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Communication styles and culture

Ever get frustrated how people from other cultures communicate? That’s because people of different cultures prefer to communicate in different ways – and this diagram highlights the differences between Western, Eastern and Middle eastern cultures.

People from western cultures tend to get directly to the point. Their communication tends to have a logical and linear structure. Sermons have a clear structure, and in face-to-face communication people don’t beat around the bush, but get right to the point.

Middle eastern people tend to eventually get to the point – after slowly spiraling in, having prepared the listener for the message. Sermons are lengthy, and face-to-face conversations take a long time before delicately getting to the heart of the matter.

People from eastern cultures tend to not get to the point at all. They will talk around and around the point, never directly mentioning it – but by constantly circling around it, they will make clear what they’re really talking about. Sermons seem to go around and around, and in face-to-face communication people never seem to say what they really mean.

You can see that each way of communicating actually has a nice side to it. In different ways, each of these are trying to be considerate…

However people of one culture can become incredibly frustrated (and even angry) about the communication styles of other cultures. Westerners can appear blunt and rude, while Easterners can seem manipulative and untrustworthy. Sometimes that’s because sin can cause people to become selfish and demanding in their communication.

Not only that, people tend to think that their own communication style has an inherent rightness about it. But this isn’t the case – and you can even see some of these differences coming out in the writing of the different apostles in the Bible. Paul for instance is logical and direct in his writing – like the Western linear style. And John’s letters tends to go around and around – like the Eastern circular style.

[ PS: I saw this diagram in a library book back at Moore College – but unfortunately neglected to write down the reference… ]

Categories: Chinese culture
  1. Euge
    29 July 2008 at 10:19 am

    Love your assessment on the different cultural styles of communication.  Would it be fair to say that John was more middle-eastern i.e. he was preparing people for what he had to say, or would be more likely that he seems to be spiralling because he is repeating what he feels is important (or maybe he was spiralling because of his old age)  If John\’s letters do go round and round – at what point does he then hit the centre?  The age old question of whether there is a centre in John\’s letters.Also noticed that you didn\’t comment on the eastern or in my understanding – the \’Chinese\’ style of communication.  While I am sympathetic to the middle-eastern style, I\’m not convinced that the eastern style of communication where you go round and round without ever coming to the point is Biblical or loving.  My question would be – \’is the Chinese (eastern) style of communication driven by love … or face?\’ My struggle is to see how it is consistent with the Pauline principle of speaking the truth in love (Eph.4:15).  In fact, in that very passage I am reminded that until we can do that, we will not mature.  While we need to understand our culture, we must ultimately be shaped by our Christian culture, and so the way we communicate needs to transcend our cultures.

  2. Andrew
    30 July 2008 at 11:54 am

    Hmmm. I think communication can still get the point across – yet not say it explicitly. Narrative is a good example of this. So right now I\’m not too sure about the wrongness of the Chinese communication style per se… They may feel they are getting the point across – without having to explicitly raise it.It\’s definitely right that the circular communication style can be used in an unloving way – perhaps by hinting at hurt, instead of citing actual examples. Or allowing the criticiser to not own their own criticism. Or by not allowing the criticised person a chance to respond to the allegations.So I think you\’re right, it is driven by trying to be considerate to maintain the face of everyone. But I wonder if it could still be used in a loving way…Because directness by itself isn\’t the answer – one can also be direct in an unloving way! Perhaps by being deliberately hurtful. Or by being careless for the feelings of others, and merely using it as an opportunity to selfishly \’get it off your chest\’.

  3. William
    4 August 2008 at 11:19 am

    I will remember the Middle-Eastern style next time when I get into a good conversation.This was a good reminder that communication needs to be driven with love and that no particular style is per se loving.

  4. Aaron
    23 January 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Hi AndrewI think the book you probably saw this in was Cross Cultural Communication: A Visual Approach (Paperback)by Richard D. Lewisisbn: 095343981X, http://books.google.com/books?id=2_LOefevBwQC&pg=PA4&dq=isbn:095343981X&hl=en#PPA11,M1I too found some of it very helpful in understanding general stereotypes/approaches.

  5. Andrew
    23 June 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Hmmm, I don\’t think that\’s it. However that does look like a fascinating book!

  6. Dave
    1 March 2011 at 4:12 am

    Hey Andrew, would be real good to get the name of the book you got this from. I’m a film studies teacher and it can help to explain some narrative structures. Cheers

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