Cross Cultural Communication

Posted on Oct 19, 2013 | 0 comments

By Meaghan Wallace

Cultural CommunicationWhen transitioning to a new culture, it is important to consider the way in which that culture typically expresses itself.  Described as a spectrum, the ways in which different cultures express themselves would have Expressive on one end, Reserved on the other and Variable in the middle.

Emotionally Expressive Cultures

In an emotionally expressive culture, people are generally described as loud and open.  They tend to have more physical contact than their more reserved counterparts and less personal space.  It is generally easy to read how emotionally expressive people are feeling which can help to navigate communication once you have learned the signs.  Regions which are typically described as emotionally expressive include Latin America, the Mediterranean, parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Emotionally Reserved Cultures

In an emotionally reserved culture, people are generally described as quiet and sometimes aloof.  They tend to have less frequent physical contact, reserving anything more than a handshake for immediate family and close friends.  It is generally difficult to read their emotions, which can leave their more expressive counterparts at a loss for how to navigate communication until they develop a close relationship.  Regions which are typically described as emotionally reserved include Eastern Asia and Northern Europe.

Variably Expressive Cultures

A variably expressive culture will lie somewhere on the spectrum between expressive and reserved.  People from these cultures will have developed their own cultural norms for expression and physical contact and research on these cultures will be key to your understanding of cues in communication.  Regions which are typically described as variably expressive include North America, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa and Western Europe. 

When planning a transition to another culture, it is important first to take a close look at how your culture expresses itself and if you express yourself in this manner.  Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • What do you perceive as strengths of your style of expression?
  • How do you interact with people who are more expressive than you?
  • How is this different from how you express yourself with people who are less expressive than you?

Next, you should look at how your destination culture expresses itself.

  • Are they typically more or less expressive than you?
  • How does this make you feel?
  • Have you interacted on a regular basis with people from this culture before?
  • How did those interactions go?

By answering these questions, you can start to develop an idea of the challenges you might face when first arriving abroad.

A final thing to consider when evaluating communication styles is the internal composition of the organization you are targeting in another country or the university you are attending if you are an international student.  Is the institution composed mainly of expatriates?  Or will you be working or studying mostly with locals of the culture you are entering?  This will directly affect the interpersonal dynamics of communication in your transition. 

The best way to find out about communication styles of your destination before arriving is to speak with people who have lived there.  If you are a member of Passport Career, be sure to check out the Get Connected! social network section to connect with people who have lived and worked in your destination country.  You can also reach out to colleagues or peers who have previously worked or studied in your destination country.  But remember, everyone will have a slightly different experience.  Just make sure to be genuine and friendly to locals and expats alike to ensure a smooth transition! 


Passport Career provides more detailed career and cultural information and extensive resources about finding a job, internship, or alternative career opportunity in over 80 countries. If your organization, embassy, university/college, library, or other institution would like access to our country portfolios (15,000+ pages of expert content for 80+ countries and 250+ cities) to share with your students, employees, spouses/partners, and others managing a national or international career transition, please click here to contact us (or send email regarding a free, live, online demo and details on how to obtain a license to access Passport Career.



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