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27: What you mean

justnoToday, we’re talking about what you mean.

Specifically, when words and actions disagree, which should you believe?

Show notes and links:
Cultural Communication and Intercultural Contact (Google Books)

An expat woman’s take on India: People can’t say No! (DNA India)


Full episode text

It’s possibly yet another one of those frustrating parts of being the new kid on the block, or working with someone new – the cultural expectations for coded communication may very well be very different. These differences – between individuals, small groups, or entire societies – can often result in differences of expectations.

For many individuals raised in a primarily Anglo-American and/or European context, there is the very deeply ingrained belief that what you say is what’s on your mind, and that doing anything else could be considered a lie, and a black mark on your social capital. However, as many studies and books, including Cultural Communication and Intercultural Contact outline, this is actually quite different in many cultures.

In some contexts, the idea that what someone’s actual words and actions not directly agreeing being worthy of discussion would be a foregone conclusion. For example, many European and American individuals who work with Indian business counterparts have commented on — and warned others about — the fact that in Indian business culture, it is seen as a loss of face, or a loss of social capital, to tell someone “no” or that you do not understand. What would, in American culture, seem to be a straightforward yes or no question suddenly becomes a social minefield.

So when someone’s words and actions disagree, it is not always a matter of cognitive dissonance, or even of someone outright lying to you. It could, in fact, be a case of their communication being encoded in a way that you are not equipped to decode. In either one of those situations, however, you’re left with a decision to make — what do you believe?