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The Lewis Cross Cultural

Communication Model

“Cultural behavior is the end product of collected wisdom, filtered and passed down
through hundreds of generations as shared core beliefs, values assumptions, notions
and persistent action patterns. In other words, culture is a collective programming of the
mind, that distinguishes the members of one human group from another.” Richard Lewis

The behavior we accept as normal is actually formed from learned and inherited beliefs
based on our religious upbringing, ethnic, generational, class, and gender programming,
as well as the educational socialization and the professional ethics we have been taught
and accepted.

All of these aspects, that we take for granted in our society, form the framework within
which we think, look at life, and perform in the workplace. But they are actually very
subjective norms, that are based on the culture we have spent the most time growing up
within. When we travel or move to other countries we cannot assume that our
assumptions are known or accepted as the norm there.

The Lewis Cross Cultural Communication Model above shows:
• how people from different cultures vary in their concepts of time and space: handle
interpersonal distance, silence, and eye contact
• how their communication styles are reflected in the language patterns they use
• how they view the truth: as absolute or negotiable i.e. modifiable according to the
• what their values, attitudes and world views are.

Does a contract in Japan, South America, or Italy
mean the same thing?

Signing a contract means one thing to the North American mindset, but like the truth,
depending on the culture, it can have many interpretations.

To a Swiss, a Scandinavian, a Brit, and a North American a contract is a formal
document, a sacred covenant, that once signed must be adhered to.

To a Japanese, however, a signed contract doesn’t mean it is settled at all. It is merely
a starting point, and can be modified at will, as the circumstances require. To a
Japanese it doesn’t make sense to apply the terms of a contract, if things have

To a South American mind, a contract is an ideal that is unlikely ever to be achieved.
They will sign it just to avoid argument.

In Italy, it is assumed that a signed contract is negotiable. Italians call the American’s
insistence on abiding by a signed contract, naive and idealistic.

To Italians, it’s just being realistic to bend the rules to “get around” some laws or
regulations if they don’t work in your favor. It’s the only intelligent course of action.
Those who have the means, take full advantage of this cultural norm. And their courts
support this view, with an elaborate system, that allows for ‘arrangements to be made’,
when needed.

To an American, seeing it from the American cultural norm, this would likely be viewed
as a “corruption of justice”.

What is The Truth?
• For a German and a Finn, the truth is the truth.
• In Japan and Britain the truth is permissible, if it doesn’t rock the
• In China there is no absolute truth.
• In Italy the truth is negotiable.
Richard D. Lewis

When Cultures Collide, 3rd Edition: Leading Across Cultures

Doing Business Outside America with Different
The above triangular Model of cross cultural communication patterns, is taken from the
book When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Culturesby Richard Lewis, who, by the
way, speaks 12 languages.

You may want to get this book, especially if you do any business overseas. It is a real
eye-opener. It will save you no end of trouble, in getting a handle on the mindset of the
culture(s) you visit, before you arrive.

Most of the countries in the world fall somewhere along the continuum between the
points on this triangle, which Lewis calls Linear-Active, Multi-Active and Reactive.

The countries located at the points most strongly represent those cultural patterns.

For example, the most Linear-Active countries are Germany, Switzerland and
Luxembourg, with the US and UK on either side.

The US leans slightly toward the multi-active pattern because of the presence of a large
Spanish speaking population in America.
The UK leans toward a reactive pattern because of the large Asian presence.

Canada is located right in the middle between Linear-Active and Reactive because in
Canada, you’ll find a large Linear-Active population and a large population with Reactive
Communication Patterns.

The Lewis Cross Cultural Communication Survey
– Shows the Characteristics of Each Cultural Type –

Listens most of the
Talks half the time Talks most of the time
Gets data from stats, Solicits information Uses both data and
research first-hand from people people sources
Plans ahead step by Plans grand outline Looks at general
step only principles
Polite but direct Emotional Polite and indirect
Partly conceals feelings Displays feelings Conceals feelings
Confronts with logic Confronts emotionally Never confronts
Dislikes losing face Has good excuses Must not lose face
Compartmentalizes Lets one project Sees the whole
projects influence another picture
Rarely interrupts Often interrupts Doesn’t interrupt
Very people-
Job-oriented People-oriented
Statements are
Sticks to the facts Juggles the facts
Diplomacy over
Truth before diplomacy Flexible truth
Sometimes impatient Impatient Patient
Unlimited body Subtle body
Limited body language
language language
Respects officialdom Pulls strings Networks
Separates the social & Interweaves the Connects the social
professional social & professional & professional
Reacts to partner’s
Does one thing at a time Multi tasks
Punctuality very Punctuality not Punctuality
important important important