In some cultures eye contact is believed to be essential for good communication. In contrast, especially in the Far East, for some cultures this is not the case. So a client from Tokyo may not look directly into our eyes while we present an important legal issue but that does not necessarily mean that he or she is not paying attention to what we are talking about.
Personal Space And Touch
In Northern Europe and Northern America for example people usually leave a space between themselves when interacting. Business people do not touch each other. In the Mediterranean region on the other hand even business people get closer and people do not need to be friends or family members to touch each other.
When I was a small child if I behaved badly to a friend my mother would tell me “Do not do unto others what you would not want them to do to you.” This code of behaviour sounds absolutely correct and it has been a golden rule throughout my life but be careful, this rule does not work in intercultural communication. This is a kind of ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism can be defined as “viewing the whole world only through one’s eyes with one’s belief.” This is a trap that we all have to be careful to avoid. We all have to be aware that the client may have a different background and we have to be honest to ourselves that we may have some prejudices. If we cannot manage to overcome these prejudices we have to learn to control them.
The golden rule to achieve an efficient intercultural communication is “increasing empathy” but the challenge in increasing empathy in intercultural communication is we have to have some idea about the other party’s background and culture. When I meet with a client whose culture I am not very familiar with I read up on not only the possible legal issues that we are going to discuss but also try to collect as much information as I can prior to the meeting. The Internet can be a very useful source for this.
Stereotyping can be defined as “generalizing a group based on some prior assumptions.” If I believe “all Americans are know-alls, they think they know everything.” or “all Iraqis love guns” or “Italian clients always try to find a way not pay to lawyers fees.” (This is valid for Turkish clients by the wayJ) then I forget that we (including the clients) are individuals that whatever group we belong to we may have different values. Stereotyping is something very dangerous for lawyers because if we start stereotyping then we start forgetting that each client is an individual. And if we start forgetting that each client is an individual then we start forgetting that whatever we are doing for each client is unique. No two deals can be identical, there is and there should always be a personal touch in each issue we are dealing with.
We are all brought up in a certain culture and it is not unnatural that deep in our hearts we may believe that our culture is better than the others but let me tell you a secret no culture is superior to the other. Such prejudice may lead what is called a “horizontal dialogue”. In a horizontal dialogue parties are not equal, one party is “higher” than the other party. The most efficient dialogue is “vertical dialogue” where parties are equal and no one is superior to the other.