An American, James and an Indian associate, Rohit are in a discussion over a video conference. James is referring to a keynote and explaining a critical Business change, and Rohit is listening to it with rapt attention. Rohit is nodding his head slightly forward periodically signalling ‘he is with the speaker, he is attentive, he is following the discussion, he is on the same page’. He was told to do so while attending college lectures.
James read the nodding of Rohit as – not being excited about the matter. Rohit hasn’t understood the explanation, is not with him or worst, he disagrees. The half nodding sent confusing signals to James.
Both are right as per the interpretation in their culture, yet there is a considerable miscommunication!
Indian culture: A lot of communication with Indians (and the Asians) is implied or implicit: body language, blinking eyes, hand signals. Tone, variation in voice need to be interpreted. The meaning of same action may also change as per the context. In short, one has to read between the lines. One has to be an observant.
American culture: Americans are explicit. They will say everything that they want to communicate explicitly. It may be felt ‘repetitive’ or ‘you being considered naive’ at times, though that is not the intention. Nothing is left for interpretation, no reading between the lines, clear communication. So much so that after cracking jokes, they may say ‘just kidding’ in case anybody didn’t get it! In the Indian context, it is not even a worthy joke, if you have to tell that explicitly!
The misinterpretation of Indian nodding is one of the few cultural differences that came out while writing my book ‘7 Untold Secrets of Living Abroad’; not just by the Americans but by most of the European nationals too. Implied communication is common among the Asians or the Eastern part of world!
When was the last you had a miscommunication due to cultural differences?
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The article is part of the ‘Culture maze series’.
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