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WHAT IS CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNICATION?
Every day our global market grows, and with it, the need for technical communicators able to effectively communicate with people outside their own culture. Cross-cultural communication presents its own unique problems. One simple oversight could destroy prospects of working with another culture. In fact, Lannon says 60 percent of business deals between America and other countries fail. This may seem daunting—if that were the odds for car crashes, who would drive? But business deals are not the same thing as technical communications, and this section teaches you some rules of the road.
Communication as Persuasion
According to Jones, “All fields and all kinds of technical prose are fundamentally persuasive or rhetorical” (63). If this is true, not only must writers learn to communicate effectively with other cultures, but also how to persuade. With so many cultural differences and intricacies, this is not something you can bluff. In order to persuade, you must first understand what your audience needs, values, and expects.
Government Influence on Culture
Governments are often a great influence on the way individuals associate with one another. Easily it can be observed that a Socialist society strives for the common good of everyone. Meanwhile, a Capitalist society focuses on possessions and being above others. These aspects are reflected through the interactions of the people, but do not entirely explain the actions of the individuals.
Of course, a culture cannot and should not be reduced to a set of rules or stereotypes. After all, how alike are you and your parents? Your co-workers? Your friends? This is why this guide includes types of cultures that cover a broad range of countries and societies. Once you understand how these cultures work, they will be applied to specific countries. These are only generalities, and there is no replacement for personal research and feedback from your audience. By understanding these basic types of cultures, you can better recognize them and apply this information in your own writing.
It must be remembered that cultures are complicated and observations will only serve as a way to better interact within the culture. They cannot wholly define a culture. One must always be ready for new situations and not only stereotype.
TYPES OF CULTURES
According to Paul Anderson, a low-context culture is where readers do not want to set their own context for the document; they expect the writers to do that. The emphasis is on the words, not the context. To fulfill this, “Writers provide a large amount of detail to spell out fully the writer’s meaning.” Readers want all relevant information at their disposal. High-context communications (like non-verbal cues) are still used in these cultures, but low-context messages are predominant, especially for technical communications. Examples include Australia, Germany, Scandinavia, and the U.S.
High-context cultures, then, prefer writers to only include the necessary details and let the readers supply the context. They want to take their own knowledge and experience to fill in the details themselves and infer the meaning. This may seem difficult to follow because technical communicators are taught to ensure understandability and usability; however, they expect you to accurately judge how much they know. Have you ever enjoyed figuring something out without needing instructions? So do they. Texts serve as helpful guides, not detailed instructions. This is important to recognize and understand because providing too much detail in this type of culture (and really any culture) insults the intelligence of the reader. Examples include Mediterranean and Asian countries.
Individualist v. Collectivist Cultures
Individualism and collectivism has been dealt with as far back as ancient Greece. Individualism has even been linked to the allowance of private property in England.
An Individualist Culture is a culture in which every person is expected more to look after his or her self as opposed to caring about the society as a whole. People in an individualist culture tend to choose their personal goals over group goals that they may have. Individualist cultures focus more on freedom, competition, achievement, pleasure, and independence.
Individualism is blatant in Britain. In Britain there are many different types of religions and cultures resulting in smaller groups of collectivists, but the majority is individualist because they have a higher rate of Atheists.
America is an individualist culture. Americans would usually not sacrifice themselves for the sake of the group.
A Collectivist culture is a culture in which every person is expected to care about the well-being of the group instead of themselves. They often sacrifice their personal goals in order to help the group as a whole. Collectivist cultures focus more on harmony, family, security, social hierarchies, cooperation, and low levels of competition.
China is a collectivist culture. They are always working in groups and would almost always sacrifice themselves for the group or their family.
Haiti is a very religious culture; the majority of the country is Catholic. With religion often comes collectivism because they are so bonded as a community within their church.
Masculine v. Feminine Cultures
Within the realm of Sociology, there is a distinction between cultures based on whether they are masculine or feminine. A masculine culture is a society based on being assertive, competitive, and focused on the success of the individual. A feminine culture is a society based on working together, relationships with others, and the greater good of everyone.
When attempting to label a culture as masculine or feminine, one must look at the way people in the society interact. Do they usually work together or individually? Is there an emphasis more on leadership or teamwork? Do people strive to be above others? Once answering these few questions, it becomes easier to identify the culture as masculine or feminine.
America is commonly considered a masculine society. This is due to the emphasis on the greater good of the individual rather than everyone. Americans usually focus on having more than others.
On the other hand, most Hispanic cultures are considered feminine. Mainly, this is because they do not always attempt to control situations. They are more likely to accept the outcome and understand it as fate. In this way, they are less focused on control and more focused on understanding and working together.
Other than the obvious difference of language, there are still more things to consider. In Western cultures, it is rude to interrupt others and is seen as showing hostility. However in Eastern cultures, interrupting is viewed as actively engaging in conversation. Similarly, in Western cultures conflicts are usually solved face-to-face as a sign of respect. In Eastern cultures, it is better to not have arguments in public and they are solved quietly in writing. These few differences are valuable to communicators because they can help to better relationships.
In Western cultures, greetings include handshakes, eye contact, and perhaps a friendly comment. In Hispanic cultures, they greet each other by hugging and with kisses on the cheek. Americans usually save this sort of greeting for close friends and family. Eastern cultures find eye contact to be disrespectful and greet each other by bowing. Being informed of these simple differences will help you at least get further than saying “Hello.”
- Low-context means high in detail. Readers do not want to guess what you mean or waste time researching. High-context means low in detail. Readers do not want to read through information they already know.
- Individualism is every man for himself, and collectivism is every man for every man. There are many cultures and countries that are both of these, but oftentimes the countries with the major main religions, such as Haiti, are collectivists. Countries like the United States and Britain have a more diverse community; therefore they are individualistic.
- Feminine cultures are focused on working together and building relationships. Masculine cultures are focused on individual success and are more aggressive in the workplace.
- Verbal communication deals with the importance of the spoken word, while non-verbal communication deals with the importance of other factors such as body language.
Anderson, Paul V. Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2011. Print.
"Country Profiles - Global Guide to Culture, Customs and Etiquette." Kwintessential. Kwintessential Ltd 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.
Han, Sang-Pil, and Sharon Shavitt. "Persuasion and Culture: Advertising Appeals in Individualistic and Collectivistic Societies." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 3 June 1993. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.
"Individualism vs Collectivism." International Business Cultures. Web. 01 Mar. 2011.
Jones, Dan. Technical Writing Style. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998. Print. Lannon, John M., and Laura J. Gurak. Technical Communication. 12th ed. Boston: Longman, 2011. Print.
Low and High Context Cultures. 8 January 2007. YouTube. Web. 4 March 2011.
Triandis, Harry C., Robert Bontempo, and Marcelo J. Villareal. "Individualism and Collectivism: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Self-Ingroup Relationships." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.
Weidman, A. "Collectivist and Individualist Cultures." Psychology Wiki. Web. 01 Mar. 2011.