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Cultural Differences In Communication Style – Why Arabs Are Not Effective Communicators In Estonia
We all know that our success in life largely depends on how good a communicator we are. New immigrants often believe that just learning vocabulary and grammar will make them effective communicators in Estonia and solve all problems. However, in the long run they notice that they have misunderstandings and conflicts everywhere. Observing the cultural differences in communication styles and practices of new immigrants in Estonia and other European countries, I have recorded many cultural differences that lead to conflicts and misunderstandings instead of success.
We recently saw a case in the media where a group of Arabs tried to change their driver’s license in Estonia, however, it caused a media event by threatening officials instead. The main reason for the conflict was that although the Arabs spoke Estonian, they used a completely different communication style from the Estonians. It was really interesting to see how the officials tried to explain the regulations according to their own direct communication style, however, as Arabs and Estonians have very different listening and speaking habits, the Arabs did not understand the message, but they perceived it as an unfriendly behavior. responded with threats. For Estonians, on the other hand, it is difficult to understand that speaking voluptuously and with a rising tone could show sincerity in other cultures and thus are generally perceived as aggressive behavior.
There are huge cultural differences in low and high context communication, in terms of approaching other people, how to say what is relevant, in body language, in direct and indirect communication styles and in values and the norms. The officials who analyzed the situation claimed that the Arabs did not listen, that they talked about irrelevant things, did not obey the rules and threatened the officials. The customer servers usually claim that the Arabs do not understand the meaning of the word “no”, they do not understand that it really means that “something is not possible”. They seem to think that they just have to explain longer and come back the next day with a bigger group and speak louder. According to my experience, Arabs tend to use the same communication behavior again and again in different situations in Estonia, even if they never achieve their goals.
Arabic and Estonian culture can be distinguished in terms of direct versus indirect communication styles. The Estonian cultural preference is for clear and direct communication, as evidenced by common expressions such as “Ära keeruta!” (Don’t beat around the bush), “Räägi asjast! (Go to the point). As we have seen from these two examples Estonians use even fewer words to express these sentences than English speakers which means that they really prefer to get to the point as quickly as possible without wasting time which is how you feel when someone talks too much about “irrelevant” things. In high-context communication, (like Arabic) most of the “load of meaning” seems to fall on the listener. In low-context cultures (such as Estonian), the burden of accurately and completely conveying the meaning in the spoken or written message seems to fall on the speaking (Hall, 1976). the indirect message and they perceive it as a waste of time. I have seen many conflicts that have arisen simply because a person from another culture only speaks a lot and for too long.
The direct style strives to represent the facts accurately and avoids emotional undertones and suggestive allusions. Indirect communication style, which is more common among Arabs, is on the contrary, ambiguous and emotionally rich. The desire for accuracy is not as important as creating emotional resonance. For Estonians, it is difficult to understand that speaking loudly and with a rising tone could show sincerity in other cultures and thus, they usually perceive it as aggressive and hostile behavior.
Although the Arabs are considered to represent the indirect communication style, the Arabic language seems to be in many ways much more direct than English or Estonian. For example, in Estonian you cannot say to someone “I want this!” or “You have to do this!”. Instead, it is often paraphrased as a question or use the conditional mood “Ma søksin…” (I want to have…), “Kas oleks ösössin/kas ma saaksin…?” (Would it be possible/could. ..?). In these cases, the Arabs tend to use the quite direct approach according to the structure of the Arabic language, which can shock the officials, customer servers and all other people in Estonia because it sounds aggressive. In addition, as in the German language, there are familiar and polite forms to say “you” (Sina – Du, Teie – Sie) and in the official context of communication between foreigners only the polite form is always used because it allows to maintain the distance is shown. respect This is definitely another reason why Estonians consider the communication style of Arabs as aggressive.
So far we have only trained civil servants and customer service personnel on these issues to reduce intercultural conflicts in Estonia, however, this does not make new immigrants more successful communicators. In ordinary language courses, language teachers are not aware of cultural differences in communication styles and are not able to teach these skills. Estonian language course books are not designed to teach intercultural communication or how to be successful in business and life. That is why it is relevant to offer seminars and training materials for new immigrants to increase their cultural awareness and teach them how to achieve their communication goals in Estonia.
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