Why speaking louder and slower does not work

Every country has its way of saying things. The importance is that which lies behind peoples’ words.

Freya Stark: The Journeys Echo

To understand what lies behind the words of someone from another culture, you need cultural adaptability.

In some eastern cultures it is unsophisticated to show surprise. Someone raised that way will respond very coolly to dramatic news, let alone ordinary conversation. A westerner may well imagine that he is not ‘getting through’, or that the easterner has not understood. The westerner is used to his listeners responding with ‘Really’? and ‘Oh ah!’ and nods of agreement throughout the exchange, and he is uncomfortable when his oriental listener merely nods at the end to indicate, ‘Message received and understood’.

We all process information differently, and the way we do so is reflected in the language we use. However, it is important to remember which came first, the mental processes or the language. Clearly, language followed the mental processes. Or rather, the way a nation uses its language indicates how its people think. The English language, for example, can be used in more ways than one. Brits and Americans use the active voice, direct speech and action verbs. The people of Malawi tend to speak and write in the passive voice, third person, and indirect speech. The Arabs have a similar approach. Same language, different attitudes.

In communicating with other cultures, cultural adaptability is more important than language skills. You need a strong willingness to understand what it is that causes the people of another culture to think and behave the way they do. You need to ‘tune in’. Cultural adaptability is about switching your communication style to facilitate understanding or to make it easier to work together. You may need to accept that other cultures need time to consider what you say before agreeing or accepting. It may strike you as resistance or even discourtesy, but it may only be the normal response in their culture.

Speaking louder and slower will only make things worse.

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