Compliments of mollybob via Flickr

Compliments of mollybob via Flickr

It’s just your jive talkin’ Bee Gees

Verbal communication is not a one-size-fits all. In the United States, which researcher Geert Hofstede reported was an “individualistic” culture, we tend to embrace an “in our face” communicative style. Get down to brass tacks, tell it like it is, lay your cards on the table, don’t mince words.

And if sometimes there are verbal causalities, well, that’s simply a cost of doing business in an “I got mine you get yours any way you can,” “I want my piece of the pie,” “Cream rises to the top” society. In this country we are, in a manner of speaking, blunt.

Much of the world espouses a contrary mode of communication. Collectivists are high context, putting emphasis on what is not said, or, what is said indirectly – and on the concept of “face,” which is saving oneself and other people from embarrassment.

For collectivists, to deface another person is not only to embarrass that individual – but to discredit yourself (and potentially your family members) as well. Individuals in a collective are regarded as pieces of an interconnected whole. To hurt one is therefore to disparage the entire community.

What happens when two cultural styles collide? Forecasts are that by 2050, approximately nineteen percent of the U.S. population will be foreign born. In addition, because society is moving toward a more multiracial, as opposed to a simplified ethic/racial categorizational scheme, the heritage/experiences of the person you are dealing with may not be apparent. The implication is to step lightly.

Harsh conversational style may be considered aggressive (in this country), but in others, it is seen as downright abuse. Words have the power to wound, implying that we should respond to other people instead of react. Formulate our answers carefully, instead of talking first, thinking later.

Choice words that trigger an emotional reaction may be remembered years later – and not necessarily to your advantage. They create verbal pictures which upon recall may cause pain.


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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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