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Direct Versus Indirect Communication English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3761 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The cultural Orientation Framework indicates a distinction between Direct and Indirect cultures. Direct cultures of Western countries, Norn American continent value direct communication and an open atmosphere handling conflicts and problems. Conflicts, tensions and feedback are seen as constructive and important; straightforwardness is interpreted as honesty and trustworthiness. Open discussions, debates, and negotiations are emphasized; employees feel relatively free to communicate their thoughts and perspective.

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Indirect [or oriental and Middle East countries…] cultures emphasize conflict avoidance and saving face. Indirect societies are carefully in bringing tension into a relationship or contentious topics into a conversation. Open discussions, debates, or negotiations are avoided [1] . High-context communicators expect the listener to detect hidden meaning where words are not important as context, which comprises tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, posture and status. High-context communication tends to be more indirect and more formal. For high-context communicators, Flowery language, humbleness, and elaborate apologies are common. Their Roles of authority are defined by strong boundaries. Having transparent status levels is valued. Their Relationships are important and decisions are made based on how the relationship would be affected. Developing trust plays crucial role in business interactions. Face-to-face interactions are preferred so that nonverbal messages can be used to decode the meanings. On contrary, direct communication is when the speaker clearly transmits his thoughts and opinion in his verbal message [2] .

Deal-oriented Western business people tend to value direct, frank, straightforward language, whereas their Asian counterparts more often favor an indirect, subtle, roundabout style. In our experience, this communication gap is one of the greatest causes of misunderstandings between Asian and Western business people, because the two sides expect different things from the communication processes [3] .

Direct communication means that there is not another endpoint like hub between the two communication endpoints. This commonly referred as peer-to-peer communication. Indirect communication means that there is a hub, if one endpoint sends a message to a hub; the hub in turn forwards the message to the final destination, i.e., the other endpoint [4] .

Low-context communicators […Americans, Australians, Scandinavians…] utilize words that express the full extent of the intended meaning. They don’t consider nonverbal and subtle behaviors when interpreting the message. They prefer and value direct communication. People, who are from low-context culture, attach importance to logic, facts, and straightforwardness. They respect knowledge and experience as equal to authority and status levels among them are not clearly defined. They make decisions based on how it affects the task in sight and relationships are often not factored in [5] .

[In direct communication], meaning is conveyed through explicit statement made directly to the people concerned, with high reliance on the words that are used. Speakers [of who prefer such communication] avoid euphemisms, metaphors and veiled ways of expressing themselves, leaving little room for interpretation on the part of listeners. […]

The primary value associated with direct communication is honesty. Direct communicators would rather others understand their position than conceal it in order to prevent embarrassment. They believe that to tell the truth is morally correct and don’t expect other people to be hurt by their direct statements.

In contrast indirect communicators usually convey meaning through suggestion, implication and sometimes nonverbal behavior. They may also send their messages through a third party intermediary. Responsibility lies with listeners to piece together convert pieces of communication and interpret overall message.

This style allows people to avoid confrontation and to save themselves and/or others from embarrassment of losing face, and indeed the latter is the primary value associated with indirect communication styles. Indirect communicators believe that to save faces is morally correct and don’t expect other people to take all their statements literary [6] . For a communicator to interact productively with others from a different culture he or she should know whether his or her own culture is high or low context and which context is the culture in the interaction [7] .

It is important to have excellent listening and observation skills when interacting with a high-context speaker. Because, to them nonverbal behaviors are just as important as the words being used. It is important to encourage the high-context speaker to expand in ideas and provide explanations for opinions. Representatives of Low-context culture can be perceived cold because they tend to be rule-oriented. High-context speakers can also perceive low-context people as being excessively talkative and rude. The predisposition by low-context speakers to focus on written documents such as contracts and manuals can be interpreted by high-context speakers as a lack of trust, which is considered an insult. That’s why one needs to be cautious of this and ensure not to insult a high-context speaker by emphasizing written agreements. Instead, one needs to portray it has a small formality from your company that you agree isn’t too important but unavoidable. Relationship building is vital however; it is considered impolite to ask questions that are too personal in nature. They expect one to employ indirect communication [8] .

4.3 Silence

Just as cultural differences exist in language usage, they also exist in how silence is used in communication. To some extent, collectivist cultures [i.e. of oriental countries] value silence as a way of controlling the communication interaction, whereas individualist value talking in the same way [9] . Silence might be thought of as an extreme form of high -context communication [10] .

The use of silence should be also considered in communication. More willingly than avoiding communication, silence can communicate agreement, apathy, awe, confusion, contemplation, disagreement, embarrassment, obligation, regret, repressed honesty, respect, sadness, thoughtfulness, or any number of numbers of meetings. To the most inhabitants in the United States, silence means lack of attention and initiative. A person must speak up to participate. In contrast, to the Chinese, silence means agreement. One should talk only if one has something important to add. One should always let the other talk first [11] .

“Silence in the west is often considered a pause, empty space, absence of sound, or blank in the communication. When silence prolongs conversationalists become uneasy. In Asia, however, silence is valued rather than feared” [12] . This clash of different perceptions causes misunderstanding where language proficiency will not help much.

In order to conduct international talks, one needs to know the following: in the west, silence is something that requires filling in with something and may be regarded as emptiness, ignorance or blank in communication, in Asia as opposed, it is viewed as a valuable and important part of it, becoming a control strategy for cultures such as the Chinese or Japanese. Certain communities thus have a greater tolerance of Chinese, as it can convey from truthfulness to social discretion (e.g. in Japan). Differences in the perception of silence are caused by factors such as ethnicity, high or low-context or individualism-collectivism [13] .

“Silence as used in intercultural communication can be regarded an aspect of communicative style. Because of its ambiguity, silence is a rich medium of communication, but at the same time has a high potential for miscommunication, especially in intercultural encounters” [14] .

Another concept functional in understanding communicative competence is the concept of Phatic-Communion. Its purpose is to avoid silence because it may imply hostility or embarrassment when it is not required. For instance, silence in the prayer hall might be a sign of respect but when two acquaintances meet and remain silent, their silence may be interpreted as hostility or, at least, lack of interest [15] . This style communication is not to be ignored when participating in intercultural conversation and one should not perceive others through the fame of one’s own culture.

4.4 Mubalaqha

Another style of communication that causes misunderstanding between people from Western world and Islamic countries that needs reviewing is Mubalqha. Communication in Islamic countries has its peculiarities that differ from other cultures in the world. Whether one speaks their language or speaks to them a common international language, it requires Mubalaqha, which means exaggeration. It is very important because without this practice, no statements will be believed or listened by them [16] . The reason why they employ it is to make their point [17] . People of Low-context culture and of direct communication are not accustomed to it and misperceive them quiet often even though both parties speak the same common language.

In the Arab language, some common words used at the end of sentences are put there in order to be emphasized; pronouns are repeated, also for emphasis, and highly graphic metaphors and similes are commonly used. It is typical for an Arab speaker to modify a single noun with numerous adjectives for supplementary effect.

The problem lays in that what would be an assertive statement in North America, the Arab would perhaps regard it as pathetic and misrepresentation [18] . For instance, even if an Arab says that he sells everything in his store, it doesn’t mean he does so, he just wants you to become his costumer.

One needs to remember it when talking to an Arab, let’s say, in English as he may employ this style of communication. And perceiving him through your frame of culture may lead to misunderstanding.

4.5 Use of praise

Use of praise is universally used function to show appreciation or how grateful someone is to someone. However, even if it is said in a neutral foreign language, it may cause different reactions among people from various cultures. And for that reason it is reviewed in this thesis. Because if one expresses gratefulness or says compliment, he or she might get different replies from people of other cultures.

For instance, in such cultures like China, people reply to any praise with rejection, showing how humble they are, which may be misinterpreted by others of Western cultures considering it as a disagreement [19] . They may communicate the same language but have different expectations and behavior patterns in the same situation. And language is of not such help in this satiation as culture orientation.

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In addition to it, one needs to be careful when demonstrating appreciation or appraisal to someone from other country. Since, in certain cultures among which there is Indonesia, it is offensive to give praise, as it makes them lose their face, as if it is not self-understood, that that person is good enough in any case. In their opinion, only that receives a praise that doesn’t deserve it. This aspect is very important in communication, as the price of ignoring it is loss of relationships or raise of conflict. And it might happen even if you and they speak, suppose, English very well.

4.6 Tone of voice

Likewise, the following to review is tone of voice which is the quality of a person’s voice which includes: pitch, volume, speed, tension, variation, enunciation, and a number of other voice qualities such as breathiness or creakiness that can convey different meaning based on cultural norms [20] .

The function of tone of voice is to reflect attitude toward what one is talking about [21] . It can be classified as a nonverbal message in verbal communication [22] . Tone of voice is applied in order to emphasize meaning and may be used to contradict a verbal message [23] . Decoders infer identity meanings through the speaker’s tone of voice, nonverbal nuances, different facial expressions, and selection of words, terms, idioms, which can express, suppose, respect or rejection [24] .

Tone of voice plays an important role in communication and may not be ignored. Intuitive math wizards suggest that if words constitute 7 percent and tone of voice, 38 percent, which leaves 55 percent for body language. Tone of voice is the tipping point and brings with it certain attentiveness. Because if one uses a good tone of voice, then the opponent will demonstrate good body language, however, the reverse is not always true [25] . One acquires communicative competence, learning to use tone of voice since childhood [26] . Tone of voice can be useful since it can indicate closeness of communicators’ relationships [27] . And one can denote different statuses between the communicators [28] and should be aware of this factor when talking intercultural, especially with anyone form high-context culture.

Intonation patterns and tone of voice vary widely in different cultures. What in one culture sounds like hysterical argument, in another would be considered to be the norm for reasonable discussion [29] . And this is the reason why those who interact with people from other cultures experience problems understanding not only facial expressions, jokes, sarcasm, common phrases and sayings, but also tone of voice [30] .

“British-Polish joint venture is coming across problems. One of the key members of the Polish sales staff has been sent to London to work with the UK partner company. The London office is very impressed with her performance, and would like her to stay on for another six months. The British manager of the London office asks her to call Warsaw to see what they think. The telephone conversation is in Polish. Although the manager cannot speak Polish, it seems apparent to him that she is having a disagreement with the Warsaw office. When she puts down the phone, he says to her, “Magda, sorry to have got you into this mess- I hope we haven’t made you unpopular in Warsaw.” She is confused and says, “What are you talking about? Everything is fine – Warsaw has given us the OK.” [31] .

“A discourse analysis of speeches of global leaders discovered that strong voice with up and downs was associated with the perception of enthusiasm in Latin America, whereas a monotonous tone was associated with the perception of respect and self-control in Asian cultures” [32] . Many cultures perceive the same tone of voice differently in accordance with the norms of his or her culture and express themselves whether in their language or a foreign one using the tone that is applied in their culture, but not of the recipients. The example above vividly demonstrated this aspect of miscommunication giving us understanding of its importance.



5.1 The reasons for misunderstandings

Having reviewed all the aspects of communication in the preceding chapters, there is a need to consider misunderstanding itself as such. According to Austin, communication is action, and thus miscommunication can be regarded as occurrences of action failure (it is when the speaker fails to produce the intended effect), misperception (when the hearer cannot comprehend what the speaker intended to communicate), or both [33] . It is likely to occur between people who disregard each other’s grounding difference and perceive each other through the frame of their background. This gap between groundings is greater between people who represent different cultural values and beliefs. “People may come from disparate cultural backgrounds, one often misinterprets the other’s behavior, and thus negatively judges the person’s temperament (or quite often the entire country’s temperament) based on their mere cultural differences” [34] . Miscommunications as a result of cultural misunderstandings range from the banality of name-calling to hostility so violent in nature as to provoke numerous cross-cultural murders. Knowledge of a common language without any grounding or communicative and linguistic competence is of little service in mutual understanding. Higher degrees of language fluency can lead to the second-language user being perceived as having a higher competency in other areas, such as knowledge of cultural norms [35] . Hence cultural blunders by a foreigner who is not competent in the foreign language might be forgiven as consistent with his or her lack of language skills and cultural knowledge. Identical behavior by a fluent speaker of the language might be perceived negatively, because the person should know better based on his or her level of language fluency.

The clash of cultures in oral communication occurs on daily basis with elements of misunderstandings, the fruits of which are formation of the false impression, arguments, stereotyping, communication avoidance, discomfort, confusion, insult, and conflict that might lead to undesirable results. Below I present and analyze various examples of miscommunication between people who share a common language, not necessarily native. Likewise one will see the results of this miscommunication.

5.2 The analysis of the real life oral intercultural misunderstandings

After analyzing intercultural communication between the representatives of high-context and low context cultures who employ a common language for intercultural communication but without any cultural grounding, it is possible to conclude that misunderstanding may yield the following results:




False impression ( that results in stereotyping and prejudice formation)





Threat to one’s health as well as life.


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