Communication Differences – East Versus West

Try this:

What U.S. phrase do all Americans know from the age of 4 to the age of 94? It’s “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

This phrase gives insight to our sense of independence and individualism, and it drives our communications, decisions, and judgements. It’s about standing out and standing up – being counted! If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Nothing good comes to those who wait. We are important and each person needs to be heard; it’s our right and privilege to speak out.

What is the Japanese  phrase that all Japanese know from the age of 4 to the age of 94? “The nail that stands out, gets hammered down.”

This phrase builds conformity and involves avoiding  rocking the boat. Stand as one. Justice does not mean “Just Us.” It is about something bigger than just themselves, and Japanese prefer to be  defined by their company, team, organization, or country. Being part of something bigger requires not standing out, rather it requires thinking and being inwardly focused. Japanese culture is about conforming to a higher goal.

Here are few other broad and general ways our eastern and western communications seem to vary:

With so much of  U.S. business growth coming from the far east, it is important to be aware of how we communicate even more than the words we share. These contrasting styles are not labels, rather points of awareness to improve our intentions – to be clear, fair, and understood in our communications and build better trust to drive better relationships and results.

Finally a cultural dilemma – If you are shipwrecked at sea, and you can only save 1 – your mother or your girlfriend, whom do you save? In the U.S., we start with many questions about the age of the mother or the seriousness of the girlfriend relationship, and we begin thinking of ways to problem solve and get out of the dilemma. In the lawyer bar exam in China, this question is asked and graded wrong if you chose girlfriend.  The mother is so revered, due to life experiences and wisdom that can never be retrieved, so mother is the right answer.

In the U.S. this dilemma is an interesting debate, and for Chinese lawyers it is a test question with a right and wrong answer.

Pretty sure there is no test question where an old guy gets saved – we become a shipwreck statistic.



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