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What Is Intercultural Communication Style?

To understand intercultural communication style means to know what, when, where, who and how communication style is created.
Our cultural identities are expressed through the symbols and styles we use in interactions with others. (Ting Tommey, 1999, p.84)
We can find many definitions of communication style pointing out to the different contexts. With focus on practice, we can mention the view which defines communication style as a pattern of behaviour, something what we “do”. I would like to emphasize the idea “what we do”, not only “who we are” to show that communication style is closely connected with situations and activities which we perform. Or we can say that success of communication or application of suitable communication style depends on ability to learn what sort of actual behaviour somebody could exhibit to get counterpart to hear him/her.
Intercultural communication style could be identified by the basic components of communication style which represent:

  • who communicates,
  • what he/she communicates,
  • what is the environment for communication,
  • what is the medium of communication,
  • manner in which people communicate.

Communication style is the way in which we communicate, a pattern of verbal and nonverbal behaviour that comprises our preferred ways of giving and receiving information in a specific situation. (Saphiere, Mikk, DeVries, 2005, p.5)
Communication style reveals our habitual, unconscious behavior with reference to in-group we belong to and in interaction with communication partner from different culture enables us to see whether to continue, modify, supplement, or delete certain behaviors from our communication style repertoire in order to achieve transmission of ideas. In the case of misunderstanding, reconsidering of communication style could give us discovering that what we intend to communicate is often not what another perceives us as communicating. Once we realize the gaps between us and communication partners, we can make conscious choices about how we want to behave to come to mutual understanding.
The differences among communication styles are also proposedEggins and Slade who point out that „interactive styles provide recognition criteria for subcultural groups, and indicate dimensions of diference that are signifiant for cutlural members. (Oatey, 2009,p.89)
Communication styles of compared cultures in intercultural interaction are based on different levels of familiarity (e.g. family, friends, acquaintances, strangers), different levels of formality (extremely formal to informal), different contexts, age and gender of communication participants.
Communication style provides answers to the questions how we keep and develop eye contact with a communication partner, how we show respect to a communication partner, how we build relationships, trust and intimacy with others, how we communicate politeness and perceive politeness, how we resolve conflicts and make decisions.
All the mentioned answers are more easily predictable when we talk with people from our in-group who share our expectations. More difficult is to answer the questions when we communicate with members of other cultures who don’t share our expectations. People often don’t assume differences and approach members of out-groups in the same way as the members of their in-groups. Effective intercultural interaction depends on knowledge of intercultural style’s differences.
With reference to definition of culture as shared and learned values, beliefs and behaviours, we can also define communication style as „the way how we express ourselves and the way how values and beliefs which we bear and which are determined by our culture and personality are reflected“. (Saphiere, Mikk, DeVries, 2005, p.6)
Although there has been a tendency to label certain nationalities or ethnic groups with certain intercultural communication styles, there are regional, familial, and individual differences in style, as well as style differences according to organization, functional role, religious or spiritual background, sexual orientation, age, gender, and other factors.
Cultures could be identified by cultural dimensions but it doesn’t mean that their members always behave only as individualists or collectivists. The context determines what communication style the member of individualist or collectivist culture will apply. For example, an individualist will prefer direct communication style more in the professional context. Within the framework of family, he/she will rely more on indirect style to build mutual relations.
Communication style could be perceived as the gate into a person’s inside. It means that communication style reveals feelings, the way of thinking and priorities which a person has.
Based on definition of communication which could be defined as “the exchange, transmission, or sending and receiving of thoughts and messages”, (Saphiere, Mikk, DeVries, 2005, p.12) we may derive the idea that intercultural communication style is the way how we exchange, transmit, send and receive thoughts and messages in intercultural interaction.
“Communication style encompasses a wide range of verbal and nonverbal behaviours that represent an individual’s preferred way of giving and receiving information.” (Saphiere, Mikk, DeVries, 2005, p.14)
With reference to a professional context, communication style competence is a cornerstone for developing systems, structures, capacities, and spaces in the framework of intercultural communication. The right choice of intercultural communication styles helps people, members of the team, to develop themselves and others, as well as the systems and structures that will facilitate intercultural effectiveness in company.
Janet Bennett defines intercultural communication styles as various habitual patterns of thought which are manifested in communication behaviour. As our habits of though are largely determined by culture, the contrasts in intercultural communication styles are visible or more evident when cultures interact. One of the most common examples is the case when an opinion expressed in a linear communication style is contrasted with circular communication style. When the speaker with linear communication style meets the speaker with circular communication style, they have problems to understand each other while trying to get the point. Those on behalf of circular style see a communication partner arrogant because he/she decides what particular point you should hear and what point you should draw from them. On the other hand, the communication partner using a linear style views circular style as vague, evasive and illogical.

Copyright © 2011. Eva Gáboríková. EFE - English For Everyone