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Different Communication Styles

International travelers should be aware how culture influences the spoken language. While communication styles consist of nuances, topics of conversation through interactions between different cultures will be challenging. Knowing communication styles is helpful in figuring 'how' a word or phrase is said to mitigate misunderstanding and frustration between individuals.

Communication styles vary across the world. The following approaches to topics of conversation are explained:

  1. Linear vs. Circular: straight line discussion vs. a more circular approach
    1. Linear: Discussion is conducted in a straight line, like an outline with connections among stated points moving towards an end point. There is a low reliance on context, but a strong reliance on words (Get to the point!).
    2. Circular (contextual): Discussion is conducted in a circular manner (i.e., telling stories) and developing a context around the main point. (Often unstated since the listener will get the point after the information is given). There is a high reliance on context (Understand the meaning once relevant information is given).
  2. Direct vs. Indirect: meaning conveyed by words vs. through suggestion
    1. Direct: Meaning is conveyed through explicit statements made directly to the person involved with little reliance on contextual factors (Straightforward or unambiguous).
    2. Indirect: Meaning is conveyed by suggestion, implication, nonverbal behavior, and other contextual cues (i.e., Statements intended for a person may be made within earshot of another person). There is a possibility a message is sent through a third-party intermediary. Mostly, this style allows one to avoid confrontation or cause a person to lose face or be humiliated.
  3. Detached vs. Attached: objective presentation vs. expressive style
    1. Attached: Issues are discussed with feelings or emotions, conveying the speaker’s personal stake in the issue or outcome. The speaker feels strongly about the issue and expresses this with fervor.
    2. Detached: Issues are discussed with calmness and objectivity, conveying the speaker’s ability to impartially consider all the facts (Important to be objective and avoid personal bias).
  4. Concrete vs. Abstract: example driven vs. theory driven discussion
    1. Concrete: Issues are best understood through stories, metaphors, allegories, and examples, with an emphasis on the specific.
    2. Abstract: Issues are understood through theories, principles, and data, with an emphasis on the general.
  5. Intellectual Engagement vs. Relational Engagement: Discussion is about the task vs. discussion about the other person
    1. Intellectual Engagement: Disagreement of ideas is explicitly stated, without attacking the individual or relationship.
    2. Relational Engagement: Relational issues and problems are directly confronted, while intellectual disagreement is more subtly handled. Discuss the problem or debate in a non-confrontational manner (Being authentic but respectful of other peoples' ideas).

Paying attention to these distinctions

In the U.S., many people prefer a linear, direct, and concrete style of communication. In contrast, many African, Asian, and Pacific groups prefer a more circular, indirect, relational form of communication. Europeans communicate a combination of both styles. For example, Spaniards prefer a strong, relational engagement, while being direct and abstract in their approach. But the French style is often abstract, intellectually engaging, and detached. Many permutations of these communication styles are used worldwide. But people will likely encounter these unfamiliar styles. Learning to use a new set of communication styles is part of the traveling journey or competing abroad. Additionally, learning to communicate well with a wide range of people will increase one’s intercultural skills. (This section’s is from Module 1.6.3, "Communication Styles" , What's Up With Culture? School of International Studies, University of the Pacific, Bruce La Brack, ed. (2003), funding by FIPSE, U.S. Department of Education.) and (Contrast your communication style with host nationals (Pp. 124-127), in Maximizing Study Abroad: A Students' Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use

Taken from – Read about Culture and Communication Styles


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