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Culture is the continuum within which all communication takes place. Communication needs a certain platform shared by the sender and the receiver. Culture is the platform which makes sharing of cultural codes, values, icons, and symbols possible and meaningful. The medium of communication is after all a system of cultural codes that the sender borrows to express his/her ideas. The receiver must understand these codes in terms of the culture from which they have been borrowed and it is only then that s/he would derive maximum sense from it.
Culture plays a major role by adding significance to apparently arbitrary conventions. Cultural conventions determine the way we communicate, how we communicate and what we communicate. If the conventions are broken, communication suffers a disjunction and there is great scope for ambiguity. Familiarly with the cultural codes enhances communication skills and allows people in that cultural context to exchange massages that are clear and more complete.
Different culture-specific cues are called cultural variables. These bring in the social and cultural variations in the way we talk, dress, and conduct business, or even how we conduct ourselves.
Cross-cultural communication is a field of study that looks at how people from differing cultural backgrounds communicate, in similar and different ways among themselves, and how they Endeavour to communicate across cultures.
UNDERSTANDING CULTURAL DIVERSITY
Different cultural contexts bring new communication challenges to the workplace. Even when employees located in different locations or offices speak the same language there are some cultural differences. In such cases, an effective communication strategy begins with the understanding that the sender of the message and the receiver of the message are from different cultures and backgrounds.
Fundamental Patterns of Cultural Differences:
Different Communication Styles
Different Attitudes towards Conflict
Different Approaches of Completing Tasks
Different Decision-Making Styles
Different Attitudes towards Disclosure
Different Approaches to Knowing
As I work for a multinational IT company and have been transferred to Japan for five years on a project-
I have to gather information as to how to avoid problems of cross-cultural communication for my successful stay in Japan. There are several ways to become knowledgeable about the culture of Japan and one of them is through information available on the Internet. I would also like to read books on Japanese culture, etiquette, food habits and about verbal and non verbal communication.
Some basic features of Japanese culture gathered from different sources:
Harmony is the basic philosophy of the Japanese in family and business matters and in society as a whole. They value politeness, personal responsibility and working together for the group and society, rather than the individual good. In their view, working in harmony plays a pivotal role in working meaningfully and productively.
As the Japanese strive are group dependent, they depend on facial expression, tone of voice and gesture to express them what someone feels. They usually rely on non-verbal messages more than the spoken words. Frowning while someone is speaking is termed as a sign of disagreement. Inhaling through clenched teeth, tilting the head, scratching the back of the head, and scratching the eyebrow are watched closely. Staring into another person’s eyes, particularly that of a senior person, is held as disrespectful. In any social event, the elder persons are served first.
Since Japanese think that turning down someone’s request results in embarrassment and loss of face to the other person, if the request is not agreeable, they will say, ‘it’s inconvenient’ or ‘it’s under consideration’.
Knowing these key Japanese customs, I’ll get closer to the locals and representatives of different business groups of Japan:
1. Addressing someone with due respect:
For visitors like me a simple inclination of the head or an attempt at a bow at the waist would be a gesture of respect.
2. Manners while on dining table:
If I am in a dinner party and receive drinks, I must wait before raising the glass to my lips. After everyone is served, and someone takes the lead, I must raise my drink, and say, “kampai!” (Cheers!).
When I receive a wet cloth at Japanese restaurants, which is a common practice, I must use this to wash my hands before eating.
Slurping noodles or making loud noises while eating is acceptable and reflects that the food is delicious.
3. No Tips Please:
To tip someone in any situation is frowned upon as it is termed as insulting.
One must learn to use chopsticks for taking lunch or dinner.
5. Visiting Homes and Houses:
One has to take off one’s shoes at the entrance to any home, and most businesses and hotels. Usually a rack is provided for keeping shoes.
Sterilized masks are generally used by salary men, office ladies, and municipal workers to protect other people from their germs.
Drawing attention to oneself is a taboo. One must not blow one’s nose in public, avoid eating while on the go and speak on mobile phone in crowded public areas.
8. Speaking English:
Japanese generally assume the foreign visitor as a native English speaker until one proves otherwise. Although one may speak some or fluent Japanese, the default language of choice is English. Many Japanese still insist on using their own English language ability, however limited, to converse with foreign visitors.
Japanese generally warn tourists to be safe in their travels, to take care of their belongings. However, advise not to worry, nothing can go wrong, nothing will be stolen.
One must dress to impress.
For men, they must wear dark conservative attire. Business suits are most suitable.
Shoes should be easy to remove, as one will be expected to do so quite often.
One must avoid using large hand gestures, unusual facial expressions and any unusual movements.
“OK” sign should be avoided; in Japan it means money.
Pointing in not acceptable.
One must not blow one’s nose in public.
Personal space is valued.
A smile can have double meaning. It can express either joy or displeasure.
The Japanese are not uncomfortable with silence.
Drinking is an integral part of Japanese culture. It is a way to relieve business stress.
One must never pour a drink oneself, allow someone else to do it.
Generally most business entertaining is done in restaurants or bars after business hours.
Let the host order the meal and pay.
Japanese generally refrain from entertaining in the home. If one is invited to the home of Japanese host, he should consider it a great honour and express gratitude. If one has to take one’s host out, he must insist upon paying.
It is generally acceptable to slurp one’s noodles as it shows the food was delicious.
Japanese term number 14 as bad luck, because in Japanese it sounds like the word ‘hush-hush’, pronounced like the word for death.
Both business and personal gifts are happily accepted. But the gifts must be wrapped and should be given and accepted with both hands. Gifts should be given at the end of a visit.
THERE ARE 10 STRATEGIES THAT HELPS IN MAKING CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNICATIONAL EFFECTIVE
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