Asean Group

Communication Style of Southeast Asia

What is the communication style of Southeast Asia? The language and culture of this region are very diverse. However, the communication style has similarities.

Southeast Asia is composed of eleven countries with impressive diversity in religion, culture, and history. The eleven countries are Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. These nations are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (henceforth ASEAN).

As a matter of fact, the language and culture of this region are very diverse. However, the communication style has similarities. This article will discuss what is the communication style of Southeast Asian people and how they can adapt to the global business landscape.

Several researchers tried to categorize the communication style of different cultures. To make it simple, we will use the GLOBE framework to fully understand the communication style of ASEAN nations. So, what is the GLOBE study?

The GLOBE project is a unique large-scale study of cultural practices, leadership ideals, and generalized and interpersonal trust in more than 170 countries. The project is in collaboration with more than 500 researchers. Obviously, the project is ambitious and offers a wide-scale overview of culture and leadership.

However, we will only capture communication style and not the leadership aspect. Therefore, we will only use the GLOBE project as base guidelines in terms of the culture and assertiveness of ASEAN nations.

ASEAN is a High-Context Culture 

The high context implies the communication style is indirect and implicit. And is more on reading between the lines. In collectivist cultures such as ASEAN nation, politeness, and a desire to avoid embarrassment often take precedence over truth. As truth is defined in individualist cultures. For example, in business meetings, it would be rare to criticize your superiors in front of everyone. And most of the time, the employee tends to be more agreeable to their superiors regardless of if they agree or not. This is one disadvantage of being a high-context culture. Individuals to this group category tend to value more the perception of the group rather than their own.

Implicit and Indirect Communication

Implicit communication refers to non-verbal cues such as the use of facial expressions, body language, and gestures. For example, ASEAN tends to avoid eye contact because it is a sign of disrespect to your superiors. Indirect communication, on the other hand, is when we say one thing but implies another meaning. Similarly, ASEAN is not comfortable in delivering bad news or correcting someone. Saying “No” can be a real challenge for ASEAN especially in a business setting or conflict resolution.

The Language of Silence

Silence in Asian cultures is mostly, a sign of respect. However, silence can be used in many ways. It can be used as intimidation or to save face. Silence is an important and purposeful tool used in Southeast Asian communication. In addition, pausing before giving a response indicates that someone has applied appropriate thought. Similarly, it perceived as giving consideration to the question. This signifies politeness and respect.

On Assertiveness

ASEAN views assertiveness as socially unacceptable and values modesty and tenderness. They value cooperation and warm relationships. Likewise, they emphasize face-saving and most of the time, communication is ambiguous and subtle. Moreover, they value harmony, equality, solidarity, and quality of life. Likewise, ASEAN nations emphasize tradition, seniority, and cooperative spirit.

Being a Collective Society

If there is one advantage of being a collective society, that is stability. It cultivates a sense of community, reduces selfishness, and promotes loyalty. Moreover, ASEAN nations extend their family orientation to the workplace. And in the workplace setting, your team members are your family, and the leader is perceived as the parent. It is very seldom in a business setting to leave someone in the group for their own personal gain. Consequently,  such practices are frown upon, and one will not get the recognition from the society it deserves. Overall, the ASEAN nation is rich in diversity and culture. But nonetheless, the communication style is similar in many ways.

Reference List:
Feign, L. (1988). The world of Lily Wong. Hong Kong: Macmillan.
Thomas, D & Peterson, M. (Fourth Edition). (2018). Cross-Cultural Management Essential Concepts. Sage Publishing
Culture, Leadership, and Organizations The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies

Len Peralta

About the Author

Len Peralta is the creator of LCM Digital Training. Her expertise focuses on entrepreneurship and cross-cultural communication. Follow her on Twitter @AskLenPeralta

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