Tactics Tuesday - Cross Cultural Communication

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Transcript - High context and low context communication

Welcome to Tactics Tuesday. This week's question "How does culture get in the way to effective communication and interaction in diverse teams?" Now, to begin to answer that question I think we need to understand the biggest challenge as we work across cultures is when we all act normally. Because your normal reality may be quite different to mine and the challenge is we all react and respond to somebody else and interpret their behavior through our normal reality. So let's look at one aspect that gets in the way today: Communication Styles. Now, it was way back in 1959 that the whole research around how we communicate was introduced by anthropologist Edward Hall and he coined the dimension "high context" and "low context" communication.

So let's look at these and see what we have if we come from opposite ends. So in our high context cultures communication is more indirect and implicit. The meaning comes from the context or a lot of the meaning comes from the context. People use intuitions and opinions to help them make decisions. Relationship is seen as more important than the task and respect for persons comes from actually keeping harmony so that nobody feels offensive. On the other hand we have low context communication where the messages are a lot more direct, simple and clear and meaning is entrusted mostly to words. People rely on facts and evidence to make their decisions and tasks are more important than relationship and respect for people comes from giving them clear accurate information.

As people communicate, they move along a continuum between high context and low context communication, depending on the kind of relationship on the situation and the actual message to whether they become more or less explicit and direct. But as a cultural construct we team members who come from the opposite ends of the continuum, the communication barriers will easily lead to loss of productivity and motivation. So let's go back to everybody acting normally. Where a person using is direct communication style, they perceive the other as evasive, dishonest, maybe not willing to take a stand, not having an opinion, and they think that they will often increase the tension by not dealing with issues directly. Conversely, a person using an indirect communication style will perceive the other as insensitive, rude, offensive, even arrogant and also feel that by dealing with the issues in a very direct manner they're going to disrupt harmony.

So how do we bridge this gap between these two dimensions? The first, I think, is we need to raise awareness and understanding within all team members to make sure they understand why someone interacts and communicates in the way that they do. Secondly, we need to make the implicit explicit. We all know "We just know how things are done around here".Well, not everybody does and to try and actually explain that is quite difficult. For example, if we are in a team meeting and I want you to debate, to challenge, to discuss a particular aspect then I need to make that clear to you. However, for somebody where that type of interaction is considered inappropriate they may not know how and so we may have to give them the skills to actually know how to interact in that way.

And finally, why not build a third style of communication. So, where we lessen the gap from both ends to meet in the middle so that everybody feels respected and that we really connect well and communicate well as a team. That's it for this Tuesday. I look forward to seeing you again soon. Until then, become curious and begin to understand how other people interact and communicate.

Related resource : 10 Tips for Communicating Change to Employees

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About Lorri:

Lorri Lennon is an award-winning advisor, trainer and author in leadership communication. She has 20 years’ experience managing communications for large global organisations.

Lorri conducts master classes to help participants maximise their communications ROI.

About Mariska:

Mariska Mannes is an experienced communication consultant. She holds a Master of Management majoring in Communication, which allows her to bring a blend of qualification and practical experiences to her training programmes. Her expertise is in business and cross cultural communication and behaviour. For more information visit Mariska's LinkedIn profile.