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Verbal Activities

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Cultural differences in formality


Social Settings

Many impressions formed during a party, dinner or golf game can make or break a key business arrangement, whether or not business is discussed directly. Always carry business cards. Arrive at a party at the stated time or up to 30 minutes later. (Not earlier than the stated time, under any circumstances.)

Before an event, use your address book or your "people database" to refresh your memory about the people you are likely to meet.

If you forget someone's name, you can sometimes "cover" by introducing a person you do know first. "Do you know my Joe Smith, one of our account reps?", which will usually get the unknown person to introduce him or herself.

Another consideration is that there are cultural differences concerning how informal and formal different social situations are expected to be. Some cultures are much more formal in the workplace than Britain and colleagues would generally call each other by their titles and surnames. Cross-cultural differences also exist in how formality and informality are indicated. For example, until recently the French tended to avoid the use of first names until much further into a rela­tionship than would be normal in Britain.

Another interesting cross-cultural example is that in the UK adults tend to show off and be outspoken in formal situations but pe more reserved in informal ones. In the USA it tends to be the other way around. Look at MPs' behaviour in the Commons compared to Congress in the USA and you will see this quite clearly. Gregory Bateson, the anthropologist who first described this difference, suggested that it was due to different child-rearing practice~: in the USA adults watch children showing off, in the UK children watch adults showing off, alt hough such differences may be eroding. As a result, the British often find Americans remarkably quiet a~ confer­ences and seminars, while Americans find the British rather rude a,nd outspoken. Then they go off to meet socially and are puzzled as their colleagues transform into the apparent opposite.

Communication requires a symbolic activity, sometimes via a language.

Verbal activities include speaking, writing, listening, reading, translating.

Speaking and writing.Speaking and writing are the ways of sending verbal information. When it comes to sending common and business messages, speaking is more common than writing. Giving instructions, conducting interviews, working in small groups, attending meetings, and making speeches are all important activities. Writing is important too. When you want to send a complex message of lasting significance, you will probably do it in writing.

Written communication offers different challenges from spoken interaction. In one way, writing is easier than speaking, in that it is not usually spontaneous. There is time to think about what the sender has sent and what the reply should contain. On the other hand, speaking is more natural, and writing more contrived; it is a skill what needs to be learned.

Listening and reading.Listening and reading are the ways of receiving verbal information. People in common life and business spend more time obtaining information than transmitting it. Obtaining and remembering information takes a special effort. Unfortunately, most of us are not very good listeners and readers. We typically remember only half of what was said. Readers have trouble extracting the important points from a document.

Listening and reading require a similar approach. The first step is to register the information, which means that you must focus your attention. You must then interpret and evaluate the information, respond in some fashion, and file away the data for future reference.

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