105
16
Mixed Messages
JonamayLambert,LambertAssociates
HoffmanEstates,Illinois,USA
andSelmaMyers,InterculturalDevelopment,Inc.
SanDiego,California,USA
Purpose
To increase knowledge about different communication patterns based on culture.
To reduce the possibility of stereotyping or misinterpreting another’s behavior.
Targetaudience
The target audience is individuals and groups who will be working with others from different
cultures and who are interested in the impact of culture on communication. The activity is
most effective with 15 to 20 participants.
Time
20 minutes
Materialsandenvironment
A set of instruction slips
One copy of Handout 1, “Verbal and Nonverbal Differences Across Cultures” for each
participant
A room where participants can work in pairs
Procedure
1. Divide participants into four equal groups. Name the groups A, B, C, and D.
2. Introduce the activity by telling the participants that they will be engaged in a brief activ-
ity that will be enjoyable and informative. Give to each of the four groups a corresponding
instruction slip. (Group A receives the Group A Instructions, Group B the Group B
Instructions, etc.) Tell them to read their instruction slip, but not to share the information
with anyone else.
3. Ask all participants to stand with their group.
50ActivitiesforAchievingCulturalCompetency
106
4. Instruct As to find a B partner and Cs to find a D partner, and then to find a space in the
room where the pair can stand and carry on a 2-minute conversation using the instructions
they were given.
5. After 2 minutes, ask them to be seated.
6. Ask them to use one word to describe their feelings. Put the answers on a flipchart.
7. Ask one participant from each group to read the instruction slips they were given.
8. Ask the following questions:
“What was going on?”
“How easy or difficult was it for you to follow your instructions?”
“What surprised you?”
“How did you interpret the behavior of your partner during the activity? Did the per-
son whose partner looked away feel that his or her partner couldn’t be trusted, wasn’t
interested, or perhaps was bored?”
“What assumptions might we make about people having different communication styles
from our own?”
“What might be the result if these differences continue to be misunderstood?”
“What real-life situations from your own life does this bring to mind?”
“What does this activity tell you about overcoming communication barriers and deal-
ing with communication differences on the job?”
“What learnings can you take away from this activity?”
9. Distribute Handout 1, “Verbal and Nonverbal Differences Across Cultures” and review it
with the participants.
Debrief
Lead any further discussion and close by stressing that communication has always been
complex and extremely important. However, today’s technology makes it even more so.
With the Internet, teleconferencing, and the ability to pick up the phone and call anywhere in
the world, we have to be more aware of differences in verbal and nonverbal communication.
It is important to recognize that many cultures have their own rules and communication
styles; learning about cross-cultural communication is a necessity, because the more we
know about communication, the less we will offend, misunderstand, or embarrass others or
ourselves.
MixedMessages
Reproducedfrom50ActivitiesforAchievingCulturalCompetence,byJonamayLambert,
SelmaMyers,andGeorgeSimons,editors.Amherst,MA:HRDPress,2000,2008
[InstructionSlips]
Instructions: This page of instructions should be copied and cut into strips. Make enough copies
so that each participant can be given one slip.
GroupAInstructions
Avoideyecontactwhenspeakingtoyourpartner.
Touchyourpartnerasyouspeak.
GroupBInstructions
Standaboutsixinchesclosertoyourpartnerthanyounormallywould.
Pointatyourpartneroftenwhileyouarespeaking.
GroupCInstructions
Speakmoreloudlythanyounormallywould,andinterruptyourpart
nerfairlyfrequently.
Giveyourpartnersignsofapproval(suchastheU.S.gesture“okay,”
the“thumbsup”signal,andthe“V” forvictorysign).
GroupDInstructions
Speakmoresoftlythanyounormallywould,anddon’tinterruptyour
partner.
Usealotofgestureswhenyouarespeaking.
MixedMessages
Reproducedfrom50ActivitiesforAchievingCulturalCompetence,byJonamayLambert,
SelmaMyers,andGeorgeSimons,editors.Amherst,MA:HRDPress,2000,2008
[Handout1page1]
Verbal and Nonverbal
Differences Across Cultures
Sample cultures used: Asian, Hispanic, mainstream American, Middle Eastern, Northern
European, and British
Eye contact
Culture tip: It is not appropriate to match
behavior. Observe and learn.
Asian: Minimal
Hispanic: Very direct
Mainstream American: Moderate
Middle Eastern: Very direct
Northern European: Moderate
British: Moderate
Proximity
Culture tip: Tolerate the difference in
distance.
Asian: 3 feet or more
Hispanic: 0 inches – 18 inches
Mainstream American: 18 inches – 3 feet
Middle Eastern: 0 inches – 18 inches
Volume
Culture tip: Match the speaker’s tone.
Asian: Soft spoken
Hispanic: Soft spoken
Mainstream American: Louder than average
Middle Eastern: Louder than average
Interruption
Asian: Extremely rude
Mainstream American: Comfortable
Middle Eastern: Comfortable
Hand Gestures
Pointing is considered poor etiquette in most
cultures.
Beckoning
Mainstream Americans tend to beckon others
with the index finger; this is a gesture that
many groups, particularly Mexicans, Filipinos,
and Vietnamese, consider offensive.

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