Differing Communications Styles - and When to Use Them - Igor Poza

When we are conducting business across cultures, understanding different types of communication styles is critical. Your comprehension of the pros and cons of indirect and direct communication, and your ability to adapt your style depending on a high or low-context culture will impact your capacity to negotiate or lead effectively. It is imperative to know how to practice, and when to practice each communication style when working on a global scale.

Having awareness of these cultural fundamentals not only helps us to communicate more competently but also to understand how we can be more strategic in our behavior when working on a global scale.

The differentiation between high and low context cultures is meant to highlight the differences in verbal and nonverbal communication. Eastern cultures, such as China or Japan mostly utilize high-context communication in their cultures. This means they will use indirect communication, underlying context, meaning, and tone in the message and do not rely on just the words themselves to get across their point.

In low-context cultures, the opposite is true. Low-context cultures expect communication to be direct, very explicit and clear, so that there’s no risk of confusion. Western cultures like the UK, Australia and the United States fall into this category.

The Multiculturalyou.com website defined both styles very thoroughly:

Indirect communication dislikes direct confrontation or critique. It often Indirect communication promotes harmony and face-saving, it is characteristic of collective and hierarchical cultures. It involves third parties with the authority to make decisions so that lower-level people do not lose face.

“Direct communication is consistent with the individualistic self-interest. In these cultures, individuals care about performing actions and finding solutions. They tend to propose solutions and value their validity. Proposing and debating alternatives is characteristic of low-context and analytical cultures. People from these cultures analyze multiple alternative solutions by debating their pros and cons from a self-interested, possibly a win-win perspective.”

Both communication styles have their advantages and disadvantages. When working on a global scale, it is most effective to be selective of when you use each style. In a business presentation, direct style might be the most efficient because it does not leave room for misinterpretation. While interacting with coworkers in meetings or throughout the day, it is best to be more open to an indirect style of communication to promote building and sustaining relationships. In Chinese and Italian cultures, workers are expected to be open and to put in a valiant effort to build a true relationship with their coworkers. This may mean asking your coworker to lunch. Although that is not usually the norm for Western cultures and styles of communication, one must respect what their foreign coworker values.

For leaders, challenges in communication might rise if team members are in different countries and need to collaborate in a mutual assignment. From my own experience, as you gain insight into cross-cultural complexity, finding the best way to use a mix of communication styles is the ticket to success. In a global team, we certainly need to dedicate time, especially at the beginning, to developing a low-context system, like repeating key messages or checking in to ensure total comprehension at the end of the meeting.

Complementing that direct approach regarding objectives, deliverables and accountabilities with an indirect communication in conversations will be easily adopted by the group and will help the leader to become more effective in reading the atmosphere. Allowing space to ‘read the air’ is what all people need to be doing continually when working in a multicultural environment.




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