Emotions Lost In Translation
Emotions are a key element of communication and are a tricky business when crossing cultures. As someone who has grown up in one culture and as a native of that culture you may have an ability to quickly “read” the emotions of another person from that culture and know how to respond appropriately.
When we cross cultures and venture into a completely different world of emotional expression we need take time to understand there are differences, and consciously make an effort to manage any gaps. If you were moving to live in China, you’re bound to learn some Chinese – even if just some key phrases. Treat emotions in the same way by treating emotions like another language. Learning a few key phrases and emotional understandings goes a long way to building bridges across cultures.
A simple example would be the different ways different cultures do or even don’t express enthusiasm. Americans can be very overt, English and Europeans can be more reserved while people in Asia may not show it all depending on the circumstances even if they are enthusiastic. The emotion of enthusiasm exists in all cultures but can be expressed differently. Just as “thank you” can be. Other examples of where you have to have to be emotionally sensitive are in the seemingly simple expression of “yes” or how to say “no”. “Yes” does not always mean “yes” and saying “no” can be an exercise in political tightrope walking: Check out the articles linked below.
By making an effort to look for gaps in how you express an emotion and how your overseas colleagues do, and my experience is this needs to be a continuous effort because we all tend to “revert to cultural type”, you will help make your and their experience as positive as possible.
HBR has done an article on this called Emotional Intelligence Doesn’t Translate Across Borders.
While I was looking at his topic I also came across a couple of other articles that apply to China and Japan which I have linked below but I feel the principles discussed in them apply equally well throughout most of Asia.
How to say “no” in Japan (this would apply to China as well).
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