Cross Cultural Communication

What You will Find on This Page . . .

Lewis Model
For more traits see the The Lewis Cultural Communication Survey below.

The Lewis Cross Cultural Communication Model

“Cultural behavior is the end product of collected wisdom, filtered and passed down through hundreds of generations as shared core beliefs, values assumptions, notions and persistent action patterns. In other words, culture is a collective programming of the mind, that distinguishes the members of one human group from another.” Richard Lewis

The behavior we accept as normal is actually formed from learned and inherited beliefs based on our religious upbringing, ethnic, generational, class, and gender programming, as well as the educational socialization and the professional ethics we have been taught and accepted.

All of these aspects, that we take for granted in our society, form the framework within which we think, look at life, and perform in the workplace. But they are actually very subjective norms, that are based on the culture we have spent the most time growing up within. When we travel or move to other countries we cannot assume that our assumptions are known or accepted as the norm there.

Third Culture Kids are unique in their ability to transcend cultural boundaries, because they have lived in so many different cultures.

The Lewis Cross Cultural Communication Model above shows:
  • how people from different cultures vary in their concepts of time and space: handle interpersonal distance, silence, and eye contact
  • how their communication styles are reflected in the language patterns they use
  • how they view the truth: as absolute or negotiable i.e. modifiable according to the situation
  • what their values, attitudes and world views are.

Watch This Culture Active Video

Is a contract in Japan, South America, or Italy the same thing?
Signing a contract means one thing to the North American mindset, but like the truth, depending on the culture, it can have many interpretations.

To a Swiss, a Scandinavian, a Brit, and a North American a contract is a formal document, a sacred covenant, that once signed must be adhered to.

To a Japanese, however, a signed contract doesn’t mean it is settled at all. It is merely a starting point, and can be modified at will, as the circumstances require. To a Japanese it doesn’t make sense to apply the terms of a contract, if things have changed.

To a South American mind, a contract is an ideal that is unlikely ever to be achieved. They will sign it just to avoid argument.

In Italy, it is assumed that a signed contract is negotiable. Italians call the American’s insistence on abiding by a signed contract, naive and idealistic.

To Italians, it’s just being realistic to bend the rules to “get around” some laws or regulations if they don’t work in your favor. It’s the only intelligent course of action. Those who have the means, take full advantage of this cultural norm. And their courts support this view, with an elaborate system, that allows for ‘arrangements to be made’, when needed.

To an American, seeing it from the American cultural norm, this would likely be viewed as a “corruption of justice”.

What is The Truth?

  • For a German and a Finn, the truth is the truth.
  • In Japan and Britain the truth is permissible, if it doesn’t rock the boat.
  • In China there is no absolute truth.
  • In Italy the truth is negotiable.
Richard D. Lewis
When Cultures Collide, 3rd Edition: Leading Across Cultures

Doing Business Outside America with Different Cultures

The above triangular Model of cross cultural communication patterns, is taken from the book When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures by Richard Lewis, who, by the way, speaks 12 languages.

You may want to get this book, especially if you do any business overseas. It is a real eye-opener. It will save you no end of trouble, in getting a handle on the mindset of the culture(s) you visit, before you arrive.

Most of the countries in the world fall somewhere along the continuum between the points on this triangle, which Lewis calls Linear-Active, Multi-Active and Reactive.

The countries located at the points most strongly represent those cultural patterns.

For example, the most Linear-Active countries are Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg, with the US and UK on either side.

The US leans slightly toward the multi-active pattern because of the presence of a large Spanish speaking population in America.

The UK leans toward a reactive pattern because of the large Asian presence.

Canada is located right in the middle between Linear-Active and Reactive because in Canada, you’ll find a large Linear-Active population and a large population with Reactive Communication Patterns.

Choosing a Culture Within Your Comfort Level

If you are thinking of living or working overseas, or even traveling abroad, you may like to survey the list of characteristics below, to see which of these 3 cross cultural communication patterns you feel most comfortable with.

Not everyone is living in a country with a compatible cultural style for them. This happens if your family has moved from another culture to North America, bringing with it a different cultural style.

It can also happen if you’ve spent your growing-up years overseas with your family. You may be a Third Culture Kid, who has had to adapt to many different cultures, and are wondering why you don’t feel
at home in what is supposed to be your own culture.

If you find your preferred cultural profile doesn’t match the profile of the country you are living in, this may be a good time to become acquainted with the cultural profile you are most comfortable living within.

Instructions for The Lewis Cross Cultural Communication Survey

In the table below, you will see three cultural templates. Read down the list of characteristics for each and choose those traits that you identify with. Then total up the number in each column. Your preferred cultural style is the one with the highest score.

The Lewis Cross Cultural Communication Survey

– Shows the Characteristics of Each Cultural Type –

Talks half the time Talks most of the time Listens most of the time
Gets data from stats, research Solicits information first-hand from people Uses both data and people sources
Plans ahead step by step Plans grand outline only Looks at general principles
Polite but direct Emotional Polite and indirect
Partly conceals feelings Displays feelings Conceals feelings
Confronts with logic Confronts emotionally Never confronts
Dislikes losing face Has good excuses Must not lose face
Compartmentalizes projects Lets one project influence another Sees the whole picture
Rarely interrupts Often interrupts Doesn’t interrupt
Job-oriented People-oriented Very people-oriented
Sticks to the facts Juggles the facts Statements are promises
Truth before diplomacy Flexible truth Diplomacy over truth
Sometimes impatient Impatient Patient
Limited body language Unlimited body language Subtle body language
Respects officialdom Pulls strings Networks
Separates the social & professional Interweaves the social & professional Connects the social & professional
Does one thing at a time Multi tasks Reacts to partner’s action
Punctuality very important Punctuality not important Punctuality important

The coloured triangle at the top of the page shows which cultures are Linear-Active, Multi-Active and Reactive.

Promoting Harmony Through Understanding

By being aware of the communication traits of each ‘Cultural Type’, it’s surprising how quickly you’ll
learn how to get along better both personally and professionally with other cultures, because you’ll be able to foresee how they are likely to react.

This can promote harmony in relationships, by allowing empathy and understanding to develop.
When we can see that most of our reactions come from how we’ve been programmed by our culture, we can step back and find the humor in it all, and we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously.

Maybe we, Linear-Active types, can learn from the Multi-Active types how to live a less frantic, and more relaxed lifestyle, which would contribute so much more to our enjoyment of life.

If you’d like to learn more about the cross cultural communications, check out Richard Lewis’ books:

1. When Cultures Collide, Third Edition: Leading Across Cultures
2. Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf

In this book, which is full of hilarious jokes and funny stories, Lewis compares communication styles among the Finns and other cultures.

Richard D. Lewis: When Cultures Collide, Third Edition: Leading Across Cultures

Related Links on Living Overseas
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