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Mutual Intercultural Perception: How Does It Affect Technical Communication?—Some Data from China, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Italy

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Professional technical communicators increasingly find themselves in a negotiation situation where cultural differences have caused misperceptions or confusion concerning time (pausing, interrupting). This article overviews an intercultural perception experiment that investigated how individuals from different cultures perceive questioning and pausing/interrupting behavior in the same videotaped Dutch-Chinese negotiation. The study, which involved Chinese, Dutch, German, French, and Italian students of similar educational backgrounds, revealed that culture can affect how different individuals perceive and interpret the same situation. For example, the “traditionally” polite Chinese appear to interrupt more often than many Western individuals might expect. And while both Chinese and Dutch observers thought the Dutch interrupted far more often than the Chinese, findings based on linguistic parameters for interrupting reveal it is the Chinese who interrupt more often. Also, both Chinese and Dutch observers thought that members of the other culture used more directive questions (used to conclude a discussion). Conversely, both sets of observers thought that members of their own culture used more reflective questions (used to gain a better understanding of what the other party is saying) than did subjects from the other culture. Moreover, the experiment found no strong evidence for a Chinese claim to be a (Confucian) culture of reflection; in fact, the Dutch subjects used even more reflective forms than did the Chinese. Thus, the results of this experiment have interesting implications concerning both intercultural negotiation strategies and areas for future technical communication research.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2000

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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