American Communication Style
What is the importance of communication in the workplace? People in organizations spend over 70% of their time interacting with others, either directly – in private or in meetings – or by phone and e-mail. Effective communication is therefore vital to "getting things done." When communicating across cultures, it can be even more important to communicate clearly because the intended message can sometimes be distorted by each party's "cultural filters."A person's culture influences how that person sends and receives messages. A cultural filter is how a message is sent and received between two parties. When a message leaves the sender's cultural filter, the meaning interpreted by the receiver's filter sometimes differs from the intended message. Misinterpretations can happen to a small or large degree but are rarely deliberate. Misunderstandings can be common when communicating within your own culture and they potentially become more frequent when communicating across diverse cultures.The American preference for direct communication stems from various origins:
- egalitarianism – the ideal of egalitarianism, which dictates that people speak openly to each other on the basis of equality, rather than talking down to each other
- self-reliance and individualism – the values of self-reliance and individualism, which encourage free speech, stressing that success isn't dependent on others
- efficiency – the importance of efficiency in American culture, which is linked to straight talking
- immigrant experience – the immigrant experience of learning a second language, where typically, people initially used short English words or phrases to communicate
American communication characteristicsWhen you have an understanding of the American communication style, you are likely familiar with its main characteristics. The characteristics of any culture's communication style are typically shaped by what that culture regards as the purpose of communication. These characteristics then define the cultural "norms" for communication.In the American culture, the primary focus in conversation is usually on information exchange. When interacting, they typically talk in a very straightforward manner, and the words they use are often said, and taken, in a very literal way. Americans generally tend to be problem-oriented in their business interactions, and they're also likely to be personal and informal with peers and superiors alike. Of course, these are "typical" characteristics; they won't apply to everyone.There are several typical American communication characteristics:
- information exchange – People's lives overlap in the workplace. The workplace is an environment – or "context" – of shared knowledge and experience. For Americans, communication typically prioritizes the quick and efficient exchange of information. There are limited "ritual interactions" or pleasantries, and therefore it's considered a "low context" environment. Interaction in "high context" societies tends to be less focused on the exchange of information and more focused on relationship building.
- straightforward – Being straightforward in the American culture means asking direct questions and making direct requests. The efficient exchange of information requires coming straight to the point – whether in public or private – and therefore avoiding simply implying or hinting something.
- literal – Communicating literally in the American culture involves taking someone's word at face value. In other words, people say exactly what they mean without expecting others to read between the lines.
- problem-orientated – The American preference toward rational thinking means they tend to focus on finding solutions to problems. They may try to organize information in a direct and efficient manner in order to provide recommendations to rectify the situation. For example, if an American is listening to a colleague explain a problem with a work task, the American is like to assume the person is asking for help.
- personal – Given that Americans tend to be literal and straightforward, there's usually more of a reliance on logic than emotions in conversation. However, Americans can also be very personal. They may seek similarities to sympathize with you, but they reserve empathy for situations where there is a shared emotional experience.
- informal – Americans tend to have informal situations for communicating with each other. This enables them to converse freely with people from a range of backgrounds about activities and experiences. They use first names readily and early in a relationship, and typically consider it respectful to treat everyone the same.
The American communication style has a tendency to be personal. When you're introduced to an American, that individual might engage you in conversation on a range of topics in an effort to find common experiences. And if there is sufficient overlap, that person may conclude that you have a lot in common. Actions and personal experience are the predominant topics of much American conversation. In combination with the direct and explicit communication styles of Americans, this can lead to a person revealing too much about themselves. This comfort with self-revelation is not typical of some cultures. And you may sometimes feel uncomfortable with it if you come across it in the workplace. Understanding that it's a reflection of the emphasis on the individual self in American culture may help you deal with it successfully.Effective communication is important in the workplace. However, when communicating across cultures, the message may be distorted by cultural filters. Understanding the characteristics of the American communication style can help reduce the chance of misunderstanding in an American workplace. There are six characteristics typical of the American communication style: a focus on information exchange, and a disposition to being straightforward, literal and problem-oriented, and personal and informal.
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