Verbal Communication Styles and Culture - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication
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By comparing the ecologies, economies, social structures, metaphysics, and epistemologies in ancient China and ancient Greece, Nisbett proposed a Geography of Thought theory to explain how Easterners and Westerners think differently and why. According to Nisbett, the ecology of ancient China consisted of primarily fertile plains, low mountains, and navigable rivers, which favored agriculture and made centralized control of society relatively easy.
As agriculture required people to stay in the geographical region and collaborate with each other on tasks such as building an irrigation system that could not be achieved individually, complex social systems were needed to manage resources and coordinate efforts.
The ecology of ancient Greece, however, consisted mostly of mountains descending to the sea, which favored hunting, herding, and fishing. These occupations required relatively little cooperation with others. Nor did they require living in the same stable community. Therefore, Ancient Greeks were able to act on their own to a greater extent than ancient Chinese. In addition, the maritime location of ancient Greece made trading a lucrative occupation. The city-state also made it possible for intellectual rebels to leave a location and go to another one, maintaining the condition of a relatively free inquiry.
As a result, ancient Greeks were in the habit of arguing with one another in the marketplace and debating one another in the political assembly. As less emphasis was placed on maintaining harmonious social relationships, the Greeks had the luxury of attending to objects and people without being overly constrained by their relations with other people.
Over time, they developed a view of causality based on the properties of the object, rather than based on the larger environment. Hence, ancient Greeks were considered logical and analytical thinkers. Analytical thinking is field-independent.
Analytical thinkers attend more to focal objects and specific details; what is going on in the environment is less important. They also tend to place focal elements into a cause-effect, linear, or sequential frame, assuming that there is a clearly definable cause leading to the observed effects.
On the other hand, holistic thinking is field-dependent. Holistic thinkers tend to perceive events holistically or within a large context.
They assume that there is a coherent whole and individual parts cannot be fully understood unless they are placed within the interdependent relationships. Metaphorically, whereas analytical thinkers view the world as a line, holistic thinkers view the world as a circle. To provide support for his theory, Nisbett and colleagues conducted a series of experiments to assess whether East Asians would differ from Americans in their attentional patterns.
For example, in one of the experiments, they presented animated underwater scenes to two groups of participants, from the United States and Japan, respectively, with a mixture of active objects e. They found that a Japanese participants made more statements about contextual information and relationships than Americans did, and b Japanese participants recognized previously seen objects more accurately when they saw them in their original settings rather than in the novel settings, whereas this manipulation had relatively little effect on Americans.
These findings provided substantial support for cognitive differences between Easterners and Westerners. Analytical thinkers also tend to be logical or polarized thinkers. They prefer logical arguments that apply the law of non-contradiction, which excludes the middle between being and non-being—something either exists or does not exist.
A proposition can be weakened or falsified by demonstrating that it leads to a contradiction. In contrast, holistic thinkers tend to be dialectical thinkers.
They prefer dialectical arguments that apply the principles of holism, which assumes that the world consists of opposing entities and forces that are connected in time and space as a whole.
Since everything is connected, one entity cannot be fully understood unless we take into account how it affects and is affected by everything else.
Unlike polarized or logical thinking that excludes the middle state, dialectical thinking seeks to reconcile opposing views by finding a middle ground. Dialectical thinkers accept grey areas, assuming that things constantly change. For example, Peng and Nisbett conducted a series of experiments and found that a dialectical thinking is reflected in Chinese folk wisdom, in that dialectical proverbs are more preferred by Chinese than by Americans; b in response to a conflict situation, a significantly greater percentage of Chinese participants prefer a dialectical resolution than Americans; and c when two apparently contradictory propositions were presented, Americans polarized their views, whereas Chinese accepted both propositions.
High-Context and Low-Context Communication Cultures A communication style is the way people communicate with others verbally and nonverbally. Scholars have proposed different typologies for describing communication styles. Of the theoretical perspectives proposed to understand cultural variations in communication styles, the most widely cited is the differentiation between high-context and low-context communication by Edward Hall Bernstein hypothesizes that our speech patterns are conditioned by our social context.
Restricted codes involve transmission of messages through verbal words and nonverbal intonation, facial features, gestures channels. They rely heavily on the hidden, implicit cues of the social context, such as interpersonal relationships, the physical and psychological environments, and other contextual cues. Code words used by doctors, engineers, prisoners, street gangs, or between family members and close friends are highly implicit in meaning and are known primarily to the members of such groups.
Elaborated codes, on the other hand, involve the use of verbal amplifications, or rich and expressive language, in transmitting meaning, placing relatively little reliance on nonverbal and other contextual cues. The verbal channel is the dominant source of information for transmitting elaborated codes; context is not critical in understanding elaborated codes.
Although restricted and elaborated codes are universal styles of communication, according to Hallcultures differ in the importance they place on words, and one communication style tends to be more predominant in one culture than another.
Hall differentiated between high-context and low-context communication cultures and argued that low-context communication is used predominantly in individualistic cultures, whereas high-context communication is used predominantly in collectivistic cultures. Specifically, high-context communication occurs when most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, with very little information given in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message.
Members of high-context communication cultures rely on their pre-existing knowledge of each other and the setting to convey or interpret meaning, which reduces their reliance on explicit verbal codes. Explicit, direct messages are considered either unnecessary or potentially face threatening. It is the receiver of the message who assumes responsibility for inferring the hidden or contextual meanings of the message. In contrast, in low-context communication most of the meaning is conveyed in the explicit verbal code.
Members of low-context communication cultures expect the message sender to be direct, provide detailed information, and use unambiguous language because they do not assume pre-existing knowledge of the people or the setting. If there is miscommunication or misunderstanding, the sender of the message is often held responsible for not constructing a clear, direct, and unambiguous message for the listener to decode easily. Researchers have provided considerable empirical evidence for the influence of individualism and collectivism on the use of high-context and low-context communication styles.
On a conceptual level, collectivistic and individualistic values shape the norms and rules that guide behavior in these cultures. As members of individualistic cultures are socialized into major societal values such as independence, freedom, and privacy, they tend to acquire independent self-construals, viewing themselves as unique and unconstrained individuals, free to express themselves and be direct. Therefore, they are more likely to prefer a sender-oriented, low-context communication style.
On the other hand, as members of collectivistic cultures are socialized into major societal values such as interdependence, relational harmony, and connectedness, they tend to formulate interdependent self-construals viewing themselves as part of encompassing social relationships whose behaviors are largely influenced by the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others in the relationship.
Therefore they are more likely to prefer a receiver-oriented, high-context communication styles. On an empirical level, with data collected from the United States, Japan, Korea, and Australia, Gudykunst and colleagues found evidence that the individualistic and collectivistic values of members of these cultures are associated with their independent and interdependent self-construals, both of which mediate the influence of national culture on their high-context and low-context communication styles.
The differences between high-context versus low-context communication can also be explained by cultural differences in thinking styles. The long tradition of the study of rhetoric in the United States and many European cultures reflects the cultural pattern of logical, rational, and analytical thinking. Attention is given primarily to the verbal message, independent of its communicative context.
Speakers and listeners are viewed as separate entities who enter a relationship through the transmission of messages.
A primary responsibility of the speaker is to express his or her ideas and thoughts as clearly, logically, and persuasively as possibly, so that the listener, regardless of his or her background and pre-existing knowledge, can fully comprehend the intended meaning of the messages. The systematic study of speech has not been as fully developed in collectivistic cultures as in individualistic cultures.
In East Asian cultures in particular, a holistic approach dictates how people evaluate speech. The words are considered only part of, and are inseparable from, the total communication context, which includes the personal characters of the parties involved and the nature of the interpersonal relationships between them.
In this holistic approach, verbal messages are means for enhancing social connection and harmony rather than promoting the individuality of speakers. Verbal messages are also important, but the emphasis is not placed on the technique of constructing and delivering clear verbal messages for maximum persuasiveness.
Instead, verbal messages should conform to culturally defined rules or social expectations, based on already established social relationships or on the positions of the communicators in the society. It is therefore important to be sensitive to subtle and implicit contextual cues surrounding the communication process to encode and decode meaning. Direct and Indirect Communication Styles A case in point, to illustrate the difference between high-context and low-context communication cultures, is the difference between direct and indirect communication styles.
The indirect style reflects a cautious attitude towards the expression of negative and confrontational verbal messages; people tend to use moderate or suppressed expressions for such messages whenever possible. According to Gudykunst and Kimmembers of collectivistic cultures tend to be concerned more with the overall emotional quality of interactions than with the meanings of specific words or sentences. As a result, members from collectivistic cultures tend to give an agreeable and pleasant answer to questions when literal, factual answers might be perceived as unpleasant or embarrassing.
For example, a person who is invited to a party but cannot go, or does not feel like going, would say yes, then simply not go, because a direct refusal is considered more face threatening. Whereas an indirect communication style fares well in collectivistic cultures, individualistic cultures, such as the United States and most European cultures, generally prefer a more direct communication style.
Good and competent communicators are expected to say what they mean and mean what they say. A person who speaks dubiously or evasively about an important matter is likely to be perceived unreliable, if not dishonest.
A high degree of social approval is given to those who are capable of expressing ideas and feelings in a precise, explicit, straightforward, and direct fashion. If misunderstanding occurs, the message sender tends to assume the primary responsibility for failing to construct and deliver an unambiguous message. Message receivers in these cultures rely on the specific words that are said to decode meaning, rather than paying attention to the relational or identity aspect of the message that is never explicitly stated.
The Origin of Cultural Differences in Cognition: Evidence for the Social Orientation Hypothesis
Self-Enhancement and Self-Effacement Communication Styles Another dimension of communication styles that differentiates between high-context and low-context communication cultures involves the degree to which positive aspects of the self are attended, elaborated, and emphasized in interpersonal interactions: According to Akimoto and Sanbonmatsuself-effacement helps maintain group harmony because modesty may allow an individual to avoid offense.
Self-enhancement helps to promote individuality because it allows an individual to directly assert thoughts, express desires, and promote his or her self-image. In addition, due to an analytical thinking style, members of low-context communication cultures are likely to interpret self-effacement messages at their face value. Elaborate and Understated Communication Styles The difference between high-context and low-context communication cultures can be further illustrated through the distinction between elaborate and understated communication styles, which involves the degree to which talk is used: An elaborate style refers to the use of expressive language, sometimes with exaggeration or animation, in everyday conversations, whereas an understated style involves the extensive use of silence, pauses, and understatements in conversations.
Unlike previous dimensions of communication styles that can be treated as dichotomies and entail opposing cultural values and cognitive styles, this dimension can be considered a continuum, with the United States falling somewhere in the middle. For example, in Arab cultures, individuals often feel compelled to over-assert in almost all types of communication because in their culture, simple assertions may be interpreted to mean the opposite.
Therefore, inter-ethnic miscommunication may arise when African Americans perceive European Americans as verbally detached and distant, and European Americans may perceive African Americans as emotionally threatening and intimidating. On the other hand, many Asian cultures, such as the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Thai, tend to use an understated communication style. For example, whereas European Americans tend to see talk as a means of social control and are more likely to initiate conversations with others when opportunities present themselves, the Chinese tend to see silence as a control strategy.
People who speak little tend to be trusted more than people who speak a great deal; therefore, in such cultures silence allows an individual to be socially discreet, gain social acceptance, and avoid social penalty. Silence may also save individuals from embarrassment. When conflict arises, using silence as an initial reaction allows the conflict parties to calm down, exhibit emotional maturity, and take time to identify conflict management strategies that are least face threatening.
Silence may also indicate disagreement, refusal, or anger. Such stylistic differences are also shared by some ethnic groups in the United States. Lenton, users of online games, websites, and other virtual communities are encouraged to conceal their identities and learn things about themselves that they never knew before. They have the ability to venture outside of their comfort zone and act as someone completely different.
MacKinnon, and Vicki L. Deveau on types of relationships online participants were seeking. They concluded that "when asked what they were looking for in an online relationship, the considerable majority of participants expressed interest in seeking fun, companionship, and someone to talk to.
Most also reported interests in developing casual friendships and dating relationships with online partners. Substantially fewer reported using the Internet for the specific purposes of identifying potential sexual or marital partners.
Plus, marriages that began online were less likely to end in separation or divorce. A Qualitative Study Examining Online Relationships and Cyber Abuse, reported the results of their research and observation of over 35, individuals between the ages of 6 and 24 who have been or currently are a part of an internet relationship.
Of the final posts chosen to be included in the study, the average age of online users sharing information about their online relationship s was 14 years old.
The study also showed that the internet plays a crucial role in most sexual and romantic experiences of adolescent users. There are dating websites that focus on the matchmaking of certain groups of people based on religion, sexual preference, race, etc.
This opens up time to travel and experience things without the burden of a relationship. This can also include individuals communicating sexually via video or audio. Some websites offer a cybersex service, where a patron pays the website owner in exchange for an online sexual experience with another person.
Cybersex sometimes includes real life masturbation. The quality of a cybersex encounter typically depends upon the participants' abilities to evoke a vivid, visceral mental picture in the minds of their partners.
Imagination and suspension of disbelief are also critically important. Cybersex can occur either within the context of existing or intimate relationships, e.
In some contexts cybersex is enhanced by the use of a webcam to transmit real-time video of the partners. Social networking relationships[ edit ] Social networking has enabled people to connect with each other via the internet. Sometimes, members of a social networking service do know all, or many of their "friends" Facebook or "connections" LinkedIn etc.
However, sometimes internet relationships are formed through these services, including but not limited to: One aspect that is possible on all social networking sites is the possibility of an internet relationship. These sites enable users to search for new connections based on location, education, experiences, hobbies, age, gender, and more. This allows individuals meeting each other to already have some characteristic in common. These sites usually allow for people who do not know each other to "add" each other as a connection or friend and to send each other messages.
This connection can lead to more communication between two individuals.
The Origin of Cultural Differences in Cognition: Evidence for the Social Orientation Hypothesis
An immense amount of information about the individuals can be found directly on their social network profile. Proving those individuals include plentiful and accurate information about themselves, people in online relationships can find out much about each other by viewing profiles and "about me's". Communication between individuals can become more frequent, thus forming some type of relationship via the internet. This relationship can turn into an acquaintance, a friendship, a romantic relationship, or even a business partnership.
Online gaming[ edit ] Online gaming elicits the introduction of many different types of people in one interface. A common type of online game where individuals form relationships is the MMORPG, or a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.
These games enable individuals to create a character that represents them and interact with other characters played by real individuals, while at the same time carrying out the tasks and goals of the actual game.
Card games such as poker and board games like Pictionary have been transformed into virtual interfaces that allow an individual to play against people across the internet, as well as chatting with them. Virtual pet sites such as Webkinz and Neopets are another type of popular online game that allow individuals to socialize with other players.
Games create social spaces for people of various ages, with userbases often crossing age brackets. Most of these games enable individuals to chat with each other, as well as form groups and clans. This interaction can lead to further communication, turning into a friendship or romantic relationship. Online forums and chatrooms[ edit ] An Internet forum is a website that includes conversations in the form of posted messages.
Forums can be for general chatting or can be broken down into categories and topics. They can be used to ask questions, post opinions, or debate topics. Forums include their own jargon, for example a conversation is a "thread". Different forums also have different lingo and styles of communicating. There are religion forums, music forums, car forums, and countless other topics.
These forums elicit communication between individuals no matter the location, gender, ethnicity, etc. Through these forums people may comment on each other's topics or threads, and with further communication form a friendship, partnership, or romantic relationship.
Professional relationships[ edit ] Even in work settings, the introduction of the internet has established easier and sometimes more practical forms of communicating. Compared to traditional communication in business, communication through internet can be more efficient in the aspect of time-saving. The internet is often referred to as a vehicle for investor relations  or the "electronic highway" for business transactions in the United States.