Read on to learn about: How communication really is the key to business. How understanding communication styles can save you time, money and frustration in the long term. How you have the power to make your work and life easier.
A few years ago I hired designers from another culture to work on the design of six training books. I thought that they would be responsible for all visual aspects of the book and so they would choose all images for the book. They assumed that as the client I would control the look of the books. I assumed that I can leave all design and layout decisions up to them. They assumed that since they were offering a basic service for a basic project at a competitive price, that they would limit their work to doing what they were told. We both had valid and justified expectations based on our own cultural and personal ideas and assumptions. But we didn’t share any of these ideas and that is when everything when to shit: the project took five months longer, many, many more hours and dozens of Skype calls and emails. In short, it was business as usual.
We’re All Saying the Same Thing – Just in Different Ways
Everyone has a different communication style. I promise that whatever country you live in, the north vs the south or the east vs the west will use different styles of communicating. In Spain, the Basque are known for being direct while their neighbors in Galicia are known for always answering a question with another question – and they’re just five hours away from each other.
The problem is not differences in communication styles though. The problem is our expectations of how the other person should communicate. Because, being naval gazing humans, we just assume that everyone will communicate like us. And if they don’t then we say they’re “confusing” or ·”rude” And because we assume they will communicate like us we don’t talk about rules of communication or expectations. Instead we think, “But it’s obvious.”
No, not obvious.
Direct vs Indirect Communication
There are a lot of characteristics of both direct and indirect communication but it generally comes down to this:
Direct communicators say exactly what they mean. They get straight to the point since time is money for them and they don't want to "waste" either. They prefer being direct even if it might hurt someone's feelings.
Indirect communicators do the same, they just may not possibly use exactly the words that they mean aaaand, perhaps, you may need to also read their body language, intonation and what they’re not saying. Also, indirect communicators can’t say no. It’s just rude and it destroys relationships, and for indirect communicators relationships are everything. Literally. I mean if we don’t have a relationship then your proposal goes to the back of the line. How can I do business with you if I don’t know you? If I don’t know you then I can’t trust you and business is all about trust.
And, as you can imagine, especially if you got lost in my explanation above, direct communicators think that indirect communicators (like myself) are confusing while indirect communicators think direct communicators are rude assholes.
How can you shift from anger to results?
There is no magic pill, but there is a formula:
Paying attention + time + new behaviors + practice = better communication habits
In retrospect it’s obvious the designers and I were using classical behaviors from direct vs indirect communication. Neither one of us, for example, could say “no.” But at least the designers understood that when I said “possibly” I meant no. I wasn’t so culturally in tuned at the time so when they said "that might be possible", I really thought they meant it was possible when they were really telling me, "not gonna happen!"
What communication issues have you had? Which cultures were involved? How did you deal with it and how will do you do it differently next time? Please feel free to share your experiences and suggestions!
By: Shiva Roofeh
6. 3. 2
That's 6 countries, 3 languages and 2 religions. Expat, immigrant, refugee, TCK, there are lots of things you can call me, but I prefer Shiva.