cross cultural communication

If you’re not speaking, say so!

Posted on June 1, 2010. Filed under: American culture, cross cultural communication | Tags: , , , , |

The Supreme Court’s recent decision that  suspects must explicitly tell police they want to be silent to invoke Miranda protections during criminal interrogations is a spectacular example of American cultural communication patterns. You can’t just be quiet and have people get it (oh, he’s not talking) you have to say you’re not going to talk.

Americans are very direct and expect others to be equally direct. They do not read between the lines as well as cultures with indirect communication styles, and have difficulty understanding and recognizing nuance and inference.

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this one: You don’t have the right to be quiet, because you didn’t say you were going to be quiet, you were just, well, quiet. No rights for you!!

As our newest judge, a.k.a the Wise Latina, pointed out, “criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent”.  As if not speaking is somehow ambiguous.

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Using a Woman’s Touch in War

Posted on March 6, 2010. Filed under: arab culture, cross cultural communication, cross cultural conflict, Uncategorized, women | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The US military is using female marines in a culturally appropriate role in Afghanistan, giving war a woman’s touch.  As part of a military cultural experiment, female marine engagement teams will meet with Afghani women to build relationships and gather intelligence.  For many Afghani women it is prohibited or at least culturally inappropriate to speak with an man who is not your kin. Female marines offer a way around that.

Because they are women, these soldiers will have access to the local social network of information that is common among rural women. Male marines would never have access to this network.

Just as women in business have gone from using male models for communication and leadership to valuing and incorporating female models, ie. relationship-based, women in the military are now being valued for the unique skills and access their gender provides.

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Obama, Reid, and Nonverbal Communication

Posted on January 12, 2010. Filed under: cross cultural communication, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Harry Reid was only stating the obvious—-what you look like and what you sound like have a huge impact on your audience.

93% of communication is nonverbal. The actual words account for only 7% of communication.

How closely your nonverbal style matches someone else’s will affect how well the two of you can communicate. The closer the styles are, the better the communication. Styles that are different are more likely to result in prejudice, conflict, and communication breakdown.

What Reid was saying, basically, is that a White American audience will be receptive to Obama’s appearance (light skinned), and vocal qualities (“no Negro dialect”). People, rightly or wrongly, have expectations and preferences for nonverbal communication. It’s the “Oh, he’s like me” moment that lowers communication barriers.

Biases and prejudice are also grounded in nonverbal communication and body language. People make judgments, both positive and negative, about other cultures’ body language and tone, which then impacts communication.

People who interact with diverse cultures will have greater awareness of different nonverbal communication styles. Those who understand and can use a variety of these styles will have a larger skill set to draw on and greater chance at communication success.

Nonverbal communication includes:

  • facial expression
  • body posture
  • touching
  • movement
  • physical distance
  • hand gestures
  • eye contact
  • grooming/dress
  • Tone and vocal qualities (dialect)

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You think we gossip, we think you’re shallow

Posted on July 21, 2009. Filed under: cross cultural communication, Uncategorized, women | Tags: , , , |

It only took me about 47 years, but I no longer get annoyed at the way men communicate, and I no longer try to get them to change. Both being annoyed and hoping  others will change are a total waste of time and energy.  Now when I see the stark differences in communication styles, I just say, wow, look at that.

GENERALITIES (please don’t write me that these are generalities. I know. That’s why I’ve included the header, GENERALITIES):

(straight) Men tend to use communication to:

  • Impart knowledge
  • Define status
  • Present solutions

Women tend to communicate to:

  • build relationships
  • Seek consensus
  • maintain harmony

Women also process out loud, talking things through, whereas men prefer to process internally, and talk when they have a solution.

I fall somewhere between these two extremes–I like to build relationships, but frequently like to cut to the chase and focus on solutions without all the touchy feely lets-talk-it-out stuff. I’ve been told more than once that my communication style is masculine.

Still, I am sometimes shocked at the shallowness of men’s conversations. (sports talk as communication is another posting). Their conversation often shows no interest in the details, vivid descriptions, and microscopic analysis of events that define women’s conversation.

Case in point:

My best friend (female) called me with some “holy crap! I can’t believe it! You have got to be kidding me!!” kind of news yesterday. We went over every aspect of this astounding news in gory detail, revisiting all the juicy parts 2 or 3 times. We spent a good 1/2 hour on the topic.

My husband (male) also told me some “holy crap! I can’t believe it! You have got to be kidding me!!” kind of news yesterday. When I asked for more detail,  his response was, ” I don’t know. I didn’t ask, and he wasn’t volunteering any more info.” And he was quite comfortable leaving it there.

Guys–PLEASE, explain to me: HOW  in the world do you not ask for more info? details? images? insights? analysis? Aren’t you curious? Aren’t you dying to know???

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Women do not think “Differently”

Posted on June 4, 2009. Filed under: cross cultural communication, women | Tags: , , , , , , |

“Debate on Whether Female Judges Decide Differently Arises Anew”

This headline in the NY Times today caught my eye and  it made me so furious that my heart started pounding. Differently than what?? Differently than the way real judges make decisions? The headline didn’t say Debate on Whether Male and Female Judges Decide Differently Arises Anew. It is the females that are acting different.

The article goes on to say:… the idea that women may inherently view the law differently on occasion is something that troubles even several female judges who believe it may be so. Why is the possibility that women don’t think like men troubling??  The fact that even some females  judges think this is a problem doesn’t validate the argument, it just shows that they have internalized oppression.

This reminds me of when I was an undergraduate, and recieved my degree in Women’s History (Women’s Studies/US History).  This was not real history. This was different history. I noticed that the other courses in the department were not called Men’s History, which actually would have been quite accurate.

Are we still at a place where women have to act like men in order to legitimize their power? I thought that went out with the power suits with padded shoulders of the 1980’s. Men and women do think differently from each other– and both styles are valid and useful.

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The culturally competent healthcare provider

Posted on March 17, 2009. Filed under: American culture, arab culture, Asian culture, cross cultural communication, diversity, Hatian culture, healthcare, hispanic culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Healthcare providers face multiple challenges when working with patients from different cultures. Unlike managers and employees who work with diverse coworkers and customers, healthcare providers interpretations and decisions impact the patient’s life and future.

I enjoy delivering culture training to healthcare workers. They usually “get it” and understand the importance the role culture plays in their interactions, as well as the idea that culture is more than  just ethnicity.

Still, I often hear the frustration healthcare workers encounter when providing services to members of other cultures. Even though they have the best intentions, they often don’t know how to address these differences.

Examples include:

1. Only immediate family were allowed to visit a patient in the hospital. About 12 members of an extended Hispanic family showed up, wanting to see the patient. When the provider said, “only immediate family” the response was, “We are immediate family!”  To them, the idea that a cousin or aunt is any less immediate was ridiculous.

2. A woman from Jordan was in consultation with a physician, her elder brother by her side. Before she would make any decisions or offer any responses, she would look at her brother, have a quick conversation in Arabic, and then the brother would provide the answer. The physician thought she could build a better relationship with the patient without the brother in the room. When she asked him to leave, the patient panicked and started to cry.

3.  An Hispanic patient brought her 3 children with her for her MRI, even though the healthcare provider explained that the testing would take about 1 hour, and the children could not be left unattended in the waiting room.

4. During intake at a psychiatric hospital, an Asian woman refuses to make eye contact with the healthcare provider. The provider isn’t sure if it’s cultural or related to a mental illness.

One workshop participant told a story that showed the importance of active listening, clarifying, summarizing and probing for more information. She said she was offering bereavement counseling for a Haitian woman who had just lost her 3-year-old daughter. In discussion, it came up that the woman did not attend her child’s funeral with the rest of the family. At first, the counselor was shocked at what she initially saw as a horrible thing for a parent to do. Without judging the Haitian woman, she engaged her in further discussion, only to learn that she was pregnant, and didn’t want to risk the life of her new baby by going into a cemetery. She was, by her cultural standard, being a caring and protective mother. A fact that only came out because the provider took the time to learn more.

 What cross cultural issues have you encountered in the healthcare system?


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