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Cultural Differences : Indians & Australians

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Cultural Norms And Value Differences Between Australian & Indian Cultures

Continued From : Communication Competencies In Cross Cultural Settings

Researchers and cultural authorities have put forth many such differences, differences based on beliefs of time, relationships, age, gender, face (status), belonging, fate etc. But we will look at only a few of the important ones.




Individualistic: Australians place greater emphasis on the self, cherish their independence from group. They give high value to self-serving goals and practices and have personal control over their choices. They readily accept blame and take credit. Respect is always earned through personal efforts. They also believe in doing their own thing and hence have dignity of labor as part of their normal culture. So a manager’s wife can very well be a ‘cleaner’


Collectivistic: Indians rely greatly on the family, or groups, for they are influenced by the group thoughts and pledge allegiance to the group. Indians even address themselves in the collective pronoun. e.g. ‘aap’, hum, etc. A great value is placed on duty and tradition. We respect people for their status, like elders, rich, high caste, boss etc.

Work and alignments is derived from group status, so it is very rare to find a garage mechanic in a family of engineers.

For example we may not be successful in selling products to an aussie if we prevail upon his emotions towards his family. Whereas appeals to his own benefits will weigh heavily on him.

  Whereas many Indians can be influenced if we urge him to buy a gift for his mother or other elders. A benefit to the family, or group can influence their buying styles.

Low context communication culture. Australians rely on language to mean just exactly that. A direct and logical inference can be derived from their speech patterns. There’s no ‘beating about the bush’

For example an Australian will turn around and say, “Look I’m not happy with your call. Please do not bother me again.” Here we can see the aussie belief in individual opinion or self-expression.


High context communication culture. Indian messages are very subtle and heavy with implications. The decoder has to sift through the context to understand the underlying meaning.

Whereas an Indian will say ‘Look I’m certainly interested, but can you please call me later? I’m busy right now.’

Indians like to save face and are taking care of the collective face of the caller and self, to avoid humiliation.

Low power distance culture Aussies believe in one person as being just as good as the other, and therefore have done away with differences in social, work, education, and etc groups.

Thus they prefer to call and be addressed with their first names rather than titles.

There is very little distance between the CEO and the cleaner and no intimidating hierarchy to hinder constructive communication.
  High power distance culture

Since there are many classes, in an Indian society and since it’s imperative to keep them distinct, high power distances are very strongly adhered to.

For example even while talking to an unknown child we tend to use the collective pronoun. To convey news or views, we always follow the proper channels rather than approach the head honcho directly.
As we can see, it might seem that Australians are rude, and insensitive, and lack self-control, because they express their views freely.   On the other hand Indians with their pregnant and subtle conversational gambits appear as evasive, cunning and underhand to the other culture.
Friendships are preferred with others of similar likes and orientations.   Friendships are carefully chosen to blend with self-status and part of group belonging.
Australians embrace change as inevitable and novel.   Traditions are adhered to with great tenacity.
Aussies tend to deal head-on with conflict and clear the air instantly.   Whereas Indians avoid, ignore, or tolerate conflict.
Aussies don’t bring work home, and keep it distinct and separate, as part of their lifestyle.   Indians treat work as their god and are involved deeply in carrying it out.
Aussies tend to believe in creating own destiny and are sole battlers.   Indians generally believe in fate with a “what can I do?” attitude.
Aussies can be seen as materialistic with very little religious input.   Indians place materialism second to their spirituality, more are god-fearing.

As we can see it’s easy enough to list the differences in norms and values of the two cultures, but the important task is to look to ways of bridging this gap and achieving competent and successful communication. Some of the conversational strategies that can be used to overcome these value differences are.


1 Approximation. By this we approximate or copy the other party’s language use, which includes language structure, accent, dialect, speech rate and lexical diversity. It enables us to get accepted plus close the distance considerably. It puts the other party straightaway in their comfort zone and creates a common platform for interaction. And since we are the initiators it puts us well ahead of the resulting outcome.

2 Interpretability or picking up clues: It is the attention to other’s interpretative competence or ability to understand. As an initiator the agent should be able to regulate the conversation to ensure its smoothness.

Agent should modify speech processes, use other’s culture specific responses, other party’s vocabulary, increase clarity by changing pitch and tempo, clarifying, and repeating, and choosing topics which are safe, not controversial for better rapport and note it for future reference.

3 Discourse management. It involves judging and responding to the conversational need of others. Rather than sticking to a script all the way through, which can sound stilted and mechanical, agent should go with the flow. By thus forming decisions, managing conflict, responding, sharing and generally facilitating tactful conversation, agent will always be in control of conversation.


4 Interpersonal control. It relates to role relations with the other party. When an agent is a good communicator, she can dictate her role. What this means is by being in control she can manipulate role relations to be positive or negative, assertive, dominating, or submissive. She could swap roles midstream, decide to disclose real self, or create a persona, all towards greater communication.

As these above strategies for the agent already in place, there need to be more detailed training program for the brand new recruit.

1. Passive observation: of cross-cultural communication in action. This can be real call center communications, or watching movies, documentaries and other media productions involving two cultures.

2. Active strategy of role playing, reading up on language variations and usage.

3. Self-disclosure, by sharing own culture and influences with others of a different culture, exchanging information and learning from the encounter.

Finally since culture is always evolving and despite exhaustive awareness there might still be some aspects of others culture that we are not aware of, we need to ensure a continuous input. A competent trainer can do a lot of different things. A few are listed here.

1. Proactively customer profile

2. Record or anecdote interesting conversations.

3. Ask call recipients/clients to provide feedback through surveys.

4. Listen to staff and empower them with knowledge.

5. Have group discussions on experiences.

6. Subscribe to periodicals from other culture.

Disclaimer: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are purely those of the contributing writer.

Contributing Writer:   Lalita Bhalerao I've a Masters in Communication and have worked in customer facing roles more than a decade in Australia. November 2007  [email protected]

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