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Communication Differences Between Eastern and Western Cultures

A photo of an asian woman and western man
Communication remains the most important dynamic in any relationship.

Miscommunication and conflict are to be expected when there are disparities in the communication process. And if there is no knowledge or comprehension of the distinct dynamics of each culture, this will become much more widespread.

In every relationship, communication remains to be the single most important module, even more so when it comes to dating overseas where intercultural communication is inevitable.

Individual cultural identities will not always coincide and may even contradict one another. The challenges generated by the differences in customs can be mitigated by effective communication.

Culture and Communication

When people fail to communicate in a single language, communication barriers arise. The world’s linguistic diversity is vast. Every country has its own original language, as well as a variety of local dialects with distinct cultural elements, even inside its own borders.

The relationship between communication and community is intricate and personal. First, cultures are formed by communication; that is, communication is the way by which cultural features, such as rituals, functions, rules, behaviors, laws, and other patterns, are created and transmitted.

Individuals do not set out to create cultures as they participate in relationships, families, organizations, or societies; rather, cultures emerge naturally as a result of social interaction. Cultures are the “residue” of many sorts of social interaction.

Culture develops as a result of communication, and identity develops as a result of culture. This can be seen in multilingual people when a change in language appears to create a change in personality, typically adhering to the spoken language’s conventions.

A photo of different shades of leaves
The knowledge of the communication process of each culture will help mitigate misunderstandings

Differences between the East and West

  • Low Context vs High Context Communication

Western culture employs low context communication, whereas eastern societies employ high context communication.

Western societies use low context to say what they mean and mean what they say. Direct communication is commonly referred to as direct communication since Western cultures are generally open and upfront in what they say and how they express it.

High context communication, often known as indirect communication, is the dominating culture in eastern society. This usually indicates that the person maintains more of what they say out loud and instead relies on their behavior and other nonverbal signs to communicate their message.

Easterners often attempt to avoid confrontations with one another in this culture, often avoiding saying no in order to maintain relationships, or using the word tough instead of impossible.

  • Proactive vs Passive

There are also differences in how the two cultures communicate. Western cultures are more active in conversations, whilst eastern cultures are more passive, preferring to listen instead.

Everyone makes an effort to be involved in conversations, but how they do so differs by region.

In more individualistic (western) societies, maintaining a presence entails maintaining one’s look for the sake of others and oneself. You can do so by compromising, arguing, resolving problems, and, most importantly, defending your own viewpoint.

To protect their reputation, collectivists or persons from the east may seek to avoid confrontation as much as possible. They also pay attention not only to their own thoughts but also to those of their peers.

When a quarrel arises, they protect their image by enlisting the help of a third party to mediate between them and the other person(s), minimizing the damage to interpersonal peace. Eastern culture is also more collective than proactive, preferring to keep their ideas to themselves.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication can sometimes cause conflict, particularly when it comes to different ways of expressing emotions. Many nonverbal expressions are universal, such as sadness, surprise, worry, or fury, but this is not a communication issue. The point of contention is who is allowed to display what behaviors and when.

A photo of a person giving a thumbs up.
Eastern cultures rely heavily on nonverbal communication to help them convey their messages.

In western, low-context societies, nonverbal communication is not as common as it is in high-context societies. In high context communication, these nonverbal signals are also an important aspect of communication, therefore completely knowing the individual necessitates a thorough comprehension of their nonverbal communication. A misunderstanding of the gestures could lead to a disagreement.

  • Eye Contact

Consider the act of making eye contact. This gesture demonstrates confidence, which is highly valued in Western societies, especially in a professional setting.

In eastern cultures, eye contact is still an excellent sign of trust, but it is reliant on the perceived social hierarchy. It’s possible that a “subordinate” making direct eye contact with a superior is arrogant.

  • Gestures

We’ve already examined how Eastern cultures communicate through gestures and body language. Eastern cultures’ nonverbal motions, in fact, reveal more than what they speak.

In most Asian cultures, the bow is a common gesture, while in the Philippines, the mano po is a popular gesture. These gestures are meant to communicate respect.

While western countries have their own versions of similar gestures, they are not as widespread as they are in the Far East.

  • Personal Space and Touch

The majority of eastern civilizations appreciate personal space. This encompasses not only the physical space between people but also everything that causes them distress.

Eastern cultures place great importance on causing the least amount of disruption possible to others. People in eastern cultures strive to avoid loud music and talks, for example.

Western societies, on the other hand, value personal space more. This is reflected in the welcomes they exchange. Another evident example of a relaxed attitude toward personal space is the fundamental social norms of Western nations.

Managing Intercultural Communication Differences

A lot of research has been done on how to deal with these communication differences. In discussions with Westerners in Asia, it becomes clear that simply understanding something isn’t always enough for effective collaboration.

All of the aforementioned cross-cultural communication barriers might cause confusion, escalate a conflict, or even initiate one. That is why it is critical to comprehend the many kinds of communication available. You should be able to use this information as an intercultural communicator to build cultural relationships and effectively communicate.

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