Why You Should Know the Culture’s Communication Style When Importing

Perhaps you’ve spoken with an international contact and have the conversation suddenly take a wrong turn. Maybe your contact doesn’t seem interested in the relationship. Your counterpart might even take a defensive tone when you were not expecting it. There could be any number of explanations, a common reason, however, its a clash between communication styles. Generally speaking, it’s direct VS indirect communication styles. This issue cause serious harm to or even cause failure of an important business relationship. To avoid these problems, there are a few things you should know.

Understanding Direct VS Indirect Communications

To understand the problem and fix it, you need an understanding of the two different styles. A direct communicating culture is one in which the people speak their minds and leave little question about where they stand on a given topic. Indirect cultures, although they consider themselves upfront and extremely honest, may consider such bluntness to be extremely rude and disrespectful.

A culture that communicates in an indirect manner is usually concerned with protecting the feelings and reputation of others. Cultures that communicate in a direct manner, while they are deemed highly considerate and respectful in their home culture, find this style highly frustrating and time consuming. Indirect communicators usually try to avoid controversy and are sometimes unwilling to discuss serious issues. If forced to discuss a serious issue, the speaker will often talk in circles around the issue. This leaves the listener confused.

Knowing Which Business Cultures are Most Direct and Most Indirect

The business cultures have been studied and it has been found that the most direct communicating cultures are the Israelis, Dutch and East Coast Americans. In more direct communication cultures you will find that no topic is off limits and nothing is too embarrassing to discuss.

The most indirect communicators are the Japanese, Koreans, Thais and other East Asian cultures. When talking to someone in Japan, for example, the word “yes” usually means “yes, I understand you.” A Japanese business person usually doesn’t say “no.” Instead, they say things like, “That would be very difficult” or “Perhaps we can look into that in the future.” These expressions usually mean the same thing, or most often means, “There is no way we are doing this.”

If you are from a direct communicating culture such as Northern Europe, North America, Venezuela, Australia, etc., then it requires patience and a careful choice of words without assigning blame. Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath before approaching issues. For example, when your supplier is late on delivery, instead of showing frustration, say “I understand that there may be some difficulty with the order. Our client is upset with us. Can anything be done to help the situation?” This is a more successful approach than the typical direct approach such as, “Where is my order? You promised shipment on Friday and now my client is demanding a deep discount and it’s your fault!” The major difference is to not assigning direct blame. Instead, you explain the situation you are now facing. If you have a good partner from an indirect culture, they will try to help to balance out this issue over time.

Usually, it is harder for an indirect communicator to switch to a direct style. They feel it is extremely disrespectful. To adjust, you’ll want to focus on the facts of the situation. It also helps to read body language, visit your partner/client in person, and arrange for a third party who is familiar with the both styles of communication that can talk to both sides in order to reach agreement.


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