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Tony said on November 10th, 2009 at 1:16 am    

“This makes your life quite a bit more complicated than it might otherwise be as you navigate your way through your relationships with your Chinese partners and counterparts.”

It makes their lives more complicated too, as anyone from a high-context culture will tell you they make mistakes all the time. My Chinese friends often talk to me about making mistakes, incorrect assumptions, or communication blunders as a result of improperly decoding a high-context message. A lot of energy seems to be spent attending to possible interpretation, as well: I’m constantly being told by my friends how their boss/coworker/brother told them something and they are searching for the “true meaning” or “hidden context,” or are wondering if there even is is any at all.

Yu said on December 15th, 2011 at 3:53 am    

well, your “AYI” might have hinted that she was jobless or she wanted to change her job and to work for you again if possible. She would have never expected you to invite her for coffee ,which you had never done when she worked for you, so she thought you would move back to Beijing and would hire her again. This is my perspective as a Chinese.

Jason Patent said on December 15th, 2011 at 5:48 am    

Mr. Yu,

Thank you for your comment. It’s good to have my intuition confirmed about my blunder.

Potomacker said on September 12th, 2013 at 3:09 am    

I am very much trying to garner more instructional information on this topic especially framed as transmitter / receiver language orientation.
I am a bit puzzled though as to why you concluded that you were ‘ a heel for your blunder.’
It seems that you hold yourself to a higher standard for not anticipating the ayi’s possibility for misinterpreting your message than her for receiving your message at face value. Which makes me wonder whether you can adjust your messaging to avoid such a situation if you feel you are to blame.
I tend to concur with Tony above that receiver oriented communication is just much more prone to communicative errors, but I am not certain whether that can be considered objective on my part.
I’ve gotten essays in which my students complain about their bosses always expecting them as workers to know what they want without telling them directly. My initial reaction is usually: d’uh, that’s how Chinese culture generally works. But that’s not how I can explain the matter so that they can better cope under such conditions.

Jason Patent said on September 13th, 2013 at 2:24 am    

Thank you for your comment. I suppose I felt like a heel because I do hold myself to a high standard as a “China expert.” I should have known better.

I’d say that over the four-plus years since this post I’ve improved, but still lack fundamental fluency, both in terms of avoiding communicating things I don’t intend to, and in terms of correctly interpreting “hidden” signals.

If you want to learn more I’d suggest you start with Edward Hall’s Beyond Culture, cited in the post.

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