Different Communication Styles
College students often, for a multitude of reasons, go into orientation expecting to learn nothing important and for it to only tell us things we already know, after all we’ve been in school for the last 17 years or so, so hopefully we’ve figured out a few things by now.Right? Having admitted the collegiate skepticism of orientation, I must say, I’ve already found one golden nugget of information helpful in my short 12 days in Egypt. One of the IFSA-Butler site-coordinators laid out the different communication styles Americans and Egyptians generally use.* Americans value direct communication. If you need a favor ask for one, be clear and concise because I have x, y, and z to do before 5:00 pm today, and time is money (hopefully my hyperbole makes the point clear). The Egyptian style of communication is much more indirect and derives social grace and consideration by understanding someone’s needs without them having to ask. The opportunity for a frustrating interaction becomes clear: the Egyptian trying to anticipate what the American is thinking seems pushy, the American not understanding the Egyptian is not merely pointing out a fact but that the standard response to their statement would be an action, finds the American rude and inconsiderate, then the Egyptian seems passive-aggressive to an American by phrasing statements, not direct questions…etc., etc.
Having been warned of such common patterns, I had my radar up and already have seen the interactions arise (not to say each creates a problem by any means), but I noticed them and immediately identified it as perpendicular communication styles. This insight from orientation allowed me to peel back the means of communication to the intention underneath and see what both parties were trying to accomplish and thus bridge the two. By recognizing this general difference in communication style, instead of begrudging my new Egyptian friends for beating around the bush or being ‘passive aggressive’ or indirect, I was able to immediately diffused any cultural frustration and I’m more excited at the prospect of better navigating Egyptian society, insha’alla. Perhaps over the next couple of days I will try to read situations for more subtle signs and give the “generalized Egyptian communication style” a try.
*The coordinator cited specific data and clearly articulated that while these trends appear they of course do not apply to even American nor every Egyptian and should be taken with a grain of salt.