Within my first two weeks in Spain I noticed the difference in openness between the communication of people from Spanish culture and communication of people from American culture. At the dinner table my host family tends to like to ask my roommate and I multiple questions. I was shocked when my home stay parent looked at me and directly asked "So, do you like Clinton or Trump?" I laughed and was not quite sure what to say. At home it is very well known that the topic of politics is not considered a conversation that you have at the dinner table. I tried to give a casual answer to brush the conversation away, but after I replied I noticed that my home stay family continued to stare at me. I realized they wanted me to bluntly answer the question and literally say who I intended to vote for. This was such an interesting experience for me. I decided to go along with the conversation and gave them my honest opinion of the politics currently occurring in the United States.
The one thing I noticed between the interaction and the communication was that my host family listened. Never once did they interrupt. Never once did they tell me my opinion was wrong. They asked a straight forward question, accepted what I said, and more importantly appreciated the honesty within my answer.
In reflecting on this experience I realized the concept of them asking me a straight forward question was not only different, but the genuineness and level of respect they showed towards my answer I felt was an even greater difference. There was also no sign of non verbal communication displayed from my Spanish family that made me feel as if they disagreed or did not accept my answer. It was legitimate openness.
I am not sure why Americans struggle with similar aspects of openness while communicating. Not just openness to ask question, but also openness to listen and receive another person's answer. Listening is such a vital part of communication, yet I have realized since being in Spain that Americans are really bad at it. And, if an American does take the time to listen their non verbal communication generally does not display a concept of openness. This might be because American culture tends to be extremely individualistic. Americans focus so much on what they might want to say that they don't listen to your answer, but instead are configuring their response for when you are done talking. Or Americans have the habit of blatantly interrupting in order to say what they want to say. Maybe because of the individualism seen in our culture, which creates a lack of listening as well as an action of interrupting, Americans have developed the habit of avoiding these kinds of direct questions and conversations within communication altogether. Maybe there are other reasons why Americans not only avoid these questions, but also struggle to listen and approach a conversation with respect, and openness. Some quick advice to consider when participating in intercultural communication that I have learned from this trip,
- Observe the details of how the person acts while you are communicating with them. Watch their eyes, watch their facial expression, and consider their tone.
- Ask yourself, 'How are those details different from what I might experience at home if I were to have a similar conversation?'
- Consider why those differences occur, and then ask 'Do those differences effect the conversation and overall communication that is occurring?'
I have noticed with traveling between countries and cultures that it's the multiple little things that effect my comfort level. Within communication and conversation it is the same way. Look for the little things. Learn from them, and grow.