Different Communication Styles Between Asians And Americans

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Different cultures show different ways of communicating and expressing thoughts and feelings, both verbally and non-verbally. The way ideas and words are communicated differs depending on the context and environment. The way something is expressed through work is often different than what is expressed in non-work situations. In general, Asian Asians seem to be more reserved and tend to keep things hidden and to themselves, versus European Americans. According to Costigan, Bardina, Cauce, Kim, & Latendresse, (2006) feelings of distress in Asian Americans are not easily recognized by other people, Asian Americans’ outward behavior not always matching their internal state.

I feel that these communications style differences can cause misunderstandings. One misunderstanding that I see can foresee is an Asian American who is in a dating relationship with a European American. In a research study that examined the differences in how East Asians and Americans in terms of communication and indirectness in work and non-work settings, some distinct differences were found. While Americans were more likely to use indirectness in non-work settings, such as dating, being more conscious of their tone, vocal inflection, and non-verbal behaviors, East Asians were more likely to do this in non-work settings, using indirect communication in work settings .

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I can see some disagreements popping up here, the American partner feeling that the Asian partner may be too blunt and direct at times or insensitive. The Asian partner may not understand why the American is upset. On the flip side, an Asian may not realize when there are relationship problems, not attuned to the American partner’s indirect means of showing distant language or using a tone that is apathetic or angry. This can lead to confusion and hurt feelings.

Work environments can be an area where dissension occurs, especially if an Asian American and European American are both supervisors in a company. Europeans use more directedness at work, increasing the likelihood that an Asian American supervisor, with a tendency to be more indirect, will have hurt feelings and not speak up when in disagreement over something. Yet, this hurt and difference of opinion in the Asian American may not be acknowledged to the European American, tension and anger festering, which can make the work relationship difficult. The Asian American’s tendency to go with the flow may allow the European American to dominate in work meetings and projects.

For the dating misunderstanding, I suggest couples counseling or doing role plays, each partner pretending to be the other person, to better understand each other’s style. Attending Asian American and European American events with each other, as well as reading literature on one another’s culture can also help.

For the work situation, my solution is to contact an Industrial Psychologist who is familiar with multicultural issues to counsel the two supervisors, as well providing in-service multicultural trainings to educate each other on how communication styles can differ between cultures. According to Costigan, Bardina, Cauce, Kim, & Latendresse (2006), European Americans who have more multicultural exposure and experiences tend to show more understanding and sensitivity to the other culture’s diverse communicaton patterns.

  • Costigan, C., Bardina, P., Cauce, A., Kim, G., & Latendresse, S. (2006). Inter-and-intra-group variability in perceptions of behavior among Asian Americans and Eurpoean Americans. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 710-724.
  • Sanchez, B. J., Lee, F., Nisbett, R., Zhao, S., & Koo, J. (2003). Conversing across cultures: East-West communcation styles in work and nonwork contexts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 363-372.

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