Theorising Communication from an Asia-Centric Perspective
Professor Akira Miyahara discussed how Western constructs of communication might mislead the characterisation of Asian cultures, and more.
Most communication scholars in Asia, particularly Japan, started their academic careers studying English abroad in the United States, resulting in a very “Western” approach to studying communication. Professor Akira Miyahara, Professor of Communication Studies at Seinan Gakuin University, had also pursued communication studies as a youth and completed his MA and PhD in communication at Pennsylvania State University.
There have been many comparisons between Japanese and American communication over the years, highlighting the many cultural differences between the two approaches to communication. For example, the Japanese practice high-context communication — which focuses on underlying context, meaning, and tone in the message, and not just the words themselves — while Americans practice low-context communication, where communications are expected to be explicitly stated so that there’s no risk of confusion.
In addition, many Westerners such as Europeans and Americans value direct confrontation and being impersonal in conflict situations. On the other hand, in a high-context culture like Japan, people tend to believe that conflicts end relationships, and therefore prefer to avoid conflict altogether in order to prioritise the interpersonal relationship. Traditionally, avoidance is regarded as the most ineffective and least preferable approach to conflict resolution in Western studies of conflict. However, Professor Miyahara believes that it is not necessarily a bad way of dealing with conflict.
After all, Asians have strong tendencies to preserve their identity, and maintain the way other people perceive them, and conflict presents a significant threat to this identity. These people would often read the atmosphere of a room and steer clear from saying anything to avoid disrupting the atmosphere. Tactics associated with reading the atmosphere include “obeying publicly, and disobeying privately”, changing topics, delaying answers, hinting non-verbally, and ignoring the other person. That said, incorrectly reading the atmosphere may lead to contempt, as well as lost opportunities for honest and open challenges.
Ultimately, different cultures have unique and profound philosophies and traditions that affect people’s daily social practices, such as communication. For example, the similarities and differences between Asia and the West, as well as between different regions in Asia, can lead to different approaches towards communication. Overall, diverse cultures need to be further explored in order for us to gain a better understanding of the nuances in communication, and a better understanding of each other.
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