Why does an unexpected call from a native speaker of English intimidate those of us who speak English as our second, third or forth language ?
What cultural concepts infiltrate languages and so the communication styles ?
Let me take you through a few of the scenarios that I bring forth in communication trainings for the technical consultant.
Time is at the forefront. The cyclical nature of time in all our cultural lore has rendered time a never ending resource for us. On the other half of the globe, where our tech businesses find traction, time is a very linear concept. People move through strict and narrow time frames.
How does this cultural difference reflect in our language ? A simple “hold on” could be re-engineered to “Let me get back to you with details 1 and 2 in five minutes time.” Or in half an hour or half a day, as the case may be. The idea is to add on specificity to our time frames.
Frameworks of decision-making stem from cultural norms. A more established culture might have stronger infrastructures. So the decisions are made moving inward, deductions from general scenarios to more specific ones. Whereas a culture in flux might make a decision moving outwards, from a specific point to generalities. When these two cultures interact, a question of “how did you arrive at this point ?” might lead us to difficult answers and defensiveness. Unless of course, we sculpt a logical decision making framework as well as an openness to questioning and being questioned.
Questions lead us to the last frontier. There are vast differences in the power distance and the uncertainty index among cultures. Asking a question might be about proving one’s own knowledge or asserting superiority and not at all about curiosity and willingness to be open to change. Sometimes a project moves on for months before root assumptions are clarified through questions; and then the client wonders about the very foundations of the project.
The bigger communication issues stem from deep cultural norms. Solving the smaller language issues alone might not get us long term results. Unless cross cultural communication is learnt as a strategy, any normal day-to-day crisis could throw up a bad playing field.
So let us train the right way, strategically. Starting with a deeper understanding of our own culture, let us move on to the building blocks of the culture that we are trying to relate to. Only after we lay down these foundations, shall we turn to the language itself. This is how we build ourselves a confident and lasting cross culture communication strategy.