Sally Walton's Archive of Cultural Tips

Cross-Cultural Update:
Successful Communication Across Genders

Yes, the opposite sex is another culture!

Tip for women -- Tell the end of the story first. Get to your main point first. Then if you still have the man's attention, fill in the details.

Tip for men -- Don't open your mail (or any other task while listening). Look at the woman talking to you and nod your head from time to time.

Use of Silence in Communication

Individuals raised in the U.S.A. often have difficulty allowing silence in a conversation or business meeting. Even within the U.S., regional differences can cause irritation. For example, someone from New York will generally talk faster, and have less tolerance for pauses than a colleague or client from Minnesota, who will tend to have a slower pace and longer pauses. Both individuals may be equally intelligent, capable, and caring of humankind. These differences in tempo of speech, however, can cause one to regard the other as agressive, abrasive, maybe even obnoxious. The reverse can think "slow, boring, maybe even stupid," just because of tempo and pauses.

In the international arena, we encounter periods of silences that are longer than any of the regional pauses in the U.S. Asian negotiators, particularly Chinese, have learned to use the U.S. impatience with long pauses to their advantage. U.S. negotiators occasionally give concessions simply because they're uncomfortable with the silence across the table.

It is important to remember that silence, or long pauses, are part of the process to some. More often than not, it is simply a time to think over what has been said, rather than an indication of displeasure.

As you practice getting used to longer silences in conversations, remember that you could get equally disconcerted with someone who seems to be talking along with you.

Silence while listening may or may not be appropriate. As one African businessman so charmingly expressed it: We like to "escort your sentence" [with words, sounds of agreement, etc.]

So as you expand your global perspective, listen to rhythms of speech around you. In conversations, never try to imitate, but adapt your own rhythm to longer silence, or more animated participation. Have fun with it!

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