Communication Style – describes the patterns of expression and rules for interaction that reflect the values and norms of a culture.

Contrast Sets of Communicative Styles

LINEAR: Discussion is conducted in a straight line, developing causal connections among subpoints towards an end point, stated explicitly. Low reliance on context. (Cut to the chase, where the rubber meets the road! Get to the point!)

CIRCULAR (CONTEXTUAL): Discussion is conducted in a circular movement, developing context around the main point, which is often left unstated. High reliance on context. (“Once you have the relevant information, you'll just know what I mean!”)

DIRECT: Meaning is conveyed through explicit statements made directly to the people involved, with little reliance on contextual factors such as situation and timing. (What you see is what you get!)
INDIRECT: Meaning is conveyed by suggestion, implication, nonverbal behavior, and other contextual cues; for instance, statements intended for one person may be made within earshot to a different person. (What you get is what you manage to see!)
ATTACHED: Issues are discussed with feeling and emotion, conveying the speaker's personal stake in the issue and the outcome. (If it's important, it's worth getting worked up over!)
DETACHED: Issues are discussed with calmness and objectivity, conveying the speaker's ability to weigh all the factors impersonally. (If it's important, it shouldn't be tainted by personal bias!)
INTELLECTUAL CONFRONTATION: Disagreement with ideas is stated directly, with the assumption that only the idea, not the relationship, is being attacked. (We're just arguing—don't take it personally!)
RELATIONAL CONFRONTATION: Relational issues and problems are confronted directly, while intellectual disagreement is handled more subtly and indirectly.  (Be authentic about your feelings and respectful of others' ideas!)
ABSTRACT: Issues are best understood through theories, principles, and data, with emphasis on the general rather than the specific. (What’s the principle?)
CONCRETE: Issues are best understood through stories, metaphors, allegories, and examples, with emphasis on the specific rather than the general. (Can you give an example?)

Collectivism – refers to cultures that stress the importance of the group over that of individuals. Members of such societies get their social identity and status from affiliation with the group and the welfare of the collective is more important than any single person. In such societies, including most of Asia, performing one’s duties is more important than asserting one’s rights. This attitude is often contrasted with more Individualist societies such as the U.S.

Culture General – refers to those general characteristics that can be found in any culture such as communication style, values, etc. It is also a method of studying intercultural communication in which one deals with the aspects of culture and communication that apply to all cultures. The opposite of Culture Specific.

Cultural Generalization – refers to the categorization of the predominant tendencies in a cultural group; in other words, the tendency of the majority of people to hold certain values and beliefs and engage in certain pattern of behavior. The opposite of stereotyping.

Culture Shock – a state of loss and disorientation precipitated by a change in our environment which requires adjustment. It results from confronting values different from our own, and from the loss of the familiar network and environment. Culture shock is a normal, healthy psychological reaction to the stress of living in a different culture. We experience feelings of tension and anxiety because we have lost familiar cultural cues. Our actions do not always get us what we want. And our inability to communicate effectively with others is frustrating. Probably better termed "Transition Shock.”

Symptoms of culture shock are both physical and psychological. Symptoms can include: headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, rashes, nausea, irritability, insomnia or excessive sleepiness, depression, loneliness, withdrawal, paranoia, anger, aggression, hatred, fear, crying, and complaining.

Culture Specific – refers to the distinctive qualities of a particular culture. It can also be a method of studying intercultural communication in which specific cultural characteristics of a group are studied, specifically those dealing with all aspects of communication of a particular culture that are distinct to that culture.

Culture Surprise – reactions that occur shortly after arrival in a different culture when we see things that are different than we are used to. It usually occurs during the first few days of our visit as we initially become aware of superficial differences. Examples: people dress differently, signs are in a different language, nonverbal behaviors are different.

Culture Stress – the fatigue that occurs when we practice new behaviors in a different culture. It is a fairly short-term response to "stimulus overload." This occurs when we begin to respond to the behavior of the "new" culture. Examples: trying to drive a car, doing our own shopping, hearing comments about ourselves in the local language.

Ethnocentrism – the view held by members of a particular culture that the values and ways of one's own group are superior to others and that all other cultures are judged inferior with reference to this view.

Ethnorelativism – the assumption that cultures can only be understood relative to one another and that particular behavior can only be understood within a cultural context. The opposite of ethnocentrism.

Haptics (Touch) – related to touch in the process of communication, including the degree, if any, of tactile contact in conversational settings. All cultures have rules dealing with who, how, why, when, and under what circumstances people may engage in physical contact.  Public or private touching (or its absence) communicates an enormous amount of information, beginning with how to appropriately greet someone (handshake, kiss(es) on the cheek, embrace(s), bow(s), etc.), continuing throughout a conversation to the leave taking and conclusion of a meeting.

High Context – refers to cultures whose communicative styles can be characterized as reflecting more collectivist values including indirect verbal communication, spiral (or non-linear) logic, and relying on the context and shared understanding of the speaker and the listener to make things understood. The predominant meanings are often implicit in nonverbal messages. High context cultures include much of Asia including Japan, Korea, Arab countries, and China.

Human Behavior Categories

  1. Universal - refers to ways in which all people in all groups are the same

  2. Cultural - refers to what a particular group of people have in common with each other and how they are different from every other group

  3. Personal - describes the ways in which each one of us is different from everyone else, including those in our group

Individualism – refers to cultures that stress the importance of the individual over that of more corporate entities (e.g., extended families, tribes, clans, etc.). In such societies, including the United States, individual rights are asserted strongly and legally enforced. This attitude is often contrasted with more Collectivist societies.

Intensity Factors Aspects of the circumstances under which people go abroad that may make the adjustment more difficult and/or more stressful. Categories of intensity factors include: 


Cultural Differences: (a) the degree of actual difference between the two cultures and; (b) how negatively the sojourner evaluates those differences.


Ethnocentrism: (a) the more ethnocentric the student is, the more difficulty he or she will have in accepting the other culture and; (b) the less accepting the host culture is of differences—that is, the more ethnocentric it is—the more difficult it will be to become engaged with the people of that culture.


Language: the less language ability one has and the more essential language is to functioning well in the host culture, the more difficult it will be to function in the culture.


Immersion: the more the sojourner is immersed in the culture, the higher the anxiety.


Cultural Isolation: reduced access of sojourners to their own culture group can be very stressful.


Prior Intercultural Experience: if this is the first time for a sojourner, the intensity of the experience will be increased.


Expectations: if the student’s expectations are unrealistic (eg. extremely positive) disappointment can be a serious factor.


Visibility and Invisibility: being physically different from host nationals and thus being very visible can make the experience very intense. Having to keep parts of one’s identity hidden, such as being homosexual, can also increase the intensity.


Status: feeling that one is not getting appropriate respect can raise the intensity. Conversely, receiving attention that does not seem warranted is equally distressing.


Power and Control: when sojourners feel they have no power and control in intercultural situations, especially over their own circumstances, the intensity of the experience rises. This consistently emerges from the research as a major problem.

Kinesics (Gestures) – relates to the movement of hands, head, torso, etc., as messages both verbal and nonverbal. Gestures may parallel speech or be employed independently as commands, commentary, or even to deliver contradictory signals.

Low Context – refers to cultures whose communication style can be characterized as reflecting individualistic values including direct verbal communication, linear logic, explicit statements of facts, and relying upon words to carry the meaning of the messages. Much of Western Europe (e.g., France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland), Australia, and the U.S. are low context cultures. This approach contrasts with High Context cultures such as Japan and China.

Monochronic Timecultural belief that time is the given and people are the variable; the needs of people are adjusted to suit the demands of time—schedules, deadlines, etc. Time is quantifiable, and a limited amount of it is available. People do one thing at a time and finish it before starting something else, regardless of circumstances.

Naïve Realism – when a person believes that everyone else in the world sees the world and interprets events as they do.

Nonverbal Communication - includes all behavior that modifies, adds to, or substitutes for spoken or written language. Nonverbal behavior includes: Paralanguage (Paralinguistics); Body Language (Kinesics); Eye Language (Oculesics); Space Language (Proxemics); Touch Language (Haptics); and Timing in Conversations (Regulators).

Oculesics (Eye Contact) – refers to the use or avoidance of eye-to-eye contact during a conversation. US-Americans are more dependent on direct eye contact and believe it is a sign of active listening and, often, sincerity and honesty.

Paralanguage – aspects of communication that accompany speech such as tone, pitch, syllable stress, speed, and “accents.” Paralanguage often carries important clues and cues about relationships including superiority/inferiority, sarcasm, and sincerity/deception.

Particularism – cultural belief that how you behave in a given situation depends on the circumstances. You treat family, friends, and your in-group the best you can, and you let the rest of the world take care of itself. Their in-groups will protect them. There can’t be absolutes because everything depends on whom you’re dealing with. No one expects life to be fair. Exceptions will always be made for certain people. This view contrasts with Universalism.

Personal Space every culture and individual has a personal space, but in addition, there are three other ways to categorize our "interactive social zones" which include public, social, and intimate.

  1. Public - Public spaces are for assemblies, worship, classrooms, graduation exercises, and all such communal/ritual events where communication takes place ten feet or more away.

  2. Social - Social spaces may vary from a cozy four to seven feet (for close workers in an office or when attending a cocktail party or reception) to seven to twelve feet in somewhat more formal gatherings or office arrangements in which a desired “professional” distance is being maintained. Social space is often divided further by gender, age, and status.

  3. Personal - Personal space begins around eighteen inches from another person and can extend out to about four feet, but there is a well-defined “inner” zone of 18-24 inches where mostly close friends, spouses, and well-known other. US-Americans comfortably interact, and an “outer” zone  from between two to four feet where most friendly conversation and easy social interaction takes place.

  4. Intimate - This is a zone that people reserve for their closest friends, lovers, and immediate family members. It is a zone of significant trust and requires overt or tacit permission to enter. A stranger entering this zone is likely to be considered  an unwanted intruder at best and, at worst, a threat.

Polychronic Time – cultural belief that time is the servant and tool of people. Time is adjusted to suit the needs of people. More time is always available, and you are never too busy. People often have to do several things simultaneously, as required by circumstances. It’s not necessary to finish one thing before starting another, nor to finish your business with one person before starting in with another. This view contrasts with Monochronic time.

Proxemics  (Personal Space) – relates to your personal space or "comfort zone" during conversation. The “size” of our specific “space” is unconsciously acquired in early childhood. Interpersonal space in sitting, standing, and speaking all have cultural meanings and may trigger intense emotional responses when violated.

Reentry Shock – reactions that occur as a result of re-adaptation to our home culture. Often called "reverse culture shock," the reentry process has some things in common with culture shock but also has the added factor of surprise: we don't expect our home culture to be unreceptive to us and so difficult to come back to.

Regulators (Timing Matters) – relates to the pace of verbal exchanges, "turn-taking," starting and/or completing the exchange, and "pauses," "silences," and “interruptions” during conversation. All cultures have well-established patterns that they see as important to maintain a correct flow in a conversation.

Stereotype – cultural stereotype is the application of a previously held generalization, often negative, to every person in a cultural group; or, generalizing from only a few people in a group. A stereotype is a rigid generalization. The opposite of a Cultural Generalization.

U-Shaped Curve of Adjustment – named for the graphic that illustrates the emotional and physical adjustment patterns of the typical sojourner. Often shows four stages: Honeymoon, Disenchantment, Culture Shock, and Adjustment (or Recovery).

Universalism – belief in a culture that certain absolutes apply across the board, regardless of circumstances or the particular situation. Wherever possible, you should try to apply the same rules to everyone in like situations. To be fair is to treat everyone alike and not make exceptions for family, friends, or members of your in-group. Where possible, you should lay your personal feelings aside and look at the situation objectively. While life isn’t necessarily fair, we can make it more fair by treating people the same way. The opposite of Particularism.

Values – cultural generalizations about what a group of people think is good or ideal, even though they may not always act in accordance with the principle. 

W-Shaped Curve of Adjustment – basically a continuation of the U-Shaped Curve to include the return and reentry of the sojourner to their home culture. Although it also has four similar stages of adjustment, the onset and duration of the "phases" vary considerably from what occurs overseas.