Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Culture and Communication | Why it Matters for You

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 @ 08:55 AM

culture and communicationWhat is communication? How are culture and communication related? In previous articles, we have talked about why you need more than just English skills to be successful in your career and in your life in the United States. Being able to use American English expressions correctly in conversation is important, but what about the other parts of communication such as the ways in which diffferent cultures use silence and levels of directness and indirectness in answering a question? The first step to communicating successfully with people from other cultures is understanding your own communication style. In this post, we will talk about two different ways of communicating that you might encounter in your intercultural workplace.



What is Low Context Communication?


In a low context communication situation at work, goals, objectives and deadlines guide communication. Procedures and guidelines are followed closely. The message or the point that is being communicated is in the spoken word. There is not much use of nonverbal communication to make a point. The point is given directly and explicitly. Communication is used as a way of exchanging ideas and information.



What is High Context Communication?


With the high context communication style, relationships are very important in communication and they determine how things get done. Nonverbal communication is used heavily to convey a point including gestures, eye contact and tone of voice instead of directly saying the main point. The message that is being communicated is in the context, rather than in the actual words.



What is your Communication Style?


Communication style tends to vary by culture. Americans often use a low context communication style and certain Asian cultures tend to use the high context style. However, there are a number of other factors that could determine your communication style including the situation (professional, informal) and who you are communicating with. In order to avoid making generalizations and forming stereotypes about cultural differences, we can start by examining our own communication style and we will notice that we often don't fall into one category or another. Instead, we usually fall on a spectrum, somewhere between high and low context communication. Would you like to know more about the way that you communicate? Take this quiz.


Why Does this Matter for You?


Have you ever felt like your colleagues in the United States are only concerned about getting the task accomplished while you often put more emphasis on building professional relationships before attempting to get the work done in a group? This is one example of how your communication style and time orientation can affect your interactions at work. 


"Without a true understanding of the way that you communicate and how your colleagues, customers or supervisors communicate, your English skills will not be as effective as you might hope."



 Learn about your own Communication Style:


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Source: The 1993 Annual Developing Human Resources. Pfeiffer & Company
Communication Quiz developed by the Intercultural Training course at Lesley University

Topics: Cultural Competence, Cross Cultural Coaching

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