How Do Different Cultures View Silence?
“I like your pauses and the space you give for reflection.”
I laughed to myself when I received this feedback from an American participant after a group-coaching session...Why?
I live in a high-context, Confucian culture where silence denotes careful thought, respect for authority, and more.
As a group and private coach, consultant, and trainer, when working with individuals and teams here in Taiwan and throughout the APAC region, I am constantly training myself to be more sensitive to the quality and nature of silence, to ‘read the air’ and to give more space for reflection or sometimes face-saving.
Even after more than a decade, I still regularly catch myself jumping in with a response or follow-up question prematurely.
❗ Turns out that while I still have room for improvement here, when I return to my Western roots, even though I think I’m adapting back, this 10 years plus work I’ve done seems to have integrated and is now part of my style of communication.
Neither good nor bad, I find this observation interesting, especially since although the majority of my formal education was in the West, I now somehow feel initially surprised when I’m working with Western-educated groups both here in Taipei and abroad who naturally display high levels of engagement and interaction.
Since I’m bridging multiple ‘figured worlds' through my work, it’s essential for me to stay mindful of my clients’ needs and backgrounds, and to mentally prepare myself so that I can adjust my mindset and communication style to best suit them.
💬 If you're working with a different culture from your own:
1. Familiarize yourself with approaches to silence in both formal and informal situations
2. Once you’re aware, make it a mental note to observe yourself both before, during, and after intercultural communication, and each time reflect on what you learned and could do better next time.
3. Be aware that this method can go beyond national boundaries to apply to personalities (for example, extrovert vs introvert), neurodiversity, company cultures, and professional cultures.
🤗 Regardless of the specific cultural factors at play, you’ll succeed every time with an empathetic approach whilst maintaining a beginner's mindset, regardless of your level of experience and familiarity. By doing this, you'll train and develop both your EQ and your CQ.
Do you have any questions, experiences, or additional insights to share? I'd love to hear from you!