Communication across different cultures involves varying degrees of “directness.” This is an important point to think about when translating messages.
In her book, I Wish I’d Known That Earlier in My Career: The Power of Positive Workplace Politics, Jane Horan explains that some cultures value direct communication while others indirect communication. For example, American culture is direct and Asian indirect.
In her observation, people from a direct culture who work in an indirect culture tend to perceive the local people as follows:
- Not trustworthy
- Beating around the bush
This is sad. If you really think about it, people in the U.S. also talk indirectly when they don’t want to hurt the feeling of others. Being indirect has its own value. It’s just that Asians do that all the time and maybe too much.
Her book goes on to explain that people from an indirect culture working in a direct culture tend to perceive the local people as follows:
- Not credible
I am sure there are a lot of sensitive people in the U.S. who do not fit this profile. But the majority, I would say, are too direct to Asians.
So what do we do? Direct-culture people should tip-toe around indirect-culture folks? And indirect-culture people should bare their soul to their direct-culture friends?
I don’t have the answer. Perhaps, we need to meet halfway.