International Communication Styles

news52_article_preUnderstanding of the communication style differences within your international office will help you work more effectively. Let’s have a closer look at three important communication aspects:

  • Diplomacy and directness
  • Literal and coded language
  • Reserve and emotion.

Diplomacy vs. Directness

Some cultures put directness before diplomacy whereas other cultures put diplomacy before directness… In those cultures which put directness before diplomacy, the truth is viewed almost as an object. It is important that the truth be made clear, simple and without deviation. Those cultures which put diplomacy before directness will never directly say the truth if they feel that by speaking the truth they risk having a negative emotional impact on other people. This difference of approach can have negative impacts when both approaches meet in a business situation. Those from the ‘direct’ side often accuse the diplomatic cultures of evasiveness and even dishonesty, while the more diplomatic cultures often find direct cultures abrupt and even rude in their approach.

Direct Cultures include:

Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, USA, Australia

Diplomatic Cultures include:

Japan, India, Korea, UK, Belgium

Literal Language vs. Coded Language

Some cultures speak in a more or less literal way – they try to say exactly what they mean at all times and feel that to do otherwise is evasive and inefficient. Other cultures speak in what is generally referred to as ‘coded’ language and try to soften what they say for fear of offending. Literal cultures often find dealing with coded cultures problematic as they don’t really understand what is being said, whereas coded cultures often find literal cultures as lacking in linguistic refinement and finesse. Each side finds the other equally difficult to deal with.

Literal Cultures include:

Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, USA, Australia

Coded Cultures include:

Japan, India, Korea, UK, Belgium

Reserve and Emotion

Calmness and reserve in all business situations is viewed to be an absolute professional necessity in some cultures. People who seem unable to maintain their professional equilibrium and show their feelings can be viewed with suspicion by more reserved cultures. People from certain other cultures, however, view the use of emotion in some business situations as a sign of real engagement and interest in the process. Lack of emotion is viewed by these people as a sure sign of disinterest. This difference often leads to people misreading the intentions and emotions of their counterparts. ‘Emotional’ cultures view their ‘reserved’ counterparts as disengaged whist the ‘reserved’ cultures will feel that their more ‘emotional’ colleagues are only acting that way because they know they are wrong! On both occasions, both sides are misinterpreting badly.

Reserved Cultures Include:

UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Japan, India

Emotional Cultures Include:

Italy, Spain, Greece, USA, Saudi Arabia, Brazil