“When Cultures Collide”

Thanks to Rod Rothwell – an Aussie doing business in Korea – for bringing this to our attention.

According to  “When Cultures Collide“ by British linguist Richard D. Lewis,who has mapped out leadership styles and cultural identities, cultures have different approaches to communication in business negotiations.

Lewis speaks ten languages, so he realistically warns of the danger of cultural comparisons and generalizations. However, he finds that there are also “national norms:”

By focusing on the cultural roots of national behavior, both in society and business, we can foresee and calculate with a surprising degree of accuracy how others will react to our plans for them, and we can make certain assumptions as to how they will approach us. A working knowledge of the basic traits of other cultures (as well as our own) will minimize unpleasant surprises (culture shock), give us insights in advance, and enable us to interact successfully with nationalities with whom we previously had difficulty.

Lewis’ communication diagrams follow these conventions:

  • Wider shapes show greater conversational range
  • Obstacles are marked in gray
  • Cultural traits are also noted.

Vive la Différence!

How do the different nationalities compare? Here’s how they tend to communicate:

  • Americans tend to launch straight into negotiations, respond to discord confrontationally, and resolve with one or both sides making concessions.
  • Canadians, while similarly direct, can be more low-key, and inclined to seek harmony.
  • English may avoid confrontation in an understated, mannered, and humorous style
  • French often engage vigorously in a logical debate.
  • Germans rely on logic, while amassing more evidence and laboring their points more than the British or French.
  • Spanish and Italians “regard their languages as instruments of eloquence and they will go up and down the scale at will, pulling out every stop if need be to achieve greater expressiveness.”
  • Scandinavians can have entrenched but often reasonable opinions formulated “in the long dark nights.”
  • Swiss tend to be straightforward and unaggressive negotiators, obtaining concessions by expressing confidence in the quality and value of their goods and services.
  • Hungarians value eloquence over logic and are unafraid to talk over each other.
  • Bulgarians may take a circuitous approach to negotiations before seeking a mutually beneficial resolution, which will often be screwed up by bureaucracy.
  • Poles often have a communication style that is “enigmatic, ranging from a matter-of-fact pragmatic style to a wordy, sentimental, romantic approach to any given subject.”
  • Dutch are focused on facts and figures but “are also great talkers and rarely make final decisions without a long ‘Dutch’ debate, sometimes approaching the danger zone of overanalysis.”
  • Chinese tend to be more direct than the Japanese and some other East Asians; however, meetings are principally for information gathering, with the real decisions made elsewhere.
  • Hong Kongers negotiate much more briskly to achieve quick results.
  • Indians speak English in a way that “excels in ambiguity, and such things as truth and appearances are often subject to negotiation.”
  • Australians tend to have a loose and frank conversational style.
  • Singaporeans generally take time to build a relationship, after which they can be shrewd negotiators.
  • Koreans tend to be energetic conversationalists who seek to close deals quickly, occasionally stretching the truth.
  • Indonesians tend to be very deferential conversationalists, sometimes to the point of ambiguity.
  • Israelis tend to proceed logically on most issues but emotionally on some.

 

communication styles

 

 

 

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