Culture and frame of reference directly influence people’s communication style, from how they phrase messages, to how they deliver criticism and feedback, to how close they prefer to stand to their interlocutors while talking. By understanding your own communication preferences, you can learn about those of others. Then you can decide how to best communicate to get your point across clearly and without causing any offense or ambiguity. The Cultural Orientations Approach provides the framework to learn about different cultural orientations and the neutral and non-judgmental vocabulary to discuss it.
When it comes to communication, delivery is key. Some speakers might feel most comfortable speaking in a very non-emotional, detached style and will consider this a professional way to speak. This reflects an instrumental preference. Others, however, may appreciate a more engaging style where emotion is displayed more openly and flowery language is used. These people tend to show an expressive preference.
As another example, some managers feel most comfortable communicating in an informal way, using people’s first names when addressing them and employing less proper language. However, some people prefer formality in work conversations and may be offended if their interlocutors call them by their first names or use humor in conversation. Be aware of this difference and adapt according to the needs of your audience.
Also, when people have an indirect preference, they may convey messages in a more discreet way and concentrate on saving face. This may be confusing to someone with a direct preference, who is expecting explicit and straightforward language.
Along the same lines, people with low-context preferences tend to prefer having things in writing to act as a confirmation of the conversation. More high-context people may infer things and prefer speaking face-to-face to allow non-verbal cues to get across.
No matter what communication preferences you and your colleagues and partners have, it is important to know about them by taking the Cultural Orientations Indicator assessment. After learning about your preferences and those of your colleagues, you can spot potential gaps that can lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings, and decide on methods to avoid them, such as style switching when communicating with people who have different preferences than you.Back to Navigating Culture Blog