Communications Style Term Paper

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Bridging the Gap

(Between Communication Styles)

In Management in Two Cultures, author Eva S. Kras discusses many differences between Mexican and U.S. cultures and their effects on business dealings. She describes differences in cultural values, customs, and attitudes that lead to misunderstandings when the two countries meet in the workplace. Perhaps most significant are communication styles, which are learned by socialization in childhood and so habitual to both cultures that they almost go unnoticed. The work of Deborah Tannen (1995) on feminine and masculine communication styles is helpful as a way to look at differences in the communication styles of Mexicans and Americans.

Tannen argues that American girls and boys are socialized so differently, they almost grow up in two different cultures. Socialization begins at birth. For example, when we hold baby girls, we position them so that they can see directly into our faces as we talk to them. Boys, on the other hand, we hold so that they can face outward and see what's going on in the room. By the time children are old enough to play with each other, a lot of socialization has already taken place. Little boys like to play outdoors with groups of other boys, usually with a leader who gives orders. They like competitive games with lots of rules. Little girls, on the other hand, prefer to play indoors and usually in very small groups or with just one other girl. They like to do things together, like coloring, for example, jacks, or playing with Barbies. Girls tend toward activities they can share rather than competitive games with a winner and a loser.

But it isn't just a matter of divergent interests. The goals of communication are different for each. Males and females communicate for different reasons and to accomplish different ends. Boys and men function and communicate in a context of social hierarchy. A hierarchy is a structured social system in which some people are over others and give orders while others take orders. Some people are up and some are down. The goal in masculine communication is to be up and over others, not down and under. Consequently, there is a ceaseless struggle for ascendance. If you're down, you want to be UP. It you're already up, you must constantly guard against others who would like to take your place. In the masculine communication style, men hate to be put down. Bragging is a way to avoid this. They don't like to take orders because this places them in a one-down position, and they are prohibited from showing weakness or emotion since that signals they are down rather than up in the hierarchy.

Feminine communication style, conversely, functions in the context of a social network. Women aim for connection and intimacy. In order to maintain connection with each other, a sense of equality has to be constantly fostered. Nobody is better than anybody else. Women relate to each other in a way that maximizes their similarities and minimizes their differences by sharing personal experiences and mutually searching for the meaning of them. If the sense of connection is broken, the woman may become a social outcast. Girls in school, for example, who are social isolates are often prettier and smarter than the other girls. They become outcasts because they are too outstanding.

The two communication styles represent different views of reality. It's not that men never think of relationships or that women are never concerned about achievement and independence. Both look at the same scene but focus on different aspects. Masculine style says, "We are separate and different; we are distinct from each other." Feminine style says, "We are connected and similar. Our experiences are alike." In Talking from 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen (1995) describes the implications for the workplace where feminine style is often at a disadvantage. When women talk to each other about their families and their troubles at work, for example, men may misinterpret the communication to imply chronic complaining, needing advice, or incompetence to handle problems. In the feminine communication style, the goal of such talk is to establish rapport, not to seek solutions.

Management in Two Cultures describes one culture that uses a masculine style of communication (American) and another culture (Mexican) which uses a feminine style. In the Mexican workplace the human element, consistent with feminine communication style, is more important than accomplishing tasks and "getting to the point." Family comes first, before work. Mexican children, like traditional women, are expected to obey and to be pleasant, to work things out and avoid conflict. They are pressured and socialized in school to conform and thus maintain equality. Meanwhile, you have American men coming there who practice a predominantly masculine style of communication where independence, competitiveness, aggressiveness, and individuality are highly prized and put a man up in the social hierarchy, not down. The two styles are bound to clash, especially when you add the language barrier which compounds differences in education -- the broad, theoretical, artistic view of Mexicans (the right-brain "feminine" view of reality) compared to the narrow, specialized, analytical and practical view (the left-brain "masculine" view) of Americans.

Feminine communication style demands that conflicts be worked out so that "there are no outright winners or losers" (p. 34). Helping each other to save face is part of the connection in this style. Kras states that you cannot criticize a Mexican in front of his friends. If you do, he will hate you forever. This is because in the feminine communication style, isolation or being made to feel different from the others in the group is extremely painful. This contrasts significantly from masculine communication style in which men want to stand out and do not mind being confronted or criticized: "From early youth, U.S. men especially are conditioned to hide emotions, as any emotional display is regarded as a sign of weakness. Toughness and the so-called 'hard-nosed' attitude are qualities which are respected and admired" (p. 35).

Likewise, the Mexican emphasis on good manners serves to preserve social connection. Kras states that Mexicans never openly boast about their achievements. Etiquette requires a low-key manner. Bragging is a number-one no-no in feminine communication style, as it sets a person apart and injures the sense of equality, implying that one person is better than another. Furthermore, telling a person what he/she wants to hear, rather than what has gone wrong, is part of this style. Masculine communication style, on the other hand prizes "getting straight to the point" and "telling it like it is." The harmonious atmosphere and rapport that feminine communication aims for is not important in the masculine style. Furthermore, the Mexican habit of employing persons with whom there is already a relationship or connection makes sense in light of their communication style which always strives for cohesion and maintenance of relationships.

In the United States the "romantic, mystical, and artistic" qualities which Mexicans exhibit are attributed to women. These qualities are associated with relationships, which are central to feminine communication style. Masculine communication style tends to look down on these qualities as frivolous. Kraus states that Mexicans have the ability to "dream," that is to pursue abstract concepts, conceptualize and perceive problems "in global terms, identifying all the influences and visualizing their ramifications" (p. 49). Americans, on the other hand, have been successful in business because of their analytical, problem-solving skills, specialization, and practicality. The Mexican deficiency in putting schemes into practice is seen as resulting from lack of training in Mexican schools which do not emphasize analytical skills -- a "lack of practical orientation in schools and universities and their failure to teach the analytical skills needed for problem solving" (p. 50). Until about 100 years ago in the United States, the same thing could have been said about women,…[continue]

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