The Influence of Culture on the Dimensions of Communication

Culture has a great influence on how people communicate. In this section, we will look into how culture influences the different dimensions of communication especially in the Philippine context.

Courtesy in Philippine society is expressed when talking to someone, especially someone in authority, by looking down. Looking straight at them is considered rude and frowned upon. In Western society, avoiding looking at people in the eye or looking down or around while talking to them often means that one is not telling the truth or is hiding something. If this is still the case, what do you think might happen if a Filipino applicant is interviewed for a job by an American employer; assuming both parties are unaware of the other’s culture? In another setting, in Thailand, no one sits higher than the King does. Teachers’ chairs are also higher than students’. This is to show their authority and to command respect.

Misunderstanding occurs when oral and written messages are not in agreement, such as when you say you are grateful to someone but your Facebook post says otherwise. Culturally, Filipinos are fond of being very wordy in written communication, oftentimes beating around the bush, even in formal letters and sometimes in email. We tend to be just as wordy and employ circumlocution when writing and giving a speech. We also use highfalutin and polysyllabic words. Westerners are more direct in speaking and they write simpler letters because they find longwinded letters and circuitous speeches tedious and boring.

These are not as bifurcated as before. It used to be that among Filipinos, a speech still depends on whether one views the Communicative Situation as format or informal. Knowing this helps one to act accordingly in the preparation of the Message and in responding to it. But now, Speakers at a program may be casually dressed and speak to an Audience as though they are having a conversation between friends in a coffee shop. Because Filipinos live in a communal society (where everyone is family), this tends to blur the lines between formal and informal communications. Still, when a student is speaking with the principal, calling him/her by his/her first name is not likely to be preferred or appreciated; neither is speaking with him/her as though he/she is of the same age as the student. Some priests and professors, of course, give permission to be called by their first names and they encourage people to talk to them as though they are their friends. This may be shocking for some who believe that there should be some distance between the youth and the figures of authority. Philippine culture demands it, so they say, even if modern times allow it.

Influences on these dimensions can happen in certain scenarios such as this one: Burning up with fever and hardly able to stand, you take the last seat in the MRT, even as an old woman was trying to take that seat, too. The woman and the other passengers look at you sharply. In the Philippines (even in other countries), your act is a discourtesy that reflects badly on you (and your parents). But you only intended to sit down (and you did), and it was unintended that you took the seat of the old woman. What do you do? Do you give up your seat? Or explain that you are so sick that you can hardly stand? Or do you intentionally look out the window, pretend not to notice the woman or the others. What is the unintended Message? This example shows that, at times, we take offense at the slightest thing even when there is no reason to. Westerners, being direct people, would want to clarify any miscommunication right away and ask what went wrong or what happened to bring about such miscommunication in order to resolve it. When we intend to say or do something but the opposite happens, most of the time, we, Filipinos, act as though nothing happened.