Cross Cultural Communication in Afghanistan

Cross cultural communication in Afghanistan takes skill and understanding. The Afghan cultures’ approach to communication is somewhat indirect.

I say somewhat because Afghans can be very direct when they want something. This directness is part of their negotiating strategy in order to get what they desire.

Sometimes those of us who encounter this directness make the assumption that Afghan cultures are direct in their communication styles like our passport cultures.

This is a wrong assumption.

If we take time to notice the subtleties happening around us, we will notice that in normal day-to-day interactions Afghans tend to be indirect.

How this practically impacts daily living is that Afghans are reluctant to say the word "no." They tend to say "yes" even if they may mean "no" or "maybe."

This can cause a great deal of discomfort for us, the newcomer and those of us who have been here for a long time.

The standard that appears to govern daily interaction is this:

It is rude in normal everyday interaction to say the words "no" or "maybe."

Why does this indirect communication rule exist?

No one can really say for sure. However, it appears that this is one of the rules Afghans follow in order to maintain good relationships. So, the average person finds it hard to be told "no" or "maybe" to a request and the average person finds it hard to say "no" or "maybe" to any request.

Many of us from more direct communication cultures get frustrated with this. We tend to interpret this as “dishonesty”. I think that this negative interpretation is a bit unfair.

It doesn’t help us if we view our friends’ cultures negatively. I think it is better if we just let our friends and coworkers be the way they are and we learn how to interact effectively their context - if we learn effective cross cultural communication skills.

How then can we adjust and operate more effectively? I suggest that we first learn the subtleties of the culture. I have learned that there are ways Afghans communicate their reluctance to do something.

One of the ways I have found we can operate more effectively is to intentionally create a safe environment for the person to say no.

This takes a bit of extra time and direct communication cultures also tend to place a high value on “TIME”. We like to do things quick in order to save time. We don’t intuitively sense the need to take the time to be relational.

The Three Step Rule for Effective Cross Cultural Communication

I suggest one communication strategy is to follow the three step rule when making a request.

The first step is:

  1. When we make a request and get the initial reply, "Yes," then we should talk about something else for a bit.
  2. The second step is: After talking a bit, return to the request and ask it again. But this time throw in an extra phrase like, “What do you think, can you….?”
  3. The third step is: Go on to talk about something and return to the request a third time. This time, however, give valid reasons why the friend might not be able to do what you want even if they are willing, so they have a good excuse why they can say no.

This communication strategy creates a safe environment for our friends so they can say no and not worry about offending us.

If we do this from the onset of our relationships, our friends will learn that we are able to handle hearing the word no and they don’t have to worry about losing the good relationship that they want to have with us.

As they become more secure in their relationship with us, they also may learn that they are free to say no quicker.

What do you think?


Krayer, Patrick, Unpublished article, 2010 Used with permission.

Author Patrick Krayer has a PhD in Intercultural Studies and has worked in South and Central Asia for over 20 years.

Return from Cross Cultural Communication to More Culture Customs

Return from Cross Cultural Communication to Home

Protected by Copyscape Original Content Check