Comprehending the verbal and nonverbal meanings of a message is difficult even when communicators are from the same culture. But when they are from different cultures, special sensitivity and skills are necessary.
Every country has a unique culture or common heritage, joint experience that produce its culture. This experience gives members of that culture a complex system of shared values and customs. This comprehension should also help you recognize some of the values that shape your actions and judgment of others.
Comparing key cultural values
Let’s focus on four dimensions: individualism, formality, communication style, and time orientation.
Individualism. This is an attitude of independence and freedom from control. They think that initiative and self-assertion result in personal achievement. They believe in individual action, self-reliance, and personal responsibility; and they desire a large degree of freedom in their personal lives. Other cultures emphasize membership in organizations, groups, and teams. Members of these cultures typically resist independence because it fosters competition and confrontation instead of consensus. Individualism is one of the most identifiable characteristics of North Americans.
Formality. Americans place less emphasis on tradition, ceremony, and social rules than do people in some other cultures. They dress casually and are soon on a first-name basis with others. In business dealing North Americans tend to come to the point immediately; indirectness, they feel, wastes time.
Communication Style. North Americans value straightforwardness, are suspicious of evasiveness, and distrust people who might have a “hidden agenda” or who “play their cards to close to the chest”. North Americans also tend to be uncomfortable with silence and impatient with delays. Moreover, they tend to use and understand words literally. Latinos, on the other hand, enjoy plays on words; and Arabs and South Americans sometimes speak with extravagant or poetic figures of speech.
Time Orientation. North Americans consider time a precious commodity to be conserved. They correlate time with productivity, efficiency, and money. Keeping people waiting for business appointments wastes time and is also rude. In other cultures time may be perceived as an unlimited and never-ending resource to be enjoyed.
The table below compares a number of cultural values for U.S. Americans, Japanese and Arabs.
Activities and Cases
1.Introduce yourself in a two-minute oral presentation standing before the class. Where are you from? What are your educational goals? What are your interests?
2.Analyze your own listening habits. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Decide on your plan for improving your listening skills. Write a memo to your instructor including your analysis and your improvement plan.