Culture is, basically, a set of shared values that a group of people hold. Such values affect how you think and act and, more importantly, the kind of criteria by which you judge others. Cultural meanings render some behaviors as “normal” and “right” and others “strange” or “wrong.”
Every culture has rules that its members take for granted. Few of us are aware of our own biases because cultural imprinting is begun at a very early age. And while some of culture’s knowledge, rules, beliefs, values, phobias and anxieties are taught explicitly, most are absorbed subconsciously.
Of course, we are all individuals, and no two people belonging to the same culture are guaranteed to respond in exactly the same way. However, generalizations are valid to the extent that they provide clues on what you will most likely encounter—and how those differences impact communication. Here are three questions that reveal some of these generalizations:
Where is the “real” meaning to the message?
Every aspect of global communication is influenced by cultural differences. Even the choice of medium used to communicate may have cultural overtones. For example, it has been noted that some industrialized nations rely heavily on electronic technology and emphasize written messages over oral or face-to-face communication. Certainly the United States, Canada, the U.K. and Germany exemplify this trend. But Japan, which has access to the latest technologies, still relies more on face-to-face communication than on the written mode. The determining factor in medium preference may not be the degree of industrialization, but rather whether the country falls into a high-context or low-context culture.
In some cultures, personal bonds and informal agreements are far more binding than any formal contract. In others,...
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