You are on page 1of 20

Running head: COMMUNICATION

Communication Patterns of Saudi Males and Females Ashley Sedgwick, Heidi Perry, Abrar Hatem, & Mohammed Alharthi 7 July 2012 University of Texas San Antonio

Running head: COMMUNICATION

"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others." Anthony Robbins According to Clark (2010), communication is a means to convey information. He adds that effective communication can only occur when the sender and receiver apply the same meaning to the information being sent. When the sender or receiver does not apply the same meanings to information, the information can be misinterpreted. Cultural differences play a central role in dictating the meanings that are assigned to information. Ellis (2011) describes the United States as being the most culturally diverse country in the world. This label along with globalization trends makes understanding the communication patterns among other cultures a necessity both personally and professionally (Natyavidushi, 2011). Due to the limited amount of research available regarding the communication patterns among males and females from Saudi Arabia, the purpose of this ethnographic study is to describe the communication patterns among Saudi males and Females in America. More specifically, communication patterns among Saudi females with other Saudi female friends and Saudi males with other Saudi male friends. At this stage in the research, communication patterns will be generally defined by verbal and nonverbal cues. Jones and LeBaron (2002) describe verbal and nonverbal cues as being inseparable. The authors explain that verbal communication, the actual words spoken including the tone of voice, and nonverbal communication, the body language and facial expressions that one uses to reinforce meaning in verbal communication, would be better represented simply by communication as one does not occur without the other. There are cultural differences in the meaning given to verbal and nonverbal cues that need to be understood in order to ensure that the proper meaning is being received.

Running head: COMMUNICATION

Korac-Kakabadse, Kouzmin, Korac-Kakabadse, and Savery (2001) explain how culture and communication are related in that communication is socially derived. In an attempt to understand differences and similarities, cultures are categorized. The authors describe Hall (1976) and his theories of high context and low context cultures. High context cultures rely on verbal and nonverbal cues to convey meaning while low context cultures tend to be more direct and rely more heavily on verbal cues to convey meaning. Saudi Arabia is considered a high context culture and therefore the receiver of information will have to rely on indirect nonverbal cues to better understand the meaning in the communication. However, a study shows that Saudi culture uses direct communication when complimenting (Nelson, Al Batal & El Bakary, 2002). Other categories that are related to high context and low context are collectivist and individualist. High context cultures tend to be more collectivist in nature. House, Javidan, Hanges, and Dorfman (2002) define a collectivist culture as a culture that puts the needs of the group ahead of individual gain. The group generally refers to the family which is not necessarily based on bloodline. According to Fenneman, Richmond, and Robinson (2006), cultural values dictate communication patterns. Verbal respect for self and others is an important value of the culture and is coined as saving face. The term saving face refers to the Saudis methods of indirectness in verbal communication to avoid causing embarrassment to self and others along with maintaining peaceful relations among the group. This ethnographic study compares the literature with communication patterns among Saudi friends. More specifically we focused on non-verbal and verbal communication. Our observational focus of nonverbal communication included gestures, eye-contact, touch, interpersonal distance, and body language. Focus areas for verbal communication included code-switching, tone of voice, elaboration, enunciation, pauses, emphasis, and word choice. We

Running head: COMMUNICATION

chose an ethnographic study to understand our Saudi group members and explore the cultural diversity in our school environment (Creswell, 2007). Little research shows the unique perspectives and attitudes of Saudi males and females and how culture influences their communication patterns. We used participation observation in varying degrees from uninvolved passive to moderate involvement (Anderson, 1994). With this technique we were able to gather data in greater detail. To account for internal validity, we used observations from an insider (Saudi student) and outsider (American student) perspective (McEwan, 2003). We also established credibility by using the triangulation of the information: literature review, observation, and interview data (Del Siegle, n.d). We observed interactions of Saudi men and women with their friends in their homes for 30 45 minutes and conducted interviews. For cultural reasons, we conducted two separate observations of male-only and female-only participants. Two of our group members were from Saudi Arabia and acted as translators to prevent misinterpretation. Male Observation (insider): A group consisting of three participants, originally from Saudi Arabia, gathered in Male Bs home. At the beginning, Male B introduced the observer to Male A and C because in Saudi culture, one should shake the hand and say the name. The first thing Male B did was bring the coffee and the dates for the guests because in Saudi culture, coffee and dates is the first thing served. After that, Male B and C began playing a soccer videogame. While Male B and C were playing, occasional Arabic terminology was used. The participants also discussed certain topics such as religion, economy, and social issues. When a participant started talking the others just listened and politely tried to ask questions or encourage the speaker to be clear with language barriers. When the participants spoke in Arabic, their voices became higher and serious. Two

Running head: COMMUNICATION

hours later the participants served traditional Arabian food. The participants conversed during the meal. Male A described what his friends mean to him as the following: Being away from my family is kind of hard, but here your closet friend will be absolutely like your family since they are the only people with who you can share your happiness and sadness.

Male observation (outsider): Walking into this relaxed environment was very welcoming. I was greeted at the door with a smile by Male B and introduced to Male A and C. Each stood up to greet me. Male C brought over dates and coffee while Male B poured a cup for me and everyone else. Everyone was very polite. Male B and C begin playing a soccer videogame. Shortly after, Male A goes to smoke a cigarette on the porch. When he comes back, he sits by the TV watching Male A and B play. Male B says good ball in Arabic and later on I`m gonna win in Arabic. Then, Male B and C high-fived each other after scoring a goal in the game. Male C goes in the kitchen and cuts up spices for the food. Male A is relaxing and interjecting in Arabic and English to Male B and C. When the participants speak in Arabic it is really fast, and they use their hands a lot. There is a lot of movement going on from playing the soccer game and cooking in the kitchen. The majority of the conversation between the participants is in Arabic with an occasional English word. I interviewed Male C first while he was in the kitchen preparing food. During the interview he was shy and he used his hands a lot while talking. I asked him to comment on when he talks to his friends. He responded anytime, then pointed out to me the time difference of about 5 hours indicating that talking to friends back home may be challenging at times. Male A majored in Arabic and enjoys speaking with me in English in a very eloquent fashion. He talks with me like we are good friends. He talked a lot about the disconnection between friends back

Running head: COMMUNICATION

home and how life here with Saudi friends is more important. After interviews we sat and ate. Since I was the guest, Male B made my plate first and we all ate and had a great time. It was at this time I truly felt the observation started because we really got to know each other as I became a participant and conversed with my new friends (Creswell, 2007). Female observation (insider): The participants get together in Female Ds apartment . The participants were sitting comfortably drinking Arabic coffee with sweets and showing their hair. Female A was wearing the Saudi womens traditional wear when they go outside called Abaya (long black dress with long sleeves). The participants arrived at different times. Female B came first with a flower as a gift to Female D. Next Female C arrived. Females B and C were quiet because they didn't know each other very well. Females C and B were talking with Female D but not to each other. Shopping was the focus of the conversation. Female B and D were excited to talk about their day shopping. Female D went to her room and showed Females B and C what she bought. Female D was trying to break the ice between Females B and C since they are both shy. Female C was telling Female B about her shopping day with Female D and how Female D is a bad driver. They agreed about Female Ds driving and began laughing. Female B had to leave early to watch the Sea World fireworks show. Before she left, Female E interviewed her. After Female B left, Female E started interviewing Female C. Female D had to translate for Female C since she has only been in the U.S for short time. After awhile, Female A came with Kabbsa, the traditional food in Saudi Arabia consisting of rice and chicken. When Female A arrived, the laughing and voices were louder. She was talking about her engagement and telling Female E about her fianc. Female C and A were telling Female D and E about their sister's preparation of her wedding ceremony and how they wanted to go back to Saudi Arabia as soon as possible to

Running head: COMMUNICATION

help their sister. Then Female A went to Female D's room to do her prayer. After finishing her prayer, Female E started interviewing her while Female C was helping Female D serve dinner. While they were eating, all the ladies were talking about the food and how Female A is skilled in cooking. Female C left after the dinner and Female A stayed with Female D and E. Female A, D, and E were talking about family, fashion, friendship, economy, politics, religion, cultures, and plans. I noticed a strong friendship among Females A, B, C and D. They seemed like family. All the participants used their hands and facial expression a lot while talking. Female observation (outsider): The observation took place at Female Ds apartment. Female B arrives and is greeted with a kiss on both cheeks and takes her shoes and head scarf off at the door. Female D and B instantly start conversing. There are a lot of facial expressions and excitement fills the room. Female D brings out Saudi coffee and cream filled cookies. Then Female C arrives and also takes her shoes off and is greeted with a kiss. When Female B and C interact, Female B stands to greet Female C. They embrace and clash hands and we all move to the couch. I can tell the participants felt uneasy at first, but after exchanging names with the participants they started conversing again in Arabic and laughing. The women tell a story with their hands, and as I pay attention I pick up bits and pieces. Female D walks inside the bedroom and comes back with a blouse. She shows the blouse to the other women. I`m assuming this is new as it still has a price tag on it and I remember Female D mentioning going to New York & Company earlier. The majority of the conversation is in Arabic. Female B gets up to leave and begins to put on her head scarf. I quickly ask if I can interview her before she leaves. I get the chance to interview her and about five minutes later Female A, the older sister of Female C, arrives. While Female B and D were conversing, Female C interjected every now and then. At first her arms were crossed

Running head: COMMUNICATION

but I believed she was warming up to me being there. Later I discovered, she has only been in the U.S. for 6 months, so her body language may have been due to limited speech. When talking with Female C, I learned that she understands English more than she speaks it. With the assistance of Female D, I am able to interview her. Throughout the observation there was a lot of pointing and movement. The ladies frequently touched their faces and I noticed Female D twirling her hair while both Female B and D had their legs crossed. The apartment was infectious with laughter. I was able to interview Female B and C. Female A participated in the discussion. She also prepared traditional food for the occasion. I decided to stay longer and get to know each participant better. Data Analysis Observations support the literature claiming that Saudi communication places a heavy emphasis on the use of indirect nonverbal communication. However, the male participants were more direct (commands) in speech and used their body for physical gestures. The female participants talked more, used a rhythmic pace, spoke with pauses, were more expressive with their hands and face, and were more engaged in conversation. Male and female Saudi participants occasionally fluctuated their voice and code-switched between English and Arabic. Both groups exhibited great amounts of care for their guests as shown in the way they greeted them and served them food and drinks. Also, respect was shown through listening. Most importantly, through interviewing we learned the true value of friendship among the participants. Friendships were very important to the Saudi participants as made evident in their responses when asked what their friendships mean to them. Participants described their friendships here in the U.S. as follows:

Running head: COMMUNICATION Male A: Male C: Friends here are more about feelings, more like family..even closer

Friends here keep helping me while I`m heremore important because we take the same classes and see on a day to day basis, my brother. I consider friends here as sisters. Yea, if home sick, I have my friends here. Really the friendship outside of home is really strong.

Female B: Female C: Female D:

Friendships between Saudi students and non-Saudi students were rarely mentioned. These relationships were considered acquaintances rather than friendships as was described in their responses to a question regarding their interactions with Americans in the U.S. Male A: Male C: I really dont have any close American friends Sometimes I am a little nervous talking to people here (due to language barrier/cultural differences). When I don`t understand, I just say yes.

Implications Building rapport was essential in this study and 30-45 minutes did not seem to be enough time to get enriching data. Also, the interpretations of communication differences may be due to different types of activity for the observation. The males played a soccer videogame while the females sat and conversed. Based on the qualitative data, verbal and nonverbal communication patterns play an important part in conveying meaning when interacting. Due to shared cultural and religious views, along with similar experiences in the U.S., Saudi students are drawn closer to one another for support and friendships that mimic relationships seen in families.

Running head: COMMUNICATION References Anderson, G. (1994). Qualitative Research Approaches for Everyday Realities. In G. H.

10

Anderson, An educator's guide to qualitative practitioner research (pp. 106-170). Corwin Press, Inc. Clark, D. (2010, May 22). Communication and leadership. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadcom.html Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design, choosing among five approaches. Thousand Oaks, CAA: Sage Publications, Inc. Del Siegle, (n.d.). Trustworthiness. Retrieved from Neag Center for gifted education and talent development at www.gifted.uconn.edu Ellis, B. (2012). The effects of culture and diversity on america. Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/facts_5512569_effects-culture-diversity-america.html Fenneman, E., Richmond, M., & Robinson, R. (2006, November 26). Saudi arabia: Communication. Retrieved from http://dpuadweb.depauw.edu/$1~mkfinney/teaching/Com227/culturalPortfolios/Saudi_Ar abia/Communication.htm House, R., Javidan, M., Hanges, P., & Dorfman, P. (2002). Understanding cultures and implicit leadership theories across the globe: An introduction to project globe. Journal of World Business, 37(1), 3-10. Jones, S. E., & LeBaron, C. D. (2002). Research on the relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication: Emerging integrations. Journal of Communication, 499-521. Retrieved from http://talkbank.org/media/PDF/JOC-PDF/1-Jones & LeBaron.pdf

Running head: COMMUNICATION

11

Korac-Kakabadse, N., Kouzmin, K., Korac-Kakabadse, A., & Savery, L. (2001). Low- and highcontext communication patterns: towards mapping cross-cultural encounters. Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, 8(2), 3-24. McEwan, E. K., & McEwan, P. J. (2003). Making sense of research. California: Corwin Press, Inc. Natyavidushi, J. (2011). Importance of body language in effective multicultural communication. University of Craiova, 14, 102-127. Nelson, G. L., Al Batal , M., & El Bakary, W. (2002). Directness vs. indirectness: Egyptian arabic and u.s. english communication style. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 26(1), 39-57. Positive communication quotes. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.positivequotes.org/communication/

Running head: COMMUNICATION Appendix

12

Running head: COMMUNICATION

13

Running head: COMMUNICATION

14

Running head: COMMUNICATION

15

Running head: COMMUNICATION

16

Running head: COMMUNICATION

17

Running head: COMMUNICATION

18

Running head: COMMUNICATION

19

Running head: COMMUNICATION

20