Differences in communication styles between cultures

Term Paper, 1999

26 Pages

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1 Introduction

2 Culture

3 Cultural Variability
3.1 Individualism vs. Collectivism
3.2 Low vs. High context communication
3.3 Uncertainty avoidance
3.4 Power distance

4 Verbal Communication Styles by Gudykunst and Ting-Toomey
4.1 Direct vs. Indirect Style
4.2 Elaborate vs. Exacting vs. Succinct Style
4.3 Personal vs. Contextual style
4.4 Instrumental vs. Affective style

5 Silence
5.1 Psycholinguistic Silence
5.2 Interactive Silence
5.2.1 Turn Taking and Transition Relevant Places
5.3 Socio-cultural silence

6 Differences in business negotiation
6.1 Analysis of Singaporean-German business negotiation
6.2 Differences in negotiation patterns between France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States

7 Conclusion

8 References

1 Introduction

In times of globalisation, the global village and the Internet, the aspect of intercultural communication becomes more and more important. People have the possibility to travel across continents, students are highly recommended to pass an internship in a foreign country and bigger enterprises will hardly survive without introducing their products in foreign markets or merging with foreign companies in order to establish a multinational company. Therefore the knowledge of at least one foreign language is definitely a crucial skill one should have. But being able to transform a word or a sentence from a native into a foreign language does not guarantee a trouble-free course of a conversation led by members with different cultural backgrounds. It is at least as important to be aware of how language is used in another culture and to see through the culturally specific patterns of communication. Thus, one has to get away from the ethnocentric view in order to investigate differences in speech and to be able to recognise the true intention of the interlocutor. Only the ability to interpret the spoken and unspoken in the right way combined with a good knowledge of a language will lead to a successful and smooth conversation.

The intention of this paper is to investigate differences in speech among cultures, which can lead to a communicative breakdown. In order to clarify the term ‘culture’, we will begin with finding an appropriate definition. We will then turn to a categorisation of cultures in the ‘cultural variability’ chapter in order to reveal different cultural assumptions about their values and worldviews which are also reflected in their specific way of communicating. Different verbal communication styles will be presented in the fourth chapter before we turn to investigate ‘silence’ as a part of verbal communication. Based on these results we will analyse a business negotiation between a Singaporean and a German businessman as well as between negotiators of western cultures, and reveal at the same time differences in proceeding in such a situation.

2 Culture

Before we can talk about cultural differences, we first have to clarify in which way the term “culture” will be used throughout this paper. As there are more than 300 definitions1 of this term I will mainly focus on those which were presented in the seminar.

Basically, all human beings have the same biological characteristics. Everybody has the ability to sleep, eat, move etc2. But throughout our socialisation process we learn patterns of thinking, feeling and potential acting from our environment, i.e. from close relatives, neighbourhood, friends, school etc. Especially during our childhood we acquire such patterns, which are established more and more firmly the older we are. Hofstede calls these patterns “mental programs” or “software of the mind”3. He compares the acquisition of patterns by a human being with the programming of a computer. Of course members of the same culture do not all and always (re)act in the same way and (re)actions are not entirely predictable due to individual personalities. But knowing the cultural background of a person helps understanding and, to some extent, predicting likely (re)actions. Hall/Hall use a similar terminology calling culture “a shared programme for behaviour” and comparing it with “a giant, complex computer; one has to know how the system works to lead a satisfactory life”4. Once one has learned how the system works, (s)he is likely to be able “to control one’s environment, at least to a partial extent”5. So it is possible to interact with the environment, i.e. with people having the same cultural background, without great disturbances.

In order to find a final definition of ‘culture’ which will be used in this paper, I will quote Hofstedes concept of ‘culture two’:

“It is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.”6

The concept of ‘culture two’ differs from the concept of ‘culture one’. The latter describes ‘culture’ as “the training or refinement of the mind; civilisation.”7

3 Cultural Variability

Before we have a closer look at the differences in verbal communication styles, we should learn more about how to distinguish one culture from another. Therefore some dimensions of cultural variability will be examined in this chapter. As in the previous chapter, I will focus on those dimensions which were chosen by Gudykunst and TingToomey in order to describe their verbal communication styles.

3.1 Individualism vs. Collectivism

The ‘individualism - collectivism dimension’ is the “major dimension of cultural variability(...)8 ”. People in collectivistic societies “live in societies in which the interest of the group prevails over the interest of the individual.”9 People see themselves as a part of a specific group. The members of this group, which Hofstede calls the ‘we’- or ‘in-group’, are first members of the “extended family”10, but also co-workers, colleagues or classmates11.

“Die Japaner sind direkt ihrer Gruppe loyal. Ihre Loyalität, die eigentlich ihrer Familie gelten sollte, dehnen sie auf ihre Firmen aus. Die Firma ist sozusagen ihre Familie, die die Angestellten lebenslang treu betreut. Die japanischen Gewerkschaften sind überwiegend Betriebsgewerkschaften, die der Mutterfirma treu bleiben."12 One’s identity derives from of the group and one would never think of breaking the loyalty towards the group. That means that there is lifelong loyalty and goals of the ‘in-group’ are more important than personal goals. The ‘we’ identity takes precedence over the ‘I’ identity in collectivistic cultures.13

In conclusion we can say that “Collectivism (...) pertains to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.”14

In contrast,” the ‘I’ identity has precedence in individualistic cultures over the ‘we’ identity(...)”15. Individual goals are considered more important than those of the ingroup and in order to achieve a goal it is possible to break with the ‘in-group’. “Group membership shifts and people move from group to group, without much recognition of those left behind in the earlier groups.”16

Members of individualistic cultures “are supposed to look after themselves and their immediate family only (...)”17. They are taught to stand on their own two feet and one is never “supposed to be dependent on a group.”18

The identity is taken from the personal ‘I’ which differs from other people’s ‘I’. So everyone is considered as an individual with individual talents and goals and “the ties between individuals are loose.”19

3.2 Low vs. High context communication

Members of cultures with high-context communication send messages “in which most of the information is either in the physical context or internalised in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message.”20 Both, sender and speaker, are involved in a specific context. The speaker does not express his intention in an explicit way but he/she expects from his/her interlocutor to understand the meaning of the message within its context.

In contrast, the low-context communication is one “in which the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code”21. The receiver does not have to take a complex context into consideration, when decoding the message. What must be said, will be said.

It is assumed that high- / low-context communication and the dimensions of individualism and collectivism are “isomorphic”22, i.e. that high-context communication is used in collectivistic cultures, whereas members of individualistic cultures use low-context communication.

3.3 Uncertainty avoidance

Hofstede’s dimension of uncertainty avoidance describes “the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations23.” He distinguishes low and high uncertainty avoidance. Members of cultures with high uncertainty avoidance, have lower tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, which expresses itself in higher levels of anxiety and energy release, greater need for formal rules and absolute truth, and less tolerance for people or groups with deviant ideas or behaviour.”24

Furthermore, they are more likely to show emotional feelings, aggressive behaviour is accepted when a conflict or competition occurs, and there is a strong tendency for consensus.

Members of cultures low in uncertainty avoidance take uncertainty as “a normal feature of life”25. They have lower levels of anxiety, accept ambiguity, have lower stress levels and a subjective feeling of well-being, just to name a few characteristics.

3.4 Power distance

"Power distance is the extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally."26

Power distance describes also the extent to which employees accept that superiors have more power than they have. Furthermore that opinions and decisions are right because of the higher position a person has. In countries with high power distance employees are too afraid to express their doubts and disagreement with their bosses. The index for power distance describes the dependence of relationships in a country. It is small in countries where bosses and subordinates work closely together and consult each other. Subordinates and superiors consider each other more or less as equal even if there are differences in the educational level. The hierarchical system can always change depending on the circumstances. The hierarchies are flat with a decentralised organisation and a small number of supervisors who are expected to be accessible to their subordinates. Within a company the degree for unequal treatment is reduced to a low level. There is an interdependence between employer and employee. The salary range is narrow between the top and bottom in companies. Subordinates expect to be consulted during the decision-making process. In contrast in large power distance countries the relation between boss and subordinate is distant and dependent on the decisions of the boss. In companies with larger power distance and a very centralised organisation, subordinates expect to be told what to do from their superiors because they consider each other as unequal. Inequalities are normally expected and privileges are seen as something natural by superiors. Centralisation is the norm and the salary range is wide. People in high power distance cultures express positive emotions to superiors and negative emotions to subordinates.

We will keep the dimensions of individualism-collectivism, low- and high context communication, uncertainty avoidance and power distance in mind, in order to explain different verbal communication styles.

4 Verbal Communication Styles by Gudykunst and Ting-Toomey

4.1 Direct vs. Indirect Style

The direct-indirect style refers to the way of expressing the speaker’s true intention in terms of his needs, wants and desires. Members of individualistic, low-context cultures tend to use the direct style, which corresponds best to the value orientations (honesty, openness, individual worth) of such cultures. The language is therefore used in a straightforward and precise way and emphasises “speaker’s ability to express their intentions.”27. Categorical words, such as “absolutely” and “certainly”, are often employed as well as “no” in order to answer in the negative.

Members of collectivistic, high-context cultures prefer to use the indirect verbal style. Speakers of such cultures often use imprecise and even ambiguous words to communicate their message. By doing so, they “emphasise listener’s abilities to infer speaker’s intentions.”28 An example for indirect speech would be to say ‘it is somewhat cold today’ instead of saying ‘please close the door’. Qualifiers like “maybe” or “perhaps” are employed to avoid hurting the feelings of other in-group members. Also a direct “no” is mostly circumscribed. They do so in order to keep up group harmony and group conformity, which are, as we have seen in the previous chapter, main concerns in collectivistic cultures29.

The difference of the direct and indirect style can provoke a communicative breakdown between the interlocutors. Members of cultures in which the direct style is used have, for example, learned to say ‘no’ when it is necessary. This ‘no’ contains the information, that something is not accepted and emphasises a different personal point of view towards a topic. To say ‘no’ is normally not seen as impolite or offending, but it is even expected due to the value orientation of honesty and openness . People who accept everything and hardly contradict, can be easily labelled in Germany as a ‘Ja-Sager’, which has a very negative connotation. This is in contrast to the indirect style. The word ‘no’, in the sense it is used in Western societies, is not pronounced in collective cultures. But it is always used after a negative question, to which a German speaker would reply with ‘nein’ or ‘doch’. Asian people rather tend to reply to a question by saying ‘yes’ and by avoiding saying ‘no’. This is in order to keep up group-harmony and self-face concern. Saying ‘no’ would disturb the positive atmosphere.30

According to Weggel, ‘yes’ carries various meanings in cultures using the indirect style:

“1. Ich habe es verstanden, 2. Ich habe es nicht verstanden, 3. Ich habe es zur Kenntnis genommen und ‘ja’ im westlichen Sinne.”31

Even more ambiguous is the word ‚maybe‘. It can mean “1. ‘nein’, 2. Vielleicht ja, 3. Vielleicht nein, 4. Möglicherweise oder 5. Bestimmt nicht”.32 The problem is how to interpret the term in the right way. A personal experience may underline this: During a trip through Indonesia we wanted to leave a city by bus and asked an Indonesian, if he knows the way to the next bus-station. He answered ‘yes’. I went on and asked, if he could explain the way. Suddenly he seemed to become a little bit nervous which he expressed with an (for my eyes) exaggerated smile and I soon noticed that he did not know the right way. So my mistake was to take the ‘yes’ as a German ‘yes’ which led to the misunderstanding.

This is just one example to show how easily misunderstandings can occur, when interlocutors with direct and indirect style communicate.

As we have mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, collectivistic societies tend to use the indirect style. Iranians for example avoid being embarrassed or embarrassing members of their in-group. They therefore “will often talk around the point(...) and expect the listener to be intuitive enough to discover the hidden message being communicated.”33 They are more likely to use abstract ideas than concrete facts. Presenting bad news is avoided to the extent that “in some instances in which a close family member dies, the communication of this information may be postponed for months and even years.”34

In conclusion, we can summarise that the use of direct speech in individualistic, lowcontext cultures, asserts self-face need and self-face concern whereas in collectivistic, high-context cultures, the indirect speech is preferred in order to keep up group harmony and to preserve mutual-face need. Assumptions on values and a “set of deep-rooted historical-political logics” are decisive elements for the choice of one of these two dimensions.35

We will now turn to a further dimension of communication style which is the elaborate, exacting and succinct style dimension.

4.2 Elaborate vs. Exacting vs. Succinct Style

These three verbal stylistic variations describe the quantity of talk in everyday conversations in different cultures. The elaborate style distinguishes itself by a rich, expressive language, which uses a large number of adjectives describing a noun, exaggerations, idiomatic expressions, proverbs and metaphors. This style is mainly used in cultures of the Middle East such as Iran, Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi-Arabia which are moderate on Hofstede’s uncertainty avoidance dimensions and are high- context cultures.

The exacting style can be found in low-context cultures which are low to moderate on Hofstede’s uncertainty avoidance dimension. These are mainly North American and North European cultures. It says that neither more nor less information is required to communicate a message. The speaker just uses those words, which describe exactly the speakers’ intention. No additional words or paraphrases are required. Finally, the succinct style refers to the use of understatements, pauses and silences. This style is used in cultures high in uncertainty avoidance and high-context.36

Arab cultures tend to use, as we have said, an elaborate language style. It must be chosen because a simple statement could mean the opposite. “If an Arab says exactly what he [or she] means without the expected assertion, other Arabs may still think that he [or she] means the opposite. For example a simple ‘No’ by a guest to the host’s request to eat more or to drink more will not suffice. To convey the meaning that he [or she] is actually full, the guest must keep repeating ‘No’ several times, coupling it with an oath such as ‘By God’ or ‘I swear to God’.”37

To Western listeners using mainly the exacting style, the elaborate style may sound exaggerated or even extreme, radical and aggressive. An Arab trying to show his /her point of view towards a topic, may fill his/her statements with many words, metaphors etc., which show in Arab countries firmness and strength on an issue. Vice versa the Arab listener may not understand a simple, clearly pronounced message in the way it is meant by the speaker, but exactly the opposite, due to the necessity of additional expressions in Arab culture.

When these two verbal stylistic variations clash in a conversation, a communicative breakdown may occur and, furthermore, the differences are considered to be an important factor, which complicates the relationship between North America and Egypt.38 The exacting style is similar to Grice’s concept of the ‘quantity maxim’, which says that “(...) individuals should not give others more or less information than necessary.”39

The message is clearly spoken out with precise words and there is generally no need to use additional words etc. This style is mainly used in low uncertainty avoidance and low-context cultures like that of the United States, where “the lack of shared assumptions requires the American speaker to verbalise his or her message to make his or her discrete intend clear and explicit.”40 The verbal message contains the message to a great extent. These cultures can handle new situations confrontatively without verbal elaborations or understatements, due to the values of honesty and openness.

In contrast, especially to the elaborate style, members of high-context and high uncertainty avoidance cultures use the succinct style, where explicit verbal information does not contain all of the information which is supposed to be transmitted. As the communication pattern of high-context cultures depends heavily on the non-verbal aspect, the verbal message is considered as only a part of the message being communicated. Silence, indirectness, understatements and pauses, too, carry a meaning. The Japanese for instance have developed haragei, or the ‘art of the belly’, for the meeting of minds without clear verbal interaction. Japanese leaders are actually supposed to perform haragei rather than having verbal abilities.41

Silence, or ma, is a very important aspect in high-context and high uncertainty avoidance cultures. Whereas members of low-context cultures feel rather uncomfortable when silence occurs in everyday conversation, the Japanese have even developed an “aesthetics of silence”.42 “It is viewed as essential to self- realisation and sublimation.”43 Hall states that ma in Japanese speech means that “it is the silences between the words that also carry meaning and are significant.”44 A closer look at the subject of silence will be taken place later in this paper.

4.3 Personal vs. Contextual style

As we have already mentioned in the cultural variability chapter, cultures have different assumptions about values. This fact is also reflected in their style of speaking. Members of individualistic, low-context cultures tend to see every individual as equal which is also reflected in their language. North Americans for example prefer a first-name basis and direct address. Using titles, honorifics etc is avoided. They are conscious about equalising their language and their interpersonal relations.

Differences of age, status and sex are no reasons to use different language styles.

Therefore they use in their speech the personal style which reflects an egalitarian social order where both, speaker and listener, have the same rights and both use the same language patterns. A person-oriented language stresses informality and symmetrical power relationships.

In contrast, members of collectivistic, high-context cultures find themselves during a conversation in certain roles which can depend on the status of the interlocutors. In the Korean language for example, exist different vocabularies for different sexes, for different degrees of social status or intimacy. Using the right language style in a conversation is a sure sign for a learned person. In the Japanese honorific language, there are not only differences in vocabulary but also differences in grammar.45 If one fails in choosing the right words it is considered an offence. As we can see, formality is essential in human relations for the Japanese which is in sharp contrast to the North Americans. They are likely to feel uncomfortable in some informal situations. For them, formality “allows for a smooth and predictable interaction(...)”.46 Therefore they employ the verbal contextual style. The contextual style is heavily based on a hierarchical social order and is a rather role-centred language. According to Okabe, the Japanese language can be seen as a status-oriented language which stresses formality and asymmetrical power relationships.

4.4 Instrumental vs. Affective style

These dimensions refer to how and to which extent language is used in verbal exchange in order to persuade the interlocutor. That includes the speaker’s attitude toward his listeners. The instrumental style is goal-oriented in verbal exchange and employs a sender-oriented language. Speaker and listener are clearly differentiated. The former transmits an information, idea or opinion while the listener is the receiver of the message. The speaker tries to persuade his or her listener in a confrontational setting with arguments in the step-by-step process viewing himself or herself as “an agent of change”47. Even if the listener is not ready to accept his counterpart’s opinion and maybe contradicts, the speaker will go on talking in order to achieve a change in the listener’s attitude. Okabe states that “the independent ‘I’ and ‘you’ clash in an argument and try to persuade each other. They go so far as to enjoy argument and heated discussion as a sort of an intellectual game.”48 This kind of arguing is based on the ‘erabi’ or ‘selective’ worldview. It says that “human beings can manipulate their environment for their own purposes, as the speaker consciously constructs his or her message for the purpose of persuading and producing attitude change. Erabi means choosing the best from a range of alternatives to effect such change.”49

The instrumental style is dominant in individualistic, low-context cultures.

By contrast, the affective style is process-oriented in verbal exchange and uses a receiver-oriented language. The roles of speaker and listener are rather integrated than differentiated and are interdependent. The speaker is not only expected to transmit his or her message, but at the same time to be ”considerate about other’s feelings”..50 That means that he or she is supposed to be aware of the listener’s reactions, to interpret them and finally to adjust himself or herself to his or her listener. Hence, the speaker is transmitter and receiver at the same time. On the other hand, the listener is supposed to “catch on quickly”51 to the speaker’s position, before the speaker must pronounce his intention clearly or logically. He or she is therefore expected to pay attention not only to what is said but also to how something is said. Both sides are supposed to use their “intuitive sense52 ” For Koreans, this intuitive sense is reflected in the concept of ‘nunchi’. It enables the Koreans to detect whether the interlocutor is pleased with the conversation or not by interpreting the other’s facial expression . In case that one side notices that the other one does not agree with his or her idea, it is most likely that he or she refuses to talk any further. This is in a sharp contrast to speaker using the instrumental style, who would carry on arguing in order to change his or her listener’s attitude.

As the instrumental style is based on the ‘erabi’ worldview, the affective style reflects the ‘awase’ or ‘adjustive’ point of view. It says that “human beings will adapt and aggregate themselves to the environment rather than change and exploit it, as the speaker attempts to adjust himself or herself to the feelings of his or her listeners.

Awase is the logic not of choosing between but of aggregating several alternatives.”53 The affective style is dominant in collectivistic, high-context cultures.

5 Silence

In this chapter we want to clarify what silence is, which forms of silence have been observed and why it occurs during a conversation. This will be the basis for further investigations of the use of silence in different cultures.

Bruneau stated that "Silence is to speech as the white of this paper is to this print. Physiologically, silence appears to be the mirror image of the shape of discernible sound for each person. Speech signs, created by necessity or will, appear to be mentally imposed grounds of silence. Mind creates both. (...) The entire system of spoken language would fail without man's ability to both tolerate and create sign sequences of silence-sound-silence units. In other words, significations of speech signs are possible because of their interdependence with imposed silence."54

Hence, silence destroys continuity which is necessary in order to lend clarity to speech. Only by the destruction of continuity we can consider a thought or an emotion as finished.

Bruneau described three different forms of silence, each with different functions: psycholinguistic silence, interactive silence and socio-cultural silence.

5.1 Psycholinguistic Silence

Both, encoder and decoder of speech need to gain time to either encode mental thoughts into proper words and grammatical forms, or to decode a message. This is often done by hesitations which are forms of silence55. They include unfilled and filled pauses. Pauses can be filled with utterances such as 'ah', 'um', repetitions, sentence corrections, word changes etc. The longer or the more complex the periods of speech are, the longer is the hesitation. Psycholinguistic silence does not contain a potential source of misunderstanding in an intercultural conversation as it only describes cognitive processes. We therefore turn directly to the next form of silence.

5.2 Interactive Silence

Another kind of silence is called "interactive silence" which are pausal interruptions in a conversation and which tend to be longer than hesitations. Bruneau noted that "interactive silences differ from psycholinguistic silence mainly in each participant's conscious recognition of the degree and manner in which he is expected to participate in communicative exchange."56 A long interactive silence can signify that one is careful or an has an emotionally close relationship with his or her counterpart or, in contrast, an interpersonal snub when the participants are not familiar. Moreover interactive silence can express deep emotions and it is used as a form of social control. In the following we will take a closer look on the issue of turn-taking, i.e. when the decision must be made, who will assume the burden of speaking.

5.2.1 Turn Taking and Transition Relevant Places

During a conversation of two or more interactans, the question when one has finished expressing his intention and is ready to give the burden of speech to the interlocutor, is very important as a smooth, synchronised manner of turn taking reduces the risk of an uncomfortable interruption in conversation.57 In discussions between two politicians of opposite parties for example, it happens quite often that one speaker is interrupted by his or her interlocutor. He or she then often claims his right to finish the sentence. There seems to be a rule in conversation that only one person speaks at a time and that the other has to wait until a certain point before taking over the burden of speech. Enninger calls these points Transition Relevant Places (TRP’s), “points where speakers may change in conversations.”58. They can be relatively short but despite that they can be considered as one kind of interactive silence59. As length of pauses between turns can vary across cultures they constitute a potential danger which can lead to a breakdown in intercultural communication. The example of a conversation between an Athabaskan and an English speaker may help to explain this:

Athabaskans accept a slightly longer pause between sentences than do English speakers. When an English speaker has finished a sentence he expects the Athabaskan to take the burden of speak within a certain time. Due to different systems of pausing between turns, the Athabaskan would reply later than the English expects. The English might think that his interlocutor does not want to speak and feels free to continue. But at the same time, the Athabaskan has just been waiting his regular length of time before answering in order to not interrupt the speaker. If the conversation continues this way, the Athabaskan will not be able to start talking or to make any comments while the English speaker goes on and on. The conversation seems to be for both sides rather unsatisfying. It can moreover lead to negative assumptions by the interlocutors. The Athabaskan might think that the English speaker just wants to present his point of view and that he is not interested in the other one. In contrast the English speaker could assume that the Athabaskan is not interested in his opinion or, even worse, that he is not able to follow him intellectually. Negative assumptions can also include the whole opposite ethnic group.

A similar situation can occur when the Athabaskan intends to say a series of sentences. After having finished the first one, he will wait his regular length of time before continuing. The English speaker will now most likely interrupt him because he thinks that the Athabaskan has finished due to the length of the pause. In this context, the English speaker might feel that the Athabaskan cannot pronounce a whole coherent idea and vice versa the Athabaskan feels interrupted and not being able to say what he intended to say.60

As this example shows, different assumptions on pauses between sentences can lead to serious problems during a conversation despite the tiny difference of not more than half a second in length.

Enninger found out that Old Order Amish people are very tolerant concerning non- phonation. In a sixty minute conversation of members of this culture he counted 85 between-turn non-phonations, varying in length from five to 55 seconds. The big differences in length reveal that in this culture an obligatory conversational principle concerning the duration of pauses at TRP’s does not exist but an optional rule producing a high tolerance for non-phonation.

In contrast to the Old Order Amish, North American speakers would hardly accept a pause longer than six seconds. They will only tolerate such a gap when it has been marked in advance as a temporary interactional exit (for example by saying ‘Wait a second’) which has been accepted (for example by saying ‘Take your time’). Without this hold-accept procedure, longer pauses are rather possible in unfocused interactions where “participants are not so much concerned with filling the time by a continuous flow of turns, but the management of sheer and mere copresence., as for example retired neighbours sharing a park bench.”61

In order to distinguish cultures using rather longer pauses at TRP’s and those using shorter ones at these points we can refer to Hall’s low- vs. high context dimension. High context cultures have widely shared socio-cultural assumptions and therefore they do not have to verbalise as much as low-context cultures. Hence, longer pauses are more common in high-context cultures and shorter ones in low-context cultures.

5.3 Socio-cultural silence

Cultural communication patterns include not only rules concerning the use of verbal expressions but determine also situations in which entire social and cultural orders select silence in order to express their intentions or feelings. Socio-cultural silence may help understanding cultural communication patterns much better than spoken words. Basso stated that “ an adequate ethnography of communication should not confine itself exclusively to the analysis of choice within the verbal repertoires. It should also (...) specify those conditions under which the members of the society regularly decide to refrain from verbal behaviour altogether.”62

There is no clear distinction in some positions from interactive silence but it can be seen as a concurrent support.

Cultures have developed certain conceptions of authorities. These conceptions often include the use of silence for different purposes. Students for example become quiet as soon as the teacher enters the room. The public will stop talking when the judge enters the court. Becoming silent in such situations means a recognition and acknowledgement of the authoritative position.

Cultures also refrain from speech at certain places. Churches, libraries and cemeteries are just a few examples where people keep silent for the purpose of maintaining norms and popular belief.

Silence as a major source of rhetorical control takes place mostly in ceremonial public events, like flag rising, praying or testimony. If one breaks the silence in such a situation, it is seen as strong anti-social behaviour.

6 Differences in business negotiation

6.1 Analysis of Singaporean-German business negotiation

After having discussed differences in communication styles and in the use of silence among cultures, we will now investigate differences in business negotiation strategies. The topics discussed above may help to understand the different ways of proceeding in negotiation situations across cultures.

Negotiations deal with the questions of what should be discussed, how the positions should be presented and what intentions concerning their relationship the negotiators have. These three levels of negotiating can be described as subject matter, atmosphere and long, medium and short term relationship. Western cultures are basically interested in a short or medium term relationship. American businessmen have to publish their results in quarterly reports and Germans think in terms of fiscal years. In contrast, a long term relationship is of crucial importance, especially for Asians63 what may support the conclusions made on the individualism- collectivism level as collectivistic cultures tend to be loyal to their in-group members and business partners can be considered as in-group members.

A report Alexander Mühlen who worked at the German embassy as a Trade Councillor in Singapore and was concerned with mediating between German and Singaporean enterprises wrote, shows how difficult it is even for an experienced professional to handle a negotiation with an Asian counterpart without disturbances. A German brake-factory asked Mühlen to convince the director of the Singaporean underground metrorail system to order the brakes in Germany. Mühlen, after he had explained in vain that such a meeting in corruption free Singapore would not make much sense, agreed and promised to arrange a protocol meeting to introduce himself as the new Trade Councillor. When he asked for a meeting he did not mention the real intention of his visit because he knew that under such circumstances he would be rejected. At this time, however, it had been already decided that an English enterprise was preferred and the director knew why Mühlen had made the appointment. But instead of explaining the situation to Mühlen, an appointment was arranged three weeks later, on the same day the news would be published in the newspaper. This can be seen as indirect communication as the director expected Mühlen to read the newspaper and, on this way, being aware of the situation. But Mühlen did not and came to the appointment without this piece of information. Hence, the discussion was at first very unfavourable for the Trade Councillor. He started to talk positively about Singapore and its economy. “I avoided speaking directly (...) about my purpose for coming, i.e. the MRT project, and the brake business. (...) All I could do was to give modest cue to make him talk about the subject if ever he wished to. (...) Dr. Y (the director) seemed not only not to notice my subtle reminders, but for almost half an hour said nothing at all. I spoke and spoke and continued to speak, stopping to make artificial pauses, yet saw no facial expressions or body language on his side.”64

For a relatively long time the director remains silent and as a result Mühlen felt more and more uncomfortable:

"I felt like I was in a James Bond film, and that if I made a mistake like stopping to talk, a trap door under me would open, and I would fall into the underground sewage system of Singapore."65

In the silence chapter we noted that North Americans would hardly accept a pause longer than six seconds during a conversation. Furthermore we can assume, that the German's tolerance, as a member of the occidental world, does not differ essentially.

Mühlen made artificial pauses and hoped that the director would take over the burden of speaking. As the director did not, Mühlen continued to speak. But in this case it is not due to differences in length of TRP's that this discussion took this uncomfortable turn, but rather to a strategic proceeding on the part of the director. His intention, while remaining silent, was to test his interlocutor whether he is worthy of a long-term relationship or not. The fact that the director invited Mühlen a couple of weeks later for a second meeting, where the atmosphere was essentially more relaxed and the issue was discussed, proves that the director had a positive impression of his interlocutor. Hence, for him the meeting was rather successful. A western businessman would definitely not describe the first meeting as successful as there was neither a concrete outcome nor was the subject even discussed. For Westerners the subject matter is of crucial importance.

The meeting described above also reveals another pattern in Asian negotiation strategies. Mühlens part in the discussion can be described as that of a demander, i.e. he is the inferior. The director, in contrast, finds himself in the role of the superior since he is the person who is asked. The first step must now be to equalise the difference in order to achieve a situation of balance. Agreements, which are accepted by both sides, can only take place in such a situation. The inferior therefore must make concessions. He must be aware of his inferior part and proceed in an offensive but concealed way, what Mühlen calls the communicative pull-mode66, in order to allow the superior to start discussing the issue whenever the latter wants to. In the example, Mühlen was the first to speak, though not the first to talk about business. He started with small-talk and praised Singapore's economical development during the last 25 years. By giving modest cues he offered his counterpart to start speaking about the subject. But, as we have already said, the director remained silent for about half an hour. Then, suddenly, the director started talking about German enterprises who behaved in an unfair way towards Singaporean enterprises. He stresses his own importance and that of his country. Mühlen still played the part of the inferior and did not contradict. During this meeting, a kind of power play took place. Instead of negotiating the subject, it was one’s own role in this discussion that seemed being negotiated.

This proceeding is consistent with the assumption made in the personal vs. contextual style chapter. As we have said, the contextual verbal style is used collectivistic, high-context cultures like Singapore. Mühlen and the director find themselves in certain roles. The former in the role of the inferior, the latter in that of the superior. Both can or better should use a certain communicative mode in order to not affect the result negatively. The demander should use the pull-mode, i.e. acting on the offensive but in concealed manner. If he uses the push-mode, i.e. if he acts offensively and openly, it can be viewed as aggressive and face threatening since formality is not kept. An indirect rejection of the demand would be likely. The director rejected Mühlens' request indirectly by not moving at all, i.e. he remained silent.67 A direct rejection, i.e. acting defensively and openly, is rather unlikely in collectivistic cultures, since 'no' as an answer is avoided.

6.2 Differences in negotiation patterns between France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States

In the previous chapter we investigated in which aspects Singaporean and German business negotiation strategies differ and learned that there are relatively big differences which can easily lead to difficulties. But these differences, of course, do not exist only between cultures with so different values and shared assumptions. Among the occidental cultures as well, there are different aspects which can influence the outcome of a negotiation.

Campbell investigated “the influence of the similarity of negotiators (...) on bargaining strategies (...) and negotiation outcomes (...)”68: Even if the negotiations, on which the data is based, were not conducted by businessmen of different cultures but by persons of the same nationality, a comparison reveals differences in negotiation patterns.

For French negotiators for example, similarity69 of buyer and seller is very important.

The seller’s profit and buyer’s satisfaction were related positively to similarity.

Moreover French buyers mostly achieve a higher individual profit than the sellers which shows that the role of the negotiator (seller or buyer) seems to influence the outcome.

In contrast, similarity did not affect the negotiation’s outcome significantly in a German negotiation. Seller’s profit was enhanced by the use of a distributive or instrumental approach to negotiations (which is the opposite of a co-operative approach). Furthermore, no differences were found between seller’s profit and buyer’s satisfaction.

British sellers did, as the German ones , have a higher individual profit when they used distributive or instrumental behaviours. Similarity did not influence the outcome. The big difference to German negotiation patterns is that the buyer had a significantly higher individual profit. The role is in the U.K. seems to be even more important than in France.

Similarity did not affect the outcome of an American negotiation and there was no significant difference between buyer’s and seller’s profit. The latter seems to depend on buyer’s reciprocating a co-operative approach while the seller’s behaviour did not influence his or her profit.

As we can see, the role of the negotiator is important in France and the U.K.. The buyer had mostly a better individual profit than the seller. Foreign negotiators should therefore be aware of his or her role in the negotiation and should act accordingly. Furthermore, this is consisting with Hall’s low/high context continuum, where British and French are rather high context cultures compared to the American and German cultures. The last two, especially the German one, are low context cultures, i.e. being in the role of the seller or buyer does not significantly influence one’s profit.

Moreover, similarity is very important in France. Therefore it would be necessary for a foreign company to choose a negotiator who is familiar with the French culture in order to be successful.

In contrast, similarity does not enhance one’s profit in Germany. Germans are maybe not even interested in searching for similarities, because “German[s] will keep [their] distance. [They] feel a personal relationship might interfere with the performance of [their] job.”70

Finally, strategic approaches are not the same. While German and British negotiators use a distributive or instrumental one, Americans employ a problem-solving approach71. When these two styles clash in a negotiation, Americans might get the impression that the interlocutor is not really interested in the own needs. And, vice- versa, Germans or British could think that the negotiation becomes too detailed and thus, too long.

In conclusion we can say that negotiations in the above mentioned western cultures seem to proceed differently. Strategies in proceeding vary and aspects like role or similarity are valued differently. It is therefore necessary that one is aware of these differences in order to lead a trouble free conversation and, moreover, to achieve a high individual profit

7 Conclusion

After having defined the term ‘culture’ we categorised cultural variables, such as individualism-collectivism, low- and high context communication, uncertainty avoidance and power distance, in order to explain cultural differences concerning shared assumptions about values and worldviews. Considering these variables, we turned to explain different verbal communication styles, distinguishing between the direct-indirect, the elaborate-exacting-succinct, the personal-contextual and the instrumental-affective style and assigned them to specific cultures. We learned that there are significant differences in the use of language. Silence can be seen as a part of verbal communication and we saw that cultures use it to a different extent as a rhetorical tool. Furthermore it was shown that the length of pauses between the change of speakers differ between cultures. The example of the Athabaskan and the English speaker revealed that different assumptions about length of a pause at TRP’s could lead to disturbances as each speaker could interpret it negatively. Negative feelings about one’s interlocutor could moreover be stretched on the whole ethnic group and culturally specific stereotypes, which do not correspond to reality, might be established. Psycholinguistic and socio-cultural silence completed the three dimensions of silence set by Bruneau.

In the last chapter we investigated differences in negotiation behaviours. We learned that Asian, in contrast to members of western cultures, are rather interested in long term relationships. Therefore they tend to probe their interlocutor in the first meetings whether the counterpart is worthy of a relationship. It is also likely that they do not even discuss the subject matter. Moreover the role seems to be very important and prescribes a certain behaviour. One should be aware of his or her role and use the right communicative mode in order to allow a smooth ongoing of the conversation. Different aspects that influence negotiation outcomes among western cultures were investigated in the last part and it was shown that assumptions about ‘similarity’ or strategic approaches vary between Germans, British, French and North Americans. In conclusion we can say that intercultural communication contains several aspects that could lead to misunderstandings. The challenge for everybody who finds him or herself in such a situation is to be able to see through the communication patterns of the interlocutor and to understand his or her intention correctly.

8 References

Almaney, A., Alwan, A. “Communicating with the Arabs”. Prospect Heights 1982

Basso, K. „To give up on words: Silence in Western Apache cultures”, in: Carbough, D. (1990)

Bruneau,T.J. “Communicative Silences: Forms and Functions”, in: Mortensen, C.D. (1979), pp. 306-334

Campbell, N.C.G., Graham, J., Jolibert, A., Meissner, H. „Marketing Negotiations in France, Germany, „The United Kingdom and the United States“, in: “Journal of Marketing”, Bd. 52, 1988, pp. 49-62

Carbough, D. (ed.), “Cultural communication and intercultural contact”, Hillsdale 1990

Enninger, W. „What interactans do with non-talk across cultures“, in: Knapp, K. (1987), pp. 269-299

Gudykunst, W.B. (ed.), “Intercultural Communication Theory”, Beverly Hills 1983

Gudykunst, W.B. /Ting-Toomey, S. “Culture and interpersonal communication”, Newbury Park 1988

Gudykunst, W.B. /Ting-Toomey, S. /Nishida T. “Communication in personal relationships across cultures”, Thousand Oaks 1996

Hall, E.T. “The dance of life”, New York 1983

Hall, E.T. /Hall, M. „Hidden Differences. Studies in International Communication. How to communicate with the Germans”, Hamburg 1983

Hofstede, G. „Cultures and Organization: Software of the mind“, Maidenhead 1991

Jonach, I. (ed.) „Sprache & Sprechen“, Band 34: Interkulturelle Kommunikation, München 1998

Knapp, K. (ed.): „Analysing intercultural communication“, Berlin 1987

Mortensen, C.D. “Basic readings in Communication Theory”, New York 1979

Mühlen, A. „Aspects of relationship, strategy, and tactics in international negotiating: two examples from Singapore“ in: Pürschel, H. (1994), pp. 217-229

Okabe, R “Cultural Assumptions of East and West; Japan and the United States”, in: Gudykunst, W.B. (1983), pp. 21-41

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1 Slembek, E. in: Jonach, I. (ed.) (1998), p. 27

2 Prosser, M. (1978), p. 5

3 Hofstede, G (1991), p. 4

4 Hall, E.T.,Hall, M. (1983)

5 Prosser, M. (1978), p. 5

6 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 260

7 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 260

8 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S, (1988), p. 40

9 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 50

10 Hofstede, G: (1991), p. 50

11 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), p. 42

12 Oshio, T. in: Otte, W. (ed.) (1985), p. 155

13 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), p. 40

14 Hofstede, G. (1991), pp. 50

15 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), p. 40

16 Prosser, M. (1978), p. 67

17 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), p. 40

18 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 51

19 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 51

20 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 79

21 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 79

22 Gudykunst, W.B./Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), p. 44

23 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 113

24 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 115

25 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 125

26 Hofstede, G. (1991), p. 28

27 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S., Nishida, T. (eds.) (1996), pp. 30

28 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S., Nishida, T. (eds.) (1996), p. 30

29 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S., Nishida, T. (eds.) (1996), p. 31

30 Weggel, O. (1994), pp. 316

31 Weggel, O. (1994), pp. 316

32 Weggel, O. (1994), pp. 316

33 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S., Nishida, T. (eds.)(1996), p. 188

34 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S., Nishida, T. (eds.)(1996), p. 189

35 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), p. 104

36 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), pp. 105

37 Almaney, A., Alwan, A. (1982), p. 84

38 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), pp. 105

39 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S., Nishida, T. (eds.) (1996), p. 30

40 Okabe, R. in: Gudykunst, W.B. (ed.), (1983) , p. 35

41 Okabe, R., pp. 38

42 Okabe, R:, p. 39

43 Okabe, R., p. 39

44 Hall, E.T. (1983), p. 208

45 Okabe, R., p. 35

46 Okabe, R., p. 27

47 Okabe, R., p. 36

48 Okabe, R., p. 25

49 Okabe, R., p. 36

50 Okabe, R., p. 36

51 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), p. 112

52 Gudykunst, W.B., Ting-Toomey, S. (1988), p. 113

53 Okabe, R., pp. 36

54 Bruneau, T.J. in: Mortensen, C.D. (1979), p. 307

55 Bruneau, T.J., p. 312

56 Bruneau, T.J., p. 315

57 Wiemann, J., Knapp, M. in: Mortensen (1979), pp. 227

58 Enninger, W. in: Knapp, K. (ed.) (1987), p. 271

59 Enninger distinguishes between ‚non-talk‘ and ‚silence‘. ‘Silence’ refers to „contextual and functional classifications and/or interpretations of instances of absent vocalizations whereas ‚non-talk‘ refers to „the unclassified and uninterpreted acoustic phenomenon.“

60 Scollon, R./Wong-Scollon, S. in: Carbough, D. (ed.) (1990), pp. 273

61 Enninger, W., p. 281

62 Basso, K. in: Carbough, D. (ed.) (1990), p. 305

63 Mühlen, A. in: Pürschel, H. (ed.) (1994), p. 217

64 Mühlen, A., p. 219

65 Mühlen, A:, p. 219

66 Mühlen, A., p. 227

67 Mühlen, A., pp. 227

68 Campbell, N.C.G., Graham, J., Jolibert, A., Meissner, H. in: Journal of Marketing, Bd. 52, 1988, pp. 49-92

69 Campbell uses McGuire’s definition of similarity: „ Presumably the receiver, to the extent that he perceives the source to be like himself in diverse characteristics, assumes that they also share common needs and goals. The receiver might therefore conclude that what the source is urging is good for „our kind of people,“ and thus change his attitude accordingly.“

70 Campbell, N.C.G., Graham, J., Jolibert, A., Meissner, H., p. 53

71 Campbell defines the problem-solving approach „as a set of negotiation behaviours that are co-operative, integrative and information-exchange-orientated.“

26 of 26 pages


Differences in communication styles between cultures
University of Siegen
Intercultural communication and cooperation
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Differences, Intercultural
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Ingo Neuling (Author), 1999, Differences in communication styles between cultures, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/104380


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