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Understanding Cultural Differences

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unintentionally offending others.

Effective Communication

Communication is an area that can be especially challenging for those uninformed about cultural differences. A simple nod of the head or smile may be interpreted as something you had not intended.

For example, around the world a smile can relay many emotions, not just happiness or pleasure as in the U.S. In Japan, people smile when they are sad, angry, confused, and happy. Asians smile to show disagreement, anger, confusion, and frustration. Some people from Japan and Asia will not smile for official photos, such as passport photos, because these are considered serious occasions and they do not want to look as though they are not taking the situation seriously.

Explain your expectations in regard to time and punctuality. Cultural background influences what people consider to be on time, late, and early.

Hall says that every human being is confronted by far more sensory stimuli than can possibly be attended to. Cultures help by screening messages, shaping perceptions and interpretations according to a series of selective filters. In high-context settings, the screens are designed to let in implied meanings arising from the physical setting, relational cues, or shared understandings. In low-context settings, the screens direct attention more to the literal meanings of words and less to the context surrounding the words.

All of us engage in both high-context and low-context communication. There are times we "say what we mean, and mean what we say," leaving little to be "read in" to the explicit message. This is low-context communication. At other times, we may infer, imply, insinuate, or deliver with nonverbal cues messages that we want to have conveyed but do not speak. This is high-context communication. Most of the time, we are somewhere nearer



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