You probably know one of each. The one who picks up little things here and there over the course of the year, when things are on sale, and is ready for Christmas on December 1, and the one who walks the sales clerk out the door as it closes on December 24.
The result is the same. Both will end up with the same product, showing up at your door on December 25 bearing gifts in hand, but the process is entirely different.
The distinction between process and product is a great one to consider in intercultural communications. One, because it illuminates how individual differences vary and can trump what’s considered typical of a culture. Everyone may need to be at work at 9, but do you eat breakfast first or dress first? Are you 10 minutes early or 5 minutes late? Drive, walk or take the bus?
Intercultural communications expert Edward T. Hall frames this as “high-context” vs. “low-context” cultures, looking at the flexibility of time–the more that time is open and flexible, process is more important than product. When time is highly organized, product is more important than process.
Think of a road trip–whereas my son and I once took 10 hours to drive from Chicago to St. Louis (you can see all the old 20 foot high Muffler Men reformatted into the Gemini Giant, Hot Dog Man and Tire Man, plus visit the birthplace of the Corn Dog) my husband (who will no longer drive in the same car with us) can get there in four hours!
But also think of speaking with someone whose native language is not the same as yours. Here are three tips to favor process over product in intercultural communications:
1. Remember to be grateful that the person is attempting to reach out to you, by speaking in your language;
2. Remember to listen for context and meaning, rather than getting stuck on one or two mispronounced words or poorly conjugated verbs (although perhaps I did let my husband say “gynecological tree” one too many times because it was really funny before correcting it to “geneological tree.”)
3. Remember that communication of any kind is a two-way process. Listen while the other person is speaking, ask for clarification if you need it, rephrase to make sure that you have understood.
The product, in the end, could be a lifechanging new friendship, relationship, business opportunity. Now isn’t that worth the process?
Are you more process or product orientated? How do you see that play out in your intercultural communcations?