Indirect communication in Asia
In order to understand how to communicate effectively in a high-context culture, you should familiarize yourself with two different communication styles. When the meaning of the message is mostly communicated verbally, this is called a direct communication style. The opposite of this is an indirect communication style, where the context of the message carries its meaning. Those who use an indirect approach most often use nonverbal signs and signals such as eye contact, the intonation of their voice, pauses, and facial expressions. In different cultures, these styles can manifest themselves differently. Both communication styles are found in any single culture, and it is crucial to comprehend both in order to successfully understand your conversation partner.
Most Asian countries are indirect communicators. There are countless contextual clues including non verbal cues, status, age of the speaker and listener and even their posture. In most Asian counties, the word no is taboo. When negotiating or holding meetings, you should not expect your host to formally refuse you at any time, but be careful of the unspoken signals.
Because preserving face and avoiding embarrassment is extremely important you should never put your host into a situation where they will have to directly refuse you. Many will say yes but clearly mean no. To interpret this you must be well prepared. Watch for facial expressions and hand and head movements when your host is speaking. The tone and the formality of the voice is also an extremely good indicator of intention.
If you need to say no your counterpart, you may do so discreetly yet clearly. The term to describe this type of attitude is called preserving face. To save face and avoid embarrassment, it is customary to avoid saying the word “no”.