Etiquette Tip of the Week by Callista Gould
An engineer here in the United States told me his employees came from multiple countries. One subordinate, would respond to his instructions by nodding and saying, “Yes,” as if he understood perfectly.
He did not understand the instructions, at all.
When you don’t understand in engineering, problems compound and get worse. The engineer started confronting this subordinate in front of others, saying, “Do you understand?”
The engineer thought he was just being thorough, but the subordinate felt humiliated – he withdrew from his team and would not communicate at all.
In some cultures, people don’t like to say, “No.” They may say, “Maybe” when they mean, “No.” This is what’s called a “High Context Culture.” The words aren’t as important as the context, which might include tone of voice and gestures. It’s not so much what you say as how you say it.
In negotiation with High Context Cultures, “Yes,” doesn’t always mean, “Yes.” It might mean, “We’ll consider it.” Being pushy may cause the other party to shut down.
The United States is considered to be a “Low Context Culture.” That means people here are more literal. No means no. Yes means yes.
Back to our engineer. He decided to make an adjustment. “I learned that you need to read facial expressions, gestures and body language to see if a person really understands what you are saying,” he said. “Then talk to them on the side, so you don’t embarrass them.”
Greater awareness of cultural differences helps us communicate more effectively. Sometimes, a little adjustment keeps things peaceful and productive. It all goes back to the main idea of etiquette, which is to be aware and attentive to the people around us.
Be aware and attentive and good to each other this summer!
My new book, “The Exceptional Professional: What You Need to Know to Grow Your Career” is a fantastic Professional Development manual for your students or staff. (And they might even like the funny story-examples.) Find it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/