Inserting interim summaries

No less important in intercultural business communication is the insertion of interim summaries once a point seems to have been clarified. Brunner (2000:154) refers to an authentic example of the time wasted in telephone negotiations between a building contractor and a representative of the public services, solely for lack of such summaries. Before moving on to agree the steps and measures to be taken, it was not clearly established that both sides had the same amount of information and that they were taking the same prerequisites with them into the decision phase. The example is taken from intracultural communication between German native speakers and displays once again the commonality of problems in intercultural and intracultural communication.

Avoiding adjectives and adverbs referring to relative sizes

Let us consider the following mini dialogue between an Austrian company representative (A) and a business contact in Moscow (R):

A: Can I see the machine?

R: It’s best if you come to the store, it’s not far.

The Austrian was amazed when it turned out that the store was 500 km away. The misunderstanding arose from transferring one interpretative model to another culture. Understanding of the relation between travel time and distance differs between Russian and Austrian cultures. In the former, a journey lasting under 12 hours is considered short and the corresponding distance small. In the latter, even two hours is a long travel time and a distance of 200 km is far. Therefore we are dealing with language- and culture-specific use of adjectives and adverbs in relation to expandable sizes, which becomes explicit in the following mini-dialogue (cf. Fellerer, Rathmayr, and Klingseis 1998: 65-66):

R: Vienna is near Bregenz.

A: No, it’s far away.

R: Why? It only takes one night on the train.

An extract from a letter sent by a Russian colleague on 23 December 2006 shows how easy it is to clarify such vague expressions:

Three days ago, while I was ill, I travelled (not far, a 5-hour journey) to a conference in Ivanovo.

If a conversation partner uses adjectives or adverbs such as far, large, soon, expensive, it is advisable to seek clarification, which is more acceptably done by offering a plausible-seeming answer than by a pure wh-question. Compare Our store is not that far.

How far? How many kilometres? with this better alternative:

Does that mean that you can get there in 20 minutes with a car?

Were this enquiry to be made in Russia, it would probably receive the answer “No” as 200 or 300 km is “not far” there.

The strategy of creating maximum explicitness by avoiding vagueness arising from judgemental quality adjectives and vague expressions in general requires speakers to give concrete information. Thus, instead of using words such as *far, *expensive, *large, *soon, etc, they should use precise terms (e.g., 300 km away, $750, 4m long, on the 27th of August). They must also insist on precision if their conversation partner is vague:

How many kilometres? So that means we will receive the order on the 27th of August?

The strategy of creating maximum explicitness by avoiding vagueness can also serve to balance asymmetries in knowledge of language use.

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