Natsuyo Lipschutz reading a book and looking down at the camera

Have you ever had a conversation with someone from a different culture than your own and felt like you were speaking two different languages? That’s because you were! The way we communicate is deeply affected by our culture. In this blog post, we will explore the subtle ways that culture affects the way we communicate, and how to adapt your communication style when delivering a presentation to an audience from different cultures.


First off, let’s define what culture actually is.


What is culture? 


Culture is the sum total of learned beliefs, values, and customs that govern the way a group of people live. 


How does culture shape our communication?

Culture shapes our communication style in two ways: first, by teaching us what to say; and second, by dictating how we should say it.


Let’s start with what we say. The words we use are loaded with meaning that is specific to our culture. For example, words like “family,” “honor,” and “duty” mean different things in different cultures. In some cultures, family is defined as blood relatives; in others, it includes extended family and close friends. The concept of honor varies widely from culture to culture. In some cultures, honor is associated with strength and courage; in others, it is associated with wisdom and humility.


The way we say things is also shaped by our culture. The tone, volume, and pitch of our voice convey meaning that is specific to our culture, so does our body language. For example, in some cultures, speaking softly conveys respect; in others, speaking loudly is the norm. Gesturing while talking is also culturally specific. In some cultures, it is considered rude to gesture while talking; in others, it is considered disrespectful not to gesture.


High and low context cultures


Culture also affects the way we communicate by dictating whether we are a high context culture or a low context culture. In a high context culture, communication is highly contextualized. This means that the meaning of a message is conveyed through nonverbal cues such as tone, facial expression, and body language. In a low context culture, communication is less contextualized. This means that the meaning of a message is conveyed primarily through words.


High context cultures include Arab, East Asian, Native American, and Polynesian cultures. Low context cultures include Anglo, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Slavic cultures.

When communicating with someone from a different culture, it is important to be aware of these contexts when we deliver a presentation or you may unintentionally offend or confuse your audience.


Another way that culture can affect communication is through the use of nonverbal cues. Nonverbal cues such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body language can convey meaning and send messages even when we are not speaking. However, the interpretation of nonverbal cues can vary depending on culture. For example, in some cultures, making eye contact is considered a sign of respect; in others, it is considered a sign of disrespect. Crossing your arms or legs can also be interpreted differently depending on culture. In some cultures, it is considered a sign of relaxation; in others, it is considered a sign of hostility.


Culture shapes our communication style in many ways, both verbal and nonverbal. By taking the time to learn about these cultural differences, we can improve our cross-cultural communication skills and avoid unintentionally offending or confusing our conversation partners.


Discover how to break through personal, social, physical, and cultural barriers to communicate effectively, produce remarkable results, and thrive in today’s fast, challenging, and diverse environment with my latest eBook, the Three As of Cross-Cultural Communication. 



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