Cross- Cultural Engagement: Indirect vs Direct Communication

Direct vs. Indirect Communication

In high context culture, great care is taken to communicate with attention to feelings so communication can be indirect or implicit. In a low context culture, communication is more concerned with ensuring information is completely exchanged, with less value placed on feelings. Plueddemann (2009) addresses this connection and applies it to the foundational value placed on relationships. High-context cultures, like Guatemala, place a premium on harmonious relationships. The group is more valued than the individual, and cooperation is preferred over competition. Quality time is treasured more than accomplishing a quantitative task. Change is often resisted. On the other hand, people in low-context cultures, like the United States, tend to think in concepts, principles, abstractions and theories. Their thinking transcends the present situation and is not embedded in the immediate context. Communication is not subtle, but direct. It is mostly verbal or written. Accomplishing precise goals is more important than building relationships.[1]

The direct communication of the United States is described by GlobeSmart, “People in the U.S. generally believe that being concise, precise, and to the point are signs of being a good communicator. They generally prefer to come to the main point quickly and do not talk around a subject.”[2] People from the United States are comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives and expect others to do the same. The Guatemalan culture’s value of relationships contributes to an indirect style of communication. This indirect style of communication is described by GlobeSmart as “one that is slow and circular and does not cause people to ‘lose face’.”[3] Guatemalans believe it is important in dealing with issues in a way that does not publicly embarrass or bring shame on anyone. For this reason, Guatemalans may avoid saying no to protect the relationship and save face for those involved. In fact, they may actually give a maybe or affirmative answer, when the answer truly is no. The implications of both context and communication styles in cross-cultural interaction call for awareness in all communications of the manner and words being expressed and calls for the use of indirect questions where feedback is needed.

[1] Plueddeman. Leading Across Cultures, kindle 732-735.

[2] GlobeSmart. ., “Communication Styles”

[3] GlobeSmart., “Communication Styles”

[4] Elmer. Cross-Cultural Conflict, 67


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