and other
behavioral scientists, culture is the full range of learned human
behavior patterns. The term was first used in this way by the
pioneer English Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor in his book,
Primitive Culture, published in 1871. Tylor said that culture is
"that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law,
morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by
man as a member of society." Of course, it is not limited to men.
Women possess and create it as well. Since Tylor's time, the
concept of culture has become the central focus of anthropology.
Culture is a powerful human tool for survival, but it is a fragile
phenomenon. It is constantly changing and easily lost because it
exists only in our minds. Our written languages, governments,
buildings, and other man-made things are merely the products of
culture. They are not culture in themselves.
Layers of Culture
There are very likely three layers or levels of culture that are part of your
learned behavior patterns and perceptions. Most obviously is the body of
cultural traditions that distinguish your specific society.
Confronting a Problem
Sense of Self
how to think of self.jpg
How to Express Anger
Queue when Waiting
how to queue up.jpg
Status of Leader
status of leader.jpg
relationships simple complex.jpg
March 10, 2011 Trackback Main Blog by Martina Kristianova
It used to be unusual for companies to do business
internationally. International teams and relationships were the
arena of really big companies. In today's globalized society, a
large network of business happens internationally. This increase
of exposure and permeability between countries has made it very
clear that there is so much more to communication barriers than
just not speaking the same language. We tend to think that having
a translator in the room will fix everything when approaching a
problem for a client, but this is not necessarily the case.
Communication and cultural expectations can make a very big
difference in how a problem is approached and handled.
Something small that should be easily fixed can turn into a large
tedious process with anger on both sides because each feels like
they are not being heard. Communication comes down to not only
the words used, but the context and syntax of those words. There
are expressions and ways of saying things in one country that can
be very rude in another. Expectations about work ethic and how
projects should be finished can be another gap between
expectations and performance. How do we work with businesses
and people that are very much not like our own?
Understanding is the key to cross-cultural communication. It isn't
possible for you to learn everything about the culture with which
you are working. Simply understand that there is a potential for
problems due to miscommunication. With this realization, it is
easier to make a conscious effort to try to clarify points during the
process and overcome problems when they arise. Even with
these efforts, you may not avoid hitting stopping points. Do not let
this lead to frustration or a loss of hope. It can be very irritating
when there seems to be a brick wall between you and your client.
Accept that there may be times of confusion and adjust your
Once we have put assumptions and expectations in the right
place, there is a greater chance of a healthy dialogue. The next
step is effective communication skills. As we all know active
listening is the first step to communication. Try repeating what you
just heard and putting it in your own words to see if your customer
or client is on the same page as you. Of course words can be
used differently between languages and have different
connotations so this may not always work. At the same time, your
customer sees the difference when you are cool and calm and in
control. Seeing that you understand the potential for a
communication problem gives your business the reputation of en
experienced international competitor. They will also enjoy working
with you and the outcome will be a positive one.
7 Tips For Easy Cross-Cultural Encounters
cross-cultural communication skills are acquired through practice and experience. Embarrassing blunders
do happen and are often talked about so much, that beginners get nervous.
If you are looking for a few tips to prepare yourself prior to a first cross-cultural encounter, here are a few
things for you to keep in mind:
1. Empathy - Show the other person you want to get to know him. Empathy is understanding the other
person. This is the first step in cross-cultural communication. When you understand why someone does
something differently you are able to put aside your own cultural prejudices.
2. Congruency – Send the same message in all of your methods of communication. This includes your
body language and your actions. Make sure your communication is adapted to this particular person you
are with. You can look at the other person and try to meet him where he is.
3. Acknowledgment – The way how you acknowledge the other person is important. In some cultures,
you need direct eye contact, a handshake, and a few words. Experience will show you the right dose of
acknowledgment. In all cultures, it is impolite not to acknowledge the other person.
4. Clarity - Communicate with as much clarity as you can. Avoid making assumptions. Give details.
Help the other person to see everything in your discussion. Clarity builds trust.
5. Initiation – Do not feel too intimidated with different cultures. Remember to initiate friendship. Simple
being open and sharing information can be a first step. Ask questions and initiate interaction.
6. Connection - With small steps, adjust your communication. Aim for a real personal connection. Be
friendly. Show the other person you sincerely want to connect with them.
7. Address - Ask how to address the other person. Many cultural blunders happen right from the start.
For example, when North Americans assume that using a nick name is a good practice. There are
English speaking countries where this is off-putting. And the use of first names can also be unwise.
The solution is to ask diplomatically and politely right up front.
Cross-cultural communication helps you to build relationships with people from other cultures. This is why
it is a skill you can only learn through practice.
Do not let any cultural differences complicate developing friendships with people. It really is easy if you
are sincere and constant in your approach… it is also very rewarding on a personal level.
Cultural Differences In Communication Styles
Every country has its own communication style and habits. These different styles do not translate well
and businesses need to pay special attention to communication with foreign clients.
* Americans like to use slang words and phrases that even other Americans don’t always understand.
“I’m jazzed when that happens!”
* Japanese people do not like to refuse something, so they say that it will be discussed “later”. Later
* French people can get easily offended. For example, every word has to have a French translation –
e-mail, mail, and mèl are too English, so the word “courriel” was created.
* Germans love details and Italians don’t.
And the list of generalized differences can go on and on.
English Guidelines To Avoid Miscommunication
You can eliminate many sources of cross cultural miscommunication simply by paying attention to your
own use of English. After looking at the above points, here are some guidelines:
* Be aware of the metaphors you use, explain them clearly. Better yet, eliminate them.
* Avoid making a conditional statement when possible. Clearly identify what you are saying, doing,
promising. Better yet, simplify your communication and your offer.
* Be aware of the other person’s cultural habits with regards to respect as much as possible. If you
are not familiar with the other person’s habits, the least you can do is to ask for permission to call them by
their first name. Better yet, ask them how people call them in their own country, and ask if you can call
them in the same way.
The bottom line is this:
* If you want to communicate effectively across cultures you must use simple English.
The drawbacks of communicating effectively across cultures:
* Your vocabulary will probably become severely reduced in size.
The advantage is:
* Your communication will be more pertinent, direct, and stronger.
Examining your own communication habits and their cross cultural implications is the best place to start.
Your own communication will be the source of less stories of cultural communication blunders. And your
own communication becomes a strong tool to get more international clients.
Western (European & North American) Eastern & Asian Latin American African Middle Eastern
South Pacific Worldwide
Red Danger, Love, Passion, Excitement, Sacrifice, Stop, Christmas (with Green), PowerParts of
Celtic: Death, Afterlife3
Joy (with White)4, Bridal Color3 China: Celebration, Good Luck, Happiness, Long Life,
Mexico: Religion (with White)1 DeathNigeria : Wealth, Vitality, Aggression1
Some Areas: Good Luck
Côte d’Ivoire & South Africa: Mourning3
Egypt: Luck1Iran: Good Fortune Australia (Aboriginals): Land, Earth3New Zealand
(Maori): Nobility, Divinity1
Orange Autumn, HarvestIreland: Protestants2
The Netherlands: Royalty (Very Popular)3
United States: Halloween (with Black)
India (Hindu): Sacred (the Color Saffron)1 Japan: Courage, Love Egypt:
Yellow Hope, Happiness, Cowardice, Weakness, Hazards, Taxis, Warmth3 Germany: Envy
Ukraine: Hospitality, Benevolence
Sacred, Imperial2China: Royalty, Nourishing3
Mexico: Mourning Ethiopia: Mourning1South Africa (Zulu): Wealth1 Egypt:
Mourning Saudi Arabia: Strength, Reliability
Green Environmental Awareness, Spring, New Birth, Go, Christmas (with Red), St. Patrick’s DayFrance
: Not a Good Color for Packaging5
Ireland: National Color, Catholicism2
United States: Money
China: Exorcism, Infidelity (Green Hats), Not a Good Color for Packaging5 India: Islam2
Japan: Life, High-tech
North Africa: CorruptionSouth Africa (Zulu): Nature1 HolinessEgypt: National Color,
Fertility, Not a Good Color for Packaging5 Indonesia: Forbidden ColorMalaysia and Some Areas:
Danger2 Military (Olive Green)4
Blue Soothing Scandinavia: CleanlinessUkraine: Good Health
United States: Baby Boys (Light Blue), Used by Many Banks to Symbolize Trust5
China: Immortality2 India (Hindu): Krishna2 Colombia: Soap2 Nigeria (Yoruba): Very
Positive1South Africa (Zulu): Happiness1 Protective2 Iran: Heaven, Immortality, Spirituality
Often considered to be the “safest” and “most positive” global color2
Violet & Purple Royalty3 China: NobilityIndia: Reincarnation
Brazil: Mourning Egypt: Virtue1
Pink Feminine Marriage3East India: Feminine
Japan: Popular with Both Genders
South Africa (Zulu): Poverty1
White Marriage, Peace, Purity, Hospitals, HolinessItaly: Death and Funerals (White Chrysanthemum)
Funerals3, Coldness, Sterility2China: Death, Mourning3, Age, Misfortune
India: Unhappiness3, Death5, Rebirth
Japan: Mourning (White Carnation)2
Ethiopia: Illness, Purity1 Nigeria: Good Luck, Peace1
South Africa (Zulu): Goodness1
Zambia: Goodness, Cleanliness, Good Luck1
Egypt: Status1Iran: Holiness, Peace1 New Guinea: Prosperity1
Grey Poverty, Plainness Papua New Guinea: Mourning1
Black Funerals, Death, Mourning, Formality, Rebellion China: Color for Young Boys, Trust,
High QualityThailand: Bad Luck, Unhappiness, Evil
Peru: Mourning, Favored Color for Male Clothing1 Ethiopia: Impure, Unpleasant1Nigeria:
Ominous1 Egypt: Rebirth1Iran: Mourning New Zealand: Patriotic National Color1Australia
(Aboriginals): Color of the People3
Brown Earthy, Healthy3, PovertyUnited States: Often a Greatly Successful Color for Food Packaging5
India: Mourning4 Colombia: Discourages Sales4 Nicaragua: Disapproval4
Australia (Aboriginals): Color of the Land3
Silver Money, Stylish
Gold Money, Success, High Quality