How can we adapt our communication style when speaking with people from other cultures?

Hiromi (Japanese, female, aged 20) and Mike (American, male, aged 22)

Hiromi and Mike met at an international party. Despite an initial slightly awkward conversation due to Mike's stereotyping of Hiromi, they found that they were attracted to each other so started dating. Undeterred by coming from different cultural backgrounds, Hiromi and Mike were determined to make their relationship work. They understood that effective communication was the key to bridging the gap between their different cultural contexts. Over time, they adapted their communication styles to accommodate each other's preferences and habits in the following ways:

Direct vs Indirect Communication

Japanese culture is known for its indirect communication style, where messages are often conveyed through non-verbal cues and subtleties. On the other hand, American culture favours directness and straightforwardness in communication. Initially, Mike found it challenging to interpret Hiromi's implicit expressions and hints, while Hiromi sometimes felt overwhelmed by Mike's direct approach.

To overcome this, they agreed to be more open and honest about their feelings and preferences. Hiromi made an effort to express herself more clearly, while Mike tried to be more perceptive of non-verbal cues and the meaning behind Hiromi's words.

High-context vs Low-context

Japanese culture is high-context, meaning that communication relies heavily on shared knowledge, experiences, and understanding. Conversely, American culture is low-context, with a focus on explicit information and less reliance on shared context. To bridge this gap, Hiromi helped Mike understand the nuances of Japanese customs and traditions, while Mike helped Hiromi adapt to the more straightforward communication style of American culture.

Individualistic vs Collectivistic

Mike, coming from an individualistic culture, was used to prioritising his own needs and goals. In contrast, Hiromi was raised in a collectivistic culture that emphasised harmony, group cohesion, and shared goals. They learned to balance their individual needs with the needs of their relationship by considering each other's feelings and opinions in decision-making processes. This enabled them to maintain a sense of independence while fostering a strong partnership.

Formal vs Informal

In Japan, politeness and formality are highly valued, especially in interpersonal relationships. However, American culture tends to be more casual and informal. To find a balance, Hiromi and Mike agreed on certain situations where they would maintain formality, such as meeting each other's families or attending cultural events. In their day-to-day interactions, they adopted a more casual and informal style, which made their communication more comfortable and relatable.

Open vs Reserved Emotional Expression

Americans tend to be more open and expressive with their emotions, while the Japanese are typically more reserved. This difference was evident in the way Mike and Hiromi communicated their feelings. Mike made an effort to be more sensitive to Hiromi's emotions and to give her space when needed, while Hiromi pushed herself to be more expressive and open about her feelings with Mike.

Through these adaptations, Hiromi and Mike successfully navigated their cultural differences, enabling them to create a strong and fulfilling relationship. Their experiences taught them the importance of understanding, compromise, and respect in cross-cultural relationships.