Communication in Asia and America-selected challenges

Although I am Middle East based OD consultant, I do lot of my work in Asia and the US.

The goal of this post is to compare the challenges I face communicating in the different environments.


Although today at the ripe old age of 66, I am very proficient in communicating with various populations in Asia, this proficiency was not easily acquired. Here are some brief highlights of the major communication lessons I have learnt.

  • Khun Som from Bangkok taught me just how much content can be communicated by evasiveness.
  • Mitsumi from Osaka taught me that in some instances, it takes years to formulate an answer and in the meantime, it is best to be silent.
  • Emma from Malaysia and Felipe from the Philippines have taught me that it is far better not to talk about certain things…so that communication can continue. 
  • Hsiao from Shanghai explained to me how `lying “can be very truthful. 
  • Sivan from Tel Aiv  taught me that when she stops arguing with me, she no longer cares.

My Asian clients always understood how different I am and never tried to convert me. We almost thrive on our difficulty to communicate!


  • It is possible to do business without a deep personal relationship using a contract used to hedge lack of initial trust. This setup enables expediency of communication. And it is critical to be expedient so as not to waste time. Expediency is an acquired skill for the non westerner.
  • The emphasis of expediency (which enables speed and a competitive edge) leads to view conflicts as something to be solved.
  • An American generally will expect the other side to adapt him/her self because there is one right way of communicating, our way. Once people “develop” and transcend hang ups, we can communicate, our way.

My background and values are somewhat more western than eastern, and I feel the western style of communication comes is more “natural” for me.

However, I feel more comfortable communicating in Asia because I feel that there is an enhanced awareness of the acutely diverse assumptions about communication, and less attempt to impose one style.

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Watching the refugees in Budapest

Whilst standing at a traffic light in downtown Budapest today (Sept 6th) , I saw a most shocking site. I was on my way for a coffee at the well known Cafe New York. (New York Kávéház)

It all started with the honking of horns at the Blaha Luzja Ter intersection as cars from all directions applied their brakes. Then there was yelling and screaming and yelping and shouting and the sound of people running or is it a stampede? What is making so much noise?

And right into the intersection they ran , limped and hobbled….thousands of women and children and men and infants with absolutely nothing….I looked in their eyes and saw hell. I gasped for breath and my eyes filled with tears.  

Across Blaha junction they streamed as the locals looked on with anger, fear, disgust or compassion and detachment. 

It was too much: the juxtaposed reality of civilized Budapest, thousands of Syrian refugees flowing thru right next to Cafe New York and  all this less than a mile from where the Jews of Hungary were deported to Auschwitz or killed and thrown into the Danube. Was that a few decades ago..or yesterday?

It really does not matter how this problem came to be, it is a massive system problem that needs to be addressed. In terms of OD, the refugees are a powerless constituency used as a football which can be kicked around. And indeed this is what is happening.

Coffee and cake at the New York Cafe in Budapest are highly recommended.

 de                                                  New York Cafe, Budapest

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