Chapter 6: Cultural and Environmental Factors in Interpersonal Communication

One of the most important factors in our understanding of communication is culture. Every one of us has grown up in a unique cultural environment, and this culture has impacted how we communicate. Culture is such an ingrained part of who we are that we often don’t even recognize our own culture. In this chapter, we’re going to explore culture and its impact on interpersonal communication.

Nine women in different types of dress from different regions of Kashmir: Gilgiti, Hunza, Balti, Pahari, Koshur, Gujri, Dogra, Ladakhi, and Kargili
Figure 6.1 Traditional costumes and contemporary style of dress are elements of culture. Traditional Dresses of Kashmir.” By Azad888. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

6.1 What is Culture?

Learning Objectives

  1. Define the term “culture” as it is used within this book.
  2. Understand a dominant culture.
  3. Differentiate between a co-culture and a microculture.

When people hear the word “culture,” many different images often come to mind. Maybe you immediately think of going to the ballet, an opera, or an art museum. Other people think of traditional dress like that seen from Kashmir in Figure 6.1. However, the word “culture” has a wide range of different meanings to a lot of different people. For example, when you travel to a new country (or even a state within your own country), you expect to encounter different clothing, languages, foods, rituals, etc.… The word “culture” is a hotly debated term among academics. In 1952, A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions for the word “culture.” Culture is often described as “the way we do things.”1 In their book, the authors noted, “Considering that concept [of culture] has had a name for less than 80 years, it is not surprising that full agreement and precision has not yet been attained.”2 Kroeber and Kluckhohn predicted that eventually, science would land on a singular definition of culture as it was refined through the scientific process over time. Unfortunately, the idea of a single definition of culture is no closer to becoming a reality today than it was in 1952.3

For our purposes, we are going to talk about as “a group of people who through a process of learning are able to share perceptions of the world which influences their beliefs, values, norms, and rules, which eventually affect behavior.”4 Let’s break down this definition. First, when we talk about “culture,” we are starting off with a group of people. One of the biggest misunderstandings new people studying culture have is that an individual can have their own personalized culture. Culture is something that is formed by the groups that we grow up in and are involved with through our lifetimes.

Second, we learn about our culture. In fact, culture becomes such an ingrained part of who we are that we often do not even recognize our own culture and how our own culture affects us daily. Just like language, everyone is hardwired to learn culture. What culture we pick up is ultimately a matter of the group(s) we are born into and raised. Just like a baby born to an English-speaking family isn’t going to magically start speaking French out of nowhere, neither will a person from one culture adopt another culture accidentally.

Third, what we learn ultimately leads to a shared perception of the world. All cultures have stories that are taught to children that impact how they view the world. If you are raised by Jewish or Christian parents/guardians, you will learn the creation story in the Bible. However, this is only one of many different creation myths that have abounded over time in different cultures:

  • The Akamba in Kenya say that the first two people were lowered to earth by God on a cloud.
  • In ancient Babylon and Sumeria, the gods slaughtered another god named We-ila, and out of his blood and clay, they formed humans.
  • One myth among the Tibetan people is that they owe their existence to the union of an ogress, not of this world, and a monkey on Gangpo Ri Mountain at Tsetang.
  • And the Aboriginal tribes in Australia believe that humans are just the decedents of gods.5

Ultimately, which creation story we grew up with was a matter of the culture in which we were raised. These different myths lead to very different views of the individual’s relationship with both the world and with their God, gods, or goddesses.

Fourth, the culture we are raised in will teach us our beliefs, values, norms, and rules. are assumptions and convictions held by an individual, group, or culture about the truth or existence of something. For example, in all of the creation myths discussed in the previous paragraph, these are beliefs that were held by many people at various times in human history. Next, we have , or important and lasting principles or standards held by a culture about desirable and appropriate courses of action or outcomes. This definition is a bit complex, so let’s break it down. When looking at this definition, it’s important first to highlight that different cultures have different perceptions related to both courses of action or outcomes. For example, in many cultures throughout history, martyrdom (dying for one’s cause) has been something deeply valued. As such, in those cultures, putting one’s self in harm’s way (course of action) or dying (outcome) would be seen as both desirable and appropriate. Within a given culture, there are generally guiding principles and standards that help determine what is desirable and appropriate. In fact, many religious texts describe martyrdom as a holy calling. So, within these cultures, martyrdom is something that is valued. Next, within the definition of culture are the concepts of norms and rules. are informal guidelines about what is acceptable or proper social behavior within a specific culture. , on the other hand, are the explicit guidelines (generally written down) that govern acceptable or proper social behavior within a specific culture. With rules, we have clearly concrete and explicitly communicated ways of behaving, whereas norms are generally not concrete, nor are they explicitly communicated. We generally do not know a norm exists within a given culture unless we violate the norm or watch someone else violating the norm. The final part of the definition of culture, and probably the most important for our purposes, looking at interpersonal communication, is that these beliefs, values, norms, and rules will govern how people behave.

Co-cultures

In addition to a dominant culture, most societies have various —regional, economic, social, religious, ethnic, and other cultural groups that exert influence in society. Other co-cultures develop among people who share specific beliefs, ideologies, or life experiences. For example, within the United States we commonly refer to a wide variety of different cultures: Amish culture, African American culture, Buddhist Culture, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) culture. With all of these different cultural groups, we must realize that just because individuals belong to a cultural group, that does not mean that they are all identical. For example, African Americans in New York City are culturally distinct from those living in Birmingham, Alabama, because they also belong to different geographical co-cultures. Within the LGBTQIA culture, the members who make up the different letters can have a wide range of differing cultural experiences within the larger co-culture itself. As such, we must always be careful to avoid generalizing about individuals because of the co-cultures they belong to.

Co-cultures bring their unique sense of history and purpose within a larger culture. Co-cultures will also have their holidays and traditions. For example, one popular co-cultural holiday celebrated in the United States is Cinco de Mayo. Many U.S. citizens think that Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday. However, this is not a Mexican holiday. Outside of Puebla, Mexico, it’s considered a relatively minor holiday even though children do get the day off from school. One big mistake many U.S. citizens make is assuming Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, which it is not. Instead, El Grito de la Indepedencia (The Cry of Independence) is held annually on September 16 in honor of Mexican Independence from Spain in 1810. Sadly, Cinco de Mayo has become more of an American holiday than it is a Mexican one. Just as an FYI, Cinco de Mayo is the date (May 5, 1862) observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla that conclude the Franco-Mexican War (also referred to as the Battle of Puebla Day). We raise this example because often the larger culture coopts parts of a co-culture and tries to adapt it into the mainstream. During this process, the meaning associated with the co-culture is often twisted or forgotten. If you need another example, just think of St. Patrick’s Day, which evolved from a religious celebration marking the death of St. Patrick on March 17, 461 CE, to a day when “everyone’s Irish” and drinks green beer.

Microcultures

The last major term we need to explain with regards to culture is what is known as a microculture. A , sometimes called a local culture, refers to cultural patterns of behavior influenced by cultural beliefs, values, norms, and rules based on a specific locality or within an organization. “Members of a microculture will usually share much of what they know with everyone in the greater society but will possess a special cultural knowledge that is unique to the subgroup.”6 If you’re a college student and you’ve ever lived in a dorm, you may have experienced what we mean by a microculture. It’s not uncommon for different dorms on campus to develop their own unique cultures that are distinct from other dorms. They may have their own exclusive stories, histories, mascots, and specializations. Maybe you live in a dorm that specializes in honor’s students or pairs U.S. students with international students. Perhaps you live in a dorm that is allegedly haunted. Maybe you live in a dorm that values competition against other dorms on campus, or one that doesn’t care about the competition at all. All of these examples help individual dorms develop unique cultural identities.

We often refer to microcultures as “local cultures” because they do tend to exist among a small segment of people within a specific geographical location. There’s quite a bit of research on the topic of classrooms as microcultures. Depending on the students and the teacher, you could end up with radically different classroom environments, even if the content is the same. The importance of microcultures goes back to Abraham Maslow’s need for belonging. We all feel the need to belong, and these microcultures give us that sense of belonging on a more localized level.

For this reason, we often also examine microcultures that can exist in organizational settings. One common microculture that has been discussed and researched is the Disney microculture. Employees (oops! We mean cast members) who work for the Disney company quickly realize that there is more to working at Disney than a uniform and a name badge. Disney cast members do not wear uniforms; everyone is in costume. When a Disney cast member is interacting with the public, then they are “on stage;” when a cast member is on a break away from the public eye, then they are “backstage.” From the moment a Disney cast member is hired, they are required to take Traditions One and probably Traditions Two at Disney University, which is run by the Disney Institute (http://disneyinstitute.com/). Here is how Disney explains the purpose of Traditions: “Disney Traditions is your first day of work filled with the History & Heritage of The Walt Disney Company, and a sprinkle of pixie dust!”7 As you can tell, from the very beginning of the Disney cast member experience, Disney attempts to create a very specific microculture that is based on all things Disney.

Key Takeaways

  • Over the years, there have been numerous definitions of the word culture. As such, narrowing down to only one definition of the term is problematic, no matter how you define “culture.” For our purposes, we define culture as a group of people who, through a process of learning, can share perceptions of the world, which influences their beliefs, values, norms, and rules, which eventually affect behavior.
  • In the realm of cultural studies, we discuss three different culturally related terms. First, we have a dominant culture, or the established language, religion, behavior, values, rituals, and social customs of a specific society. Within that dominant culture will exist numerous co-cultures and microcultures. A co-culture is a regional, economic, social, religious, ethnic, or other cultural groups that exerts influence in society. Lastly, we have microcultures or cultural patterns of behavior influenced by cultural beliefs, values, norms, and rules based on a specific locality or within an organization.

Exercises

  • Think about your own dominant culture. What does it mean to be a member of your national culture? What are the established language, religion, behavior, values, rituals, and social customs within your society?
  • Make a list of five co-cultural groups that you currently belong to. How does each of these different co-cultural groups influence who you are as a person?
  • Many organizations are known for creating, or attempting to create, very specific microcultures. Thinking about your college or university, how would you explain your microculture to someone unfamiliar with your culture?

6.2 The Function of Culture

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain the concept of collective self-esteem.
  2. Define the term “stereotype” and explain its implications for interpersonal communication.
  3. Summarize the implications of ethnocentrism in interpersonal communication.

Collective Self-Esteem

Henri Tajfel originally coined the term “collective self” as “that aspect of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership in a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership.”8 Jennifer Crocker and Riia Luhtanen took Tajfel’s ideas one step further and discussed them as an individual’s , or the aspect of an individual’s self-worth or self-image that stems from their interaction with others and evaluation of their various social groups.9 Based on their research, Crocker and Luhtanen found four different factors related to an individual’s collective self-esteem: private collective esteem, membership esteem, public collective esteem, and importance to identity.

The first factor of collective self-esteem is the individual’s , or the degree to which an individual positively evaluates their group. Every individual belongs to a wide range of groups, and we can evaluate these groups as either positive or negative. Imagine you’ve been brought up in a community where gang membership is a very common practice. You may have been forced into gang life at a very early age. Over time, you may start to see a wide array of problems with gangs, so you may start to devalue the group. In this case, you would have low private collective esteem.

The second factor of collective self-esteem is , which is the degree to which an individual sees themself as a “good” member of a group. Maybe you’ve belonged to a religious organization your entire life. Over time, you start to find yourself wondering about the organization and your place within the organization. Maybe you see yourself as having ideas and opinions that are contrary to the organization, or maybe your behavior when not attending religious services is not what the organization would advocate. In this case, you may start to see yourself as a “bad” member of this organization, so your membership esteem would be lower than someone who sees themself as a “good” member of this organization.

The third factor of collective self-esteem is , or the degree to which nonmembers of a group evaluate a group and its members either positively or negatively. Maybe you’re a lesbian college student at a very progressive institution where students overwhelmingly support LGBTQIA rights. In this case, the collective views the group that you belong to positively.

The final factor of collective self-esteem is , or the degree to which group membership is important to an individual. As mentioned earlier, we all belong to a wide range of cultural groups. Some of these groups are near and dear to us, while others are ones we don’t think about very often, so they just aren’t very important to us. For example, if you’re someone who has always lived in Charleston, South Carolina, then being a member of the Southerner cultural group may be a very important part of your identity. If you ended up leaving the south and moving to Oregon, this “southerner” label may take on even more meaning for you and become an even stronger identity marker because your immediate cultural group no longer surrounds you.

There has been a wealth of research conducted on the importance of collective self-esteem on individuals. For example, if you compare your cultural groups as being better than other cultural groups, then you will experience more positive emotions and self-evaluations.10 However, the opposite is also true. Individuals who compare their cultural groups to those cultural groups that are perceived as “better-off,” tend to experience more negative emotions and lower self-evaluations. As you can imagine, an individual who is a member of a group that is generally looked down upon by society will have a constant battle internally as they battle these negative emotions and subsequent lower self-evaluations because of membership within a cultural group.

You may be wondering how this ultimately impacts interpersonal communication. Research has examined how an individual’s collective self-esteem impacts their interpersonal interactions.11 The researchers found that “during interactions in which multicultural persons felt that their heritage culture was being positively evaluated, they were more likely to perceive the interaction as intimate, they disclosed more and perceived their interaction partner as more disclosing, they enjoyed the interaction more, and they were more likely to indicate that they felt personally accepted.”12 Furthermore, individuals with high collective self-esteem generally had more favorable interactions with people of differing cultures. On the other hand, individuals who had low levels of public collective self-esteem tended to recall less intimate social interactions with people from different cultures. As you can see, cultural self-esteem is an essential factor in our intercultural interactions with other people. For this reason, understanding how we view our cultural identities becomes very important because it can predict the types of intercultural interactions we will ultimately have.

Stereotyping

are “a set of beliefs about the personal attributes of a social group.”13 Many people immediately hear the word “stereotype” and cringe because it’s often filled with negative connotations. However, not all stereotypes are necessarily wrong or bad. Some stereotypes exist because they are accurate.14 Often groups have real differences, and these differences are not bad or wrong; they just are. Let’s look at a real stereotype that plays out. When people hear the words “flight attendant,” they generally associate females with the term. In fact, in the 1980s only 19% of flight attendants were male, and today 26% of flight attendants are male.15 Are all flight attendants female? Obviously, not; however, the majority of flight attendants are female. We call these types of jobs sex-segregated because the jobs are held overwhelmingly by one biological sex or the other when there is no real reason why either sex cannot be effective within the job. However, many also hold the stereotype that flight attendants are all young. Although this was historically true, the ages of flight attendants has changed: 16-24 year olds (4.9%), 25-34 year olds (16.8%), 35-44 year olds (29.7%), 45-54 year olds (28.2%), and 55+ year olds (21.4%).

As you can see, the overwhelming majority of flight attendants are 35 years of age or older. Almost half of flight attendants today are over 45 years of age. In this case, the stereotype of the young flight attendant simply doesn’t meet up with reality.

Furthermore, there can be two distinctly different types of stereotypes that people hold: cultural and personal. Cultural stereotypes are beliefs possessed by a larger cultural group about another social group, whereas personal stereotypes are those held by an individual and do not reflect a shared belief with their cultural group(s). In the case of cultural stereotypes, cultural members share a belief (or set of beliefs) about another cultural group. For example, maybe you belong to the Yellow culture and perceive all members of the Purple culture as lazy. Often these stereotypes that we have of those other groups (e.g., Purple People) occur because we are taught them since we are very young. On the other hand, maybe you had a bad experience with a Purple Person being lazy at work and in your mind decide all Purple People must behave like that. In either case, we have a negative stereotype about a cultural group, but how we learn these stereotypes is very different.

Now, even though some stereotypes are accurate and others are inaccurate, it does not mitigate the problem that stereotypes cause. Stereotypes cause problems because people use them to categorize people in snap judgments based on only group membership. Going back to our previous example, if you run across a Purple person in your next job, you’ll immediately see that person as lazy without having any other information about that person. When we use blanket stereotypes to make a priori (before the fact) judgments about someone, we distance ourselves from making accurate, informed decisions about that person (and their cultural group). Stereotypes prejudice us to look at all members of a group as similar and to ignore the unique differences among individuals. Additionally, many stereotypes are based on ignorance about another person’s culture.

Try this exercise: picture someone named Mel. OK, now picture someone named Hillary. What did the people you pictured look like? The immediate impressions we get in our minds occur because of stereotypes we associate with these words. One of our authors has a cousin named Melanie, who is often called Mel by the family, and our coauthor had a close friend in college, who was a male, named Hillary. This simple exercise demonstrates how often and easy it is for stereotypes to enter into our heads.

Culture as Normative

Another function of culture is that it helps us establish norms. Essentially, one’s culture is normative,16 or we assume that our culture’s rules, regulations, and norms are correct and those of other cultures are deviant, which is highly ethnocentric. The term can be defined as the degree to which an individual views the world from their own culture’s perspective while evaluating other cultures according their own culture’s preconceptions, often accompanied by feelings of dislike, mistrust, or hate for cultures deemed inferior. All of us live in a world where we are raised in a dominant culture. As a result of being raised in a specific dominant culture, we tend to judge other cultures based on what we’ve been taught within our own cultures. We also tend to think our own culture is generally right, moral, ethical, legal, etc. When a culture appears to waiver from what our culture has taught is right, moral, ethical, legal, etc., we tend to judge those cultures as inferior.

One of our coauthor’s favorite examples of the problem of ethnocentrism comes from the MTV television show Road Rules: The Quest. In one episode, one of the contestants, Ellen, is walking around in Marrakech, Morocco, wearing very short shorts. In an Islamic country where a woman wearing revealing clothing is a violation of Islamic law, Ellen was violating the culture’s dress code. To this end, some of the villagers in Marrakech took it upon themselves to correct Ellen’s nonverbal behavior by throwing rocks at her. Of course, Ellen just couldn’t understand why these male villagers were throwing rocks at her. Although throwing rocks at another person should be viewed as universally inappropriate, Ellen’s ethnocentric behavior and complete lack of understanding of Muslim countries were also inappropriate. Ellen was walking around in a foreign country and was completely unaware that she presented herself in public was seen as an insult to Allah and society. Admittedly, this episode aired in July 2001, so we were just a few short months before 9-11 and the public awakening to a whole range of issues occurring in the Middle East.

At the same time, ethnocentrism isn’t 100% a horrible thing either. Shortly after 9-11, a flag shortage occurred in the United States because people wanted to display our unity and pride during those horrible days after the atrocities that occurred on U.S. soil. Patriotism is a more mild form of ethnocentrism. The fact that we view ourselves as “American” is even somewhat ethnocentric because technically there are three rather large countries that are all in North American and 13 in South America. By definition, we’re all Americans. However, U.S. citizens have clung to the title “American” without ever giving thought to those other countries that exist on these two continents. Here’s another interesting fact. I was recently surfing the Internet looking for uses of the word “American” for this chapter. Here is one I found from a protestor in Alabama, “We live in America. We speak American.” I’ll give the speaker the benefit of the doubt and believe she meant we speak English, which is true for the majority of citizens in the United States (78.1% according to U.S. Census data from 2021, https://data.census.gov/cedsci/). However, more people in North and South America do not speak English when compared to those who do.

Why “America”

The term “America” is thought to have been a mistake made by a cartographer in 1507 named Martin Waldseemüller, a cleric in the cathedral village of St.-Dié, France. Martin created what is considered to be the “birth certificate of America” by creating a map charting what was the known world at the time. You can view this map on the U.S. Library of Congress’ website (http://www.loc.gov/resource/g3200.ct000725/).

When looking at this map, look to the bottom left-hand side of the map; you will see the inscription “America.” This label was assigning credit for finding South America to Amerigo Vespucci instead of Christopher Columbus.

Key Takeaways

  • Collective self-esteem is an individual’s self-worth or self-image that stems from their interaction with others and evaluation of their various social groups. Some groups we hold tightly to, while we only see ourselves as peripherally associated with others. Research has shown that there are four significant parts to collective self-esteem: private collective esteem (positive or negative evaluation you have a group), membership esteem (the degree to which you see yourself as a “good” member of a group), public collective esteem (how the public views the group you belong to), and importance to identity (importance of group membership to you).
  • Stereotypes are beliefs that we hold about a person because of their membership in a specific cultural group. Although some stereotypes are accurate, many stereotypes that we may possess are based on faulty information or overgeneralizations of entire groups of people. Interpersonally, stereotypes become problematic because we often filter how we approach and communicate with people from different cultures because of the stereotypes we possess.

Exercises

  • Think about a group that you currently belong to and consider the collective self-esteem you have for that group. How do you view this group in all four types of esteem: private collective, membership, public collective, and importance to identity?
  • List the various stereotypes that you can think of for the following different groups: Gay Male, Transgendered Male, African American Male, Hispanic Female, White Male, and Pakistani Female. How do you think these stereotypes would impact your interpersonal interactions with people from these different groups?
  • Think about ethnocentrism in your own life. When do you think ethnocentrism helps you have collective self-esteem, and when do you think it leads to prejudice?

6.3 Cultural Characteristics and Communication

Learning Objectives

  1. Differentiate between Edward T. Hall’s low-context and high-context cultures.
  2. Explain the importance of Geert Hofstede’s research in cultural studies.
  3. Summarize the importance of Stella Ting-Toomey’s face and facework in interpersonal relationships.

In any major area of academic study, there are luminaries that one should understand. A luminary is an expert who sheds light on a subject and inspires and influences others’ work in that area. In this section, we’re going to examine three important luminaries that have helped shape our understanding of culture and intercultural communication: Edward T. Hall, Geert Hofsteded, and Stella Ting-Toomey.

Edward T. Hall

One of the earliest researchers in the area of cultural differences and their importance to communication was a researcher by the name of Edward T. Hall. His book Beyond Culture is still considered one of the most influential books for the field of intercultural communication.17,18 According to Hall, all cultures incorporate both verbal and nonverbal elements into communication. In his 1959 book, The Silent Language, Hall states, “culture is communication and communication is culture.”19 In the previous chapter, we talked about the importance of nonverbal communication. We also mentioned that nonverbal communication isn’t exactly universal. Some gestures can mean wildly different things in different parts of the world. President George H. Bush once held up his hand in a “V” for Victory salute to an Australian audience only to find out later that this was the equivalent of the middle finger in the United States. President Nixon did the same thing existing an airplane in Brazil flashing his famous OK sign with his thumb and forefinger forming a circle, but this is the “middle finger” in that culture. Obviously, these two incidents have gone down in the annals of presidential history as cultural faux pas. Still, they illustrate the importance of knowing and understanding gestures in differing cultures because we do not all interpret nonverbal behavior the same way.

One of Halls most essential contributions to the field of intercultural communication is the idea of low-context and high-context cultures. The terms “low-context culture” (LCC) and “high-context culture” (HCC) were created by Hall to describe how communication styles differ across cultures. In essence, “in LCC, meaning is expressed through explicit verbal messages, both written and oral. In HCC, on the other hand, intention or meaning can best be conveyed through implicit contexts, including gestures, social customs, silence, nuance, or tone of voice.”20 Table 6.1 further explores the differences between low-context and high-context cultures. In Table 6.1, we broke down issues of context into three general categories: communication, cultural orientation, and business.

Low-Context High-Context
Communication Type of Communication Explicit Communication Implicit Communication
Communication Focus Focus on Verbal Communication Focus on Nonverbal Communication
Context of Message Less Meaningful Very Meaningful
Politeness Not Important Very Important
Approach to People Direct and Confrontational Indirect and Polite
Cultural Orientation Emotions No Room for Emotions Emotions Have Importance
Approach to Time Monochromatic Polychromatic
Time Orientation Present-Future Past
In/Out-Groups Flexible and Transient Grouping Patterns Strong Distinctions Between In and Out-Groups
Identity Based on Individual Based on Social System
Values Independence and Freedom Tradition and Social Rules/Norms
Business Work Style Individualistic Team-Oriented
Work Approach Task-Oriented Relationship-Oriented
Business Approach Competitive Cooperative
Learning Knowledge is Transferable Knowledge is Situational
Sales Orientation Hard Sell Soft Sell
View of Change Change over Tradition Tradition over Change

Table 6.1 Low-Context vs. High-Context Cultures

You may be wondering, by this point, how low-context and high-context cultures differ across different countries. Figure 6.2 illustrates some of the patterns of context that exist in today’s world.21

a spectrum from low context to high context. Starting with low context the following countries are listed on the spectrum: Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, USA, France, UK, Italy, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, and Japan.
Figure 6.2 Low- and High-Context Nations

Geert Hofstede

Another very important researcher in the area of culture is a man by the name of Geert Hofstede. Starting in the 1970s, Geert became interested in how people from different cultures approach work. His interests ultimately culminated in his 1980 publication Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values where he explained some basic cultural differences.22 Over the years, Geert has fine-tuned his theory of culture, and the most recent update to his theory occurred in 2010.23 In Geert’s research examining thousands of workers from around the globe, he has noticed a series of six cultural differences: low vs. high power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, low vs. high uncertainty avoidance, long-term vs. short-term orientation, and indulgence vs. restraint. Let’s briefly look at each of these.

Low vs. High Power Distance

The first of Geert Hofstede’s original dimensions of national cultures was power distance, or the degree to which those people and organizations with less power within a culture accept and expect that power is unequally distributed within their culture. To determine power differences within a culture, Hofstede originally was able to examine cultural value survey data that had been collected by IBM. Over the years, Hofstede and his fellow researchers have regularly collected additional data from around the world to make his conceptualization of six cultural differences one of the most widely studied concepts of culture. When it comes to power distances, these differences often manifest themselves in many ways within a singular culture: class, education, occupations, and health care. With class, many cultures have three clear segments low, middle, and upper. However, the concepts of what is low, middle, and upper can have very large differences. For example, the median income for the average U.S. household is $51,100.24 When discussing household incomes, we use the median (middlemost number) because it’s the most accurate representation of income. According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Census department (using income data from 2012), here is how income inequality in the U.S. looks:

Households in the lowest quintile had incomes of $20,599 or less in 2012. Households in the second quintile had incomes between $20,600 and $39,764, those in the third quintile had incomes between $39,765 and $64,582, and those in the fourth quintile had incomes between $64,583 and $104,096. Households in the highest quintile had incomes of $104,097 or more. The top 5 percent had incomes of $191,157 or more.25

However, income is just one indicatory of power distance within a culture. Others are who gets educated and what type of education they receive, who gets health care and what type, and what types of occupations do those with power have versus those who do not have power. According to Hofstede’s most recent data, the five countries with the highest power distances are: Malaysia, Slovakia, Guatemala, Panama, and the Philippines.26 The five countries with the lowest power distances are Austria, Israel, Denmark, New Zealand, and Switzerland (German-speaking part). Notice that the U.S. does not make it into the top five or the bottom five. According to Hofstede’s data, the U.S. is 16th from the bottom of power distance, so we are in the bottom third with regards to power distance. When it comes down to it, despite the issues we have in our country, the power disparity is not nearly as significant as it is in many other parts of our world.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

The United States is number one on individualism, according to Hofstede’s data.27 Americans are considered individualistic. In other words, we think about ourselves as individuals rather than the collective group. Most Asian countries are considered collectivistic cultures because these cultures tend to be group-focused. Collectivistic cultures tend to think about actions that might affect the entire group rather than specific members of the group.

In an individualistic culture, there is a belief that you can do what you want and follow your passions. In an individualistic culture, if someone asked what you do for a living, they would answer by saying their profession or occupation. However, in collectivistic cultures, a person would answer in terms of the group, organization, and/or corporation that they serve. Moreover, in a collectivistic culture, there is a belief that you should do what benefits the group. In other words, collectivistic cultures focus on how the group can grow and be productive.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

The notion of masculinity and femininity are often misconstrued to be tied to their biological sex counterparts, female and male. For understanding culture, Hofstede acknowledges that this distinction ultimately has a lot to do with work goals.28 On the masculine end of the spectrum, individuals tend to be focused on items like earnings, recognition, advancement, and challenge. Hofstede also refers to these tendencies as being more assertive. Femininity, on the other hand, involves characteristics like having a good working relationship with one’s manager and coworkers, cooperating with people at work, and security (both job and familial). Hofstede refers to this as being more relationally oriented. Admittedly, in Hofstede’s research, there does tend to be a difference between females and males on these characteristics (females tend to be more relationally oriented and males more assertive), which is why Hofstede went with the terms masculinity and femininity in the first place. Ultimately, we can define these types of cultures in the following way:

A society is called masculine when emotional gender roles are clearly distinct: men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success, whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with quality of life.

A society is called feminine when emotional gender roles overlap: both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with quality of life [emphasis in original].29

The top five most masculine countries are Slovakia, Japan, Hungary, Austria, and Venezuela (the U.S. is number 19 out of 76); whereas, feminine countries are represented by Sweden, Norway, Latvia, Netherlands, and Denmark. As you can imagine, depending on the type of culture you live in, you will have wildly different social interactions with other people. There’s also a massive difference in the approach to marriage. In masculine cultures, women are the caretakers of the home, while men are to be healthy and wealthy. As such, women are placed in a subservient position to their husbands are often identified socially by their husbands. For example, an invitation to a party would be addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.” In feminine cultures, men and women are upheld to the same standards, and their relationships should be based on mutual friendship.

Low vs. High Uncertainty Avoidance

The next category identified by Hofstede involves the concept of uncertainty avoidance.30 Life is full of uncertainty. We cannot escape it; however, some people are more prone to becoming fearful in situations that are ambiguous or unknown. Uncertainty avoidance then involves the extent to which cultures as a whole are fearful of ambiguous and unknown situations. People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance can view this ambiguity and lack of knowledge as threatening, which is one reason why people in these cultures tend to have higher levels of anxiety and neuroticism as a whole. In fact, within the latest edition of the book examining these characteristics, Hofstede and his colleagues title the chapter on uncertainty avoidance as “What is Different is Dangerous,” calling out the threat factor people in high uncertainty avoidance cultures feel.31 Cultures at the high end of uncertainty avoidance include Greece, Portugal, Guatemala, Uruguay, and Belgium Flemish; whereas, cultures at the low end of uncertainty avoidance include Singapore, Jamaica, Denmark, Sweden, and Hong Kong. The United States ranks 64th out of 76 countries analyzed (Singapore was number 76). From an interpersonal perspective, people from high uncertainty avoidant cultures are going to have a lot more anxiety associated with interactions involving people from other cultures. Furthermore, there tend to be higher levels of prejudice and higher levels of ideological, political, and religious fundamentalism, which does not allow for any kind of debate.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Orientation

In addition to the previous characteristics, Hofstede noticed a fifth characteristic of cultures that he deemed long-term and short-term orientation. Long-term orientation focuses on the future and not the present or the past. As such, there is a focus on both persistence and thrift. The emphasis on endurance is vital because being persistent today will help you in the future. The goal is to work hard now, so you can have the payoff later. The same is true of thrift. We want to conserve our resources and under-spend to build that financial cushion for the future. Short-term oriented cultures, on the other hand, tend to focus on both the past and the present. In these cultures, there tends to be high respect for the past and the various traditions that have made that culture great. Additionally, there is a strong emphasis on “saving face,” which we will discuss more in the next section, fulfilling one’s obligations today, and enjoying one’s leisure time. At the long-term end of the spectrum are countries like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan; whereas, countries like Pakistan, Czech Republic, Nigeria, Spain, and the Philippines are examples of short-term. The United States ranked 31 out of 39, with Pakistan being number 39. Interpersonally, long-term oriented countries were more satisfied with their contributions to “Being attentive to daily human relations, deepening human bonds in family, neighborhood and friends or acquaintances” when compared to their short-term counterparts.32

Indulgence vs. Restraint

The final characteristic of cultures is a new one first reported on in the 2010 edition of Cultures and Organizations.33 The sixth cultural characteristic is called indulgence vs. restraint, which examines issues of happiness and wellbeing. According to Hofstede and his coauthors, “Indulgence stands for a tendency to allow relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun. Its opposite pole, restraint, reflects a conviction that such gratification needs to be curbed and regulated by strict social norms.”34 The top five on the Indulgence end are Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, and Nigeria, whereas those on the restraint end are Pakistan, Egypt, Latvia, Ukraine, and Albania. The U.S. is towards the indulgence end of the spectrum and ranks at #15 along with Canada and the Netherlands. Some interesting findings associated with indulgence include experiencing higher levels of positive emotions and remembering those emotions for more extended periods. Furthermore, individuals from more indulgent cultures tend to be more optimistic, while their restrained counterparts tend to be more cynical. People in more indulgent countries are going to be happier than their restrained counterparts, and people within indulgent cultures show lower rates of cardiovascular problems commonly associated with stress. Finally, individuals from indulgent cultures tend to be more extraverted and outgoing as a whole, whereas individuals from restrained cultures tend to be more neurotic. From years of research examining both extraversion and neuroticism, we know that extraverted individuals have more successful interpersonal relationships than those who are highly neurotic. Ultimately, research examining these differences have shown that people from indulgent countries are more open to other cultures, more satisfied with their lives, and are more likely to communicate with friends and family members via the Internet while interacting with more people from other cultures via the Internet as well.

Research Spotlight

image

In 2017, Daniel H. Mansson and Aldís G. Sigurðardóttir set out to examine the concept of trait affection in relation to Hofstede’s theoretical framework. “Affectionate communication is conceptualized as a person’s use of intentional and overt communicative behaviors to convey feelings of closeness, care, and fondness in the form of verbal statements, nonverbal behaviors, and social support.”35

For this study, the researchers studied 606 participants in four different countries: Denmark, Iceland, Poland, and the United States.

When it came to trait affection given, the United States participants reported giving more affection than any of the three other countries. The other countries did not differ from each other with regard to trait affection given.

When it came to trait affection received, all four groups differed from one another. The order of affection received was (in order of the most trait affection received) United States, Denmark, Poland, and Iceland.

Finally, the researchers examined affection given and received with regards to Hofstede’s work. “The results also indicated that trait affection given was significantly associated with the individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, and uncertainty avoidance dimensions of cultures. Similarly, trait affection received was significantly associated with the individualism-collectivism and uncertainty avoidance dimensions of cultures.”36

Mansson, D. H., & Sigurðardóttir, A. G. (2017). Trait affection given and received: A test of Hofstede’s theoretical framework. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 46(2), 161-172. https://doi.org/10.1080/17475759.2017.1292944

Stella Ting-Toomey

In 1988, intercultural communication research Stella Ting-Toomey developed face-negotiation theory to help explain the importance of face within interpersonal interactions.37 The basic idea behind face-negotiation theory is that face-saving, conflict, and culture are all intertwined. In the most recent version of her theory, Stella Ting-Toomey outlines seven basic factors of face-negotiation theory:

  1. People in all cultures try to maintain and negotiate face in all communication situations.
  2. The concept of face is especially problematic in emotionally vulnerable situations (such as embarrassment, request, or conflict situations) when the situation identities of the communicators are called into question.
  3. The cultural variability dimensions of individualism-collectivism and small/large power distance shape the orientations, movements, contents, and styles of facework.
  4. Individualism-collectivism shapes members’ preferences for self-oriented facework versus other-oriented facework.
  5. Small/large power distance shapes members’ preferences for horizontal-based facework versus vertical-based facework.
  6. The cultural variability dimensions, in conjunction with individual, relational, and situational factors influence the use of particular facework behaviors in particular cultural scenes.
  7. Intercultural facework competence refers to the optimal integration of knowledge, mindfulness, and communication skills in managing vulnerable identity-based conflict situations appropriately, effectively, and adaptively.38

First and foremost, communication and face are highly intertwined concepts, so when coming to an intercultural encounter, it is important to remember the interrelationship between the two. As far as Ting-Toomey’s theory goes, she takes this idea one step further to understanding how face and communication ultimately enable successful intercultural conflict management. Face-negotiation theory ultimately concerned with three different types of face: self-face (concern for our face), other-face (concern for another person’s face), and mutual-face (concern for both interactants and the relationship).39 As you can see from Ting-Toomey’s last assumption in her theory above, individuals who are competent in facework can recognize when facework is necessary and then handle those situations appropriately, effectively, and adaptively. As such, facework should be viewed as a necessary component for understanding any form of interpersonal interaction but is especially important when examining interpersonal interactions that occur between people from differing cultural backgrounds.

What is Face?

The concept of is one that is not the easiest to define nor completely understand. Originally, the concept of face is not a Western even though the idea of “saving face” is pretty common in every day talk today. According to Hsien Chin Hu, the concept of face stems from two distinct Chinese words, lien and mien-tzu.40 Lien “represents the confidence of society in the integrity of ego’s moral character, the loss of which makes it impossible for him to function properly within the community. Lien is both a social sanction for enforcing moral standards and an internalized sanction.”41 On the other hand, mien-tzu “stands for the kind of prestige that is emphasized in this country [America]: a reputation achieved through getting on in life, through success and ostentation.”42 However, David Yau-fai Ho argues that face is more complicated than just lien and mien-tzu, so he provided the following definition:

Face is the respectability and/or deference which a person can claim for himself from others, by virtue of the relative position he occupies in his social network and the degree to which he is judged to have functioned adequately in that position as well as acceptably in his general conduct; the face extended to a person by others is a function of the degree of congruence between judgments of his total condition in life, including his actions as well as those of people closely associated with him, and the social expectations that others have placed upon him. In terms of two interacting parties, face is the reciprocated compliance, respect, and/or deference that each party expects from, and extends to, the other party.43

More simplistically, face is essentially “a person’s reputation and feelings of prestige within multiple spheres, including the workplace, the family, personal friends, and society at large.”44 For our purposes, we can generally break face down into general categories: face gaining and face losing. Face gaining refers to the strategies a person might use to build their reputation and feelings of prestige (e.g., talking about accomplishments, active social media presence, etc.), whereas face losing refers to those behaviors someone engages in that can harm their reputation or feelings of prestige (e.g., getting caught in a lie, failing, etc.).

Key Takeaways

  • Low-context cultures are cultures where the emphasis is placed on the words that come out of an individual’s mouth. High-context cultures, on the other hand, are cultures where understanding a message is dependent on the cultural context and a communicator’s nonverbal behavior.
  • Geert Hofstede’s research created a taxonomy for understanding and differentiating cultures. Geert’s taxonomy was originally based on data collected by IBM, and he found that cultures could be differentiated by power distance, individualism/collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, long-term vs. short-term orientation, and indulgence vs. restraint.
  • Face is the standing or position a person has in the eyes of others. During an interpersonal interaction, individuals strive to create a positive version of their face for the other person.

Exercises

  • Compare and contrast two countries and their levels of context. Why do you think context is such an important cultural characteristic?
  • Think about a co-cultural group that you belong to. Think through Geert Hofstede’s six categories used to evaluate differing cultures and apply Hofstede’s ideas to your co-culture. Does your co-culture differ from the dominant culture?
  • Imagine you’re having an interaction with an individual from India. During the middle of the conversation, you have a feeling that your interactional partner is losing face. What could you do at that point to help rebuild that person’s face? Why would you want to do this at all?

6.4 Improving Intercultural Communication Skills

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain the importance of cultural intelligence.
  2. Learn about metacognitive CQ.
  3. Identify several different ways to create better intercultural interactions.

Become Culturally Intelligent

One of the latest buzz-words in the business world is “cultural intelligence,” which was initially introduced to the scholarly community in 2003 by P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang.45 In the past decade, a wealth of research has been conducted examining the importance of cultural intelligence during interpersonal interactions with people from other cultures. Cultural intelligence (CQ) is defined as an “individual’s capability to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity.”46

Four Factors of Cultural Intelligence

In their original study on the topic, Earley and Ang argued that cultural intelligence is based on four distinct factors: cognitive, motivational, metacognitive, and behavioral dimensions. Before continuing, take a minute and complete the Cultural Intelligence Questionnaire in Table 6.2

Instructions: Read the following questions and select the answer that corresponds with your perception. Do not be concerned if some of the items appear similar. Please use the scale below to rate the degree to which each statement applies to you.

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Neutral

Agree

Strongly Agree

1

2

3

4

5

_____1. When I’m interacting with someone from a differing culture, I know when I use my knowledge of that person’s culture during my interactions.

_____2. When I interact with someone from a culture I know nothing about, I have no problem adjusting my perspective of their culture while we talk.

_____3. During intercultural interactions, I am well aware of the cultural knowledge I utilize.

_____4. I always check my knowledge of someone from another culture to ensure that my understanding of their culture is accurate.

_____5. During my intercultural interactions, I try to be mindful of how my perceptions of someone’s culture are either consistent with or differ from reality.

_____6. I pride myself on knowing a lot about other people’s cultures.

_____7. I understand the social, economic, and political systems of other cultures.

_____8. I know about other cultures’ religious beliefs and values.

_____9. I understand how daily life is enacted in other cultures.

_____10. I know the importance of paintings, literature, and other forms of art in other cultures.

_____11. I enjoy reaching out and engaging in an intercultural encounter.

_____12. I would have no problem socializing with people from a new culture.

_____13. Although intercultural encounters often involve stress, I don’t mind the stress because meeting people from new cultures makes it worth it.

_____14. I would have no problems accustoming myself to the routines of another culture.

_____15. I enjoy being with people from other cultures and getting to know them.

_____16. I know how to interact verbally with people from different cultures.

_____17. I know how to interact nonverbally with people from different cultures.

_____18. I can vary my rate of speech if an intercultural encounter requires it.

_____19. I can easily alter my behaviors to suit the needs of an intercultural encounter.

_____20. I can alter my facial expressions if an intercultural encounter requires it.

Scoring:

Add items 1-5 (Intercultural Understanding) = ___________________

Add items 6-10 (Intercultural Knowledge) = ___________________

Add items 7-15 (Intercultural Motivation) = ___________________

Add items 16-20 (Intercultural Behavior) = ___________________

Interpreting Your Scores:

Scores for each of the four factors (intercultural understanding, intercultural knowledge, intercultural motivation, and intercultural behavior) can be added together to get a composite score. Each of the four factors exists on a continuum from 5 (not culturally intelligent) to 25 (highly culturally intelligent). An average person would score between 12-18.

Based on:

Van Dyne, L., Ang, S., & Koh, C. (2008). Development and validation of the CQS: The Cultural Intelligence Scale. In S. Ang & L. Van Dyne (Eds.), Handbook of cultural intelligence: Theory, measurement, and application (pp. 16-38). Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Table 6.2 Cultural Intelligence Questionnaire

Cognitive CQ

First, cognitive CQ involves knowing about different cultures (intercultural knowledge). Many types of knowledge about a culture can be relevant during an intercultural interaction: rules and norms, economic and legal systems, cultural values and beliefs, the importance of art within a society, etc.… All of these different areas of knowledge involve facts that can help you understand people from different cultures. For example, in most of the United States, when you are talking to someone, eye contact is very important. You may have even been told by someone to “look at me when I’m talking to you” if you’ve ever gotten in trouble. However, this isn’t consistent across different cultures at all. Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Native American cultures often view direct contact when talking to someone superior as a sign of disrespect. Knowing how eye contact functions across cultures can help you know more about how to interact with people from various cultures. Probably one of the best books you can read to know more about how to communicate in another culture is Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway’s book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More than 60 Countries.47

Motivational CQ

Second, we have motivational CQ, or the degree to which an individual desires to engage in intercultural interactions and can easily adapt to different cultural environments. Motivation is the key to effective intercultural interactions. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you are not motivated to have successful intercultural interactions, you will not have them.

Metacognitive CQ

Third, metacognitive CQ involves being consciously aware of your intercultural interactions in a manner that helps you have more effective interpersonal experiences with people from differing cultures (intercultural understanding). All of the knowledge about cultural differences in the world will not be beneficial if you cannot use that information to understand and adapt your behavior during an interpersonal interaction with someone from a differing culture. As such, we must always be learning about cultures but also be ready to adjust our knowledge about people and their cultures through our interactions with them.

Behavioral CQ

Lastly, behavioral CQ is the next step following metacognitive CQ, which is behaving in a manner that is consistent with what you know about other cultures.48 We should never expect others to adjust to us culturally. Instead, culturally intelligent people realize that it’s best to adapt our behaviors (verbally and nonverbally) to bridge the gap between people culturally. When we go out of our way to be culturally intelligent, we will encourage others to do so as well.

As you can see, becoming a truly culturally intelligent person involves a lot of work. As such, it’s important to spend time and build your cultural intelligence if you are going to be an effective communicator in today’s world.

Engaging Culturally Mindful Interactions

Admittedly, being culturally competent takes a lot of work and a lot of practice. Even if you’re not completely culturally competent, you can engage with people from other cultures in a mindful way. As discussed in Chapter 1, Shauna Shapiro and Linda Carlson introduced us to the three-component model of mindfulness: attention, intention, and attitude.49

First, when it comes to engaging with people from other cultures, we need to be fully in the moment and not think about previous interactions with people from a culture or possible future interactions with people from a culture. Instead, it’s essential to focus on the person you are interacting with. You also need to be aware of your stereotypes and prejudices that you may have of people from a different culture. Don’t try to find evidence to support or negate these stereotypes or prejudices. If you focus on evidence-finding, you’re just trying to satisfy your thoughts and feelings and not mindfully engaging with this other person. Also, if you find that your mind is shifting, recognize the shift and allow yourself to re-center on your interaction with the other person.

Second, go into an intercultural interaction knowing your intention. If your goal is to learn more about that person’s culture, that’s a great intention. However, that may not be the only intention we have when interacting with someone from another culture. For example, you may be interacting with someone from another culture because you’re trying to sell them a product you represent. If your main intention is sales, then be aware of your intention and don’t try to deceive yourself into thinking it’s something more altruistic.

Lastly, go into all intercultural interactions with the right attitude. Remember, the goal of being mindful is to be open, kind, and curious. Although we often discuss mindful in terms of how we can be open, kind, and curious with ourselves, it’s also important to extend that same framework when we are interacting with people from other cultures. So much of mindful relationships is embodying the right attitude during our interactions with others. If you need a refresher on building the right attitude during your interactions, go back and look at Daniel Siegel’s COAL Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Seven Attitudes for Mindfulness discussed in Chapter 1.

Overall, the goal of mindful intercultural interactions is to be present in the moment in a nonjudgmental way. When you face judgments, recognize them, and ask yourself where they have come from. Interrogate those judgments. At the same time, don’t judge yourself for having these ideas. If we have stereotypes about another a specific culture, it’s important to recognize those stereotypes, call them out, understand where they came from in the first place, and examine them for factualness.

For example, imagine you’re talking to someone from the Republic of Kiribati. Chances are, you’ve probably never heard of the Republic of Kiribati, but it’s a real country in Oceania. But let’s say all you know about the people from the Republic of Kiribati is that they like European-style football. During your interaction, you say, “So, what’s your favorite football team?” In this moment, you’ve taken the one stereotype you had and used it to help engage in an interaction. However, if the person comes back and says, “I really don’t care. Sports just aren’t my thing.” How do you respond? First, recognize that you attempted to use a stereotype that you had and call it out for what it was. That doesn’t make you a bad person, but we must learn from these encounters and broaden our world views. Second, call out the stereotype in your mind. Before that moment, you may not have even realized that you had a stereotype of people from the Republic of Kiribati. Labeling our stereotypes of other people is important because it helps us recognize them faster, the more we engage in this type of mindful behavior. Third, figure out where that stereotype came from. Maybe you had been in New Zealand and saw a match on the television and saw the Kiribati national football team. In that one moment, you learned a tiny bit about an entire country and pocketed it away for future use. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out where our stereotypes evolved from, but sometimes these stereotypes are so ingrained in us through our own culture that it’s hard to really figure out their origin. Lastly, it’s time to realize that your stereotype may not be that factual. At the same time, you may have found the one resident of the Republic of Kiribati who doesn’t like football. We can often make these determinations by talking to the other person.

At the same time, it’s important also to be mindfully open to the other person’s stereotypes of people within your own culture. For example, someone from the Republic of Kiribati may have a stereotype that Americans know nothing about football (other than American football). If you’re a fan of what we in the U.S. call soccer, then you correct that stereotype or at least provide that person a more nuanced understanding of your own culture. Sure, American football still is the king of sports in the U.S., but media trends for watching football (soccer) are growing, and more and more Americans are becoming fans.

Key Takeaways

  • Cultural intelligence involves the degree to which an individual can communicate competently in varying cultural situations. Cultural intelligence consists of four distinct parts: knowledge, motivation, understanding, and behavior.
  • Having strong intercultural relationships can be very rewarding. When thinking about your own intercultural relationships, some ways to have more rewarding intercultural relationships can include: understanding your own culture better, being interested in other people and their cultures, respecting other people’s cultures, becoming culturally intelligent, tolerating ambiguity during interactions, being aware of and overcoming your own ethnocentrism, and being a good example of your own culture.

Exercises

  • The Cultural Intelligence Center has created a widely used 20-item measure for cultural intelligence. Please take a second and complete their measure: Cultural Intelligence Scale (see page 366 in the article). What were your CQ strengths and CQ weaknesses? Where would you most want to improve your CQ?
  • Visit the National Center for Cultural Competence. Read some of the material on their website. Look for their ideas and compare to what you’ve learned in this section.
  • James L. Mason created a cultural competence tool for service agencies (http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED399684.pdf). Take a look at their tool, which is freely available online. What do you think of their tools for evaluating cultural competence? Do you think cultural competence and cultural intelligence are similar, different, or identical? Why?

Key Terms

behavioral CQ

The degree to which an individual behaves in a manner that is consistent with what they know about other cultures.

belief

Assumptions and convictions held by an individual, group, or culture about the truth or existence of something.

co-culture

Regional, economic, social, religious, ethnic, or other cultural groups that exerts influence in society.

cognitive CQ

The degree to which an individual has cultural knowledge.

collective self-esteem

The aspect of an individual’s self-worth or self-image that stems from their interaction with others and evaluation of their various social groups.

collectivism

Characteristics of a culture that values cooperation and harmony and considers the needs of the group to be more important than the needs of the individual.

cultural intelligence

The degree to which an individual can communicate competently in varying cultural situations.

culture

A group of people who, through a process of learning, can share perceptions of the world, which influence their beliefs, values, norms, and rules, which eventually affect behavior.

culture as normative

The basic idea that one’s culture provides the rules, regulations, and norms that govern a culture and how people act with other members of that society.

dominant culture

The established language, religion, behavior, values, rituals, and social customs of a society.

ethnocentrism

The degree to which an individual views the world from their own culture’s perspective while evaluating different cultures according to their own culture’s preconceptions often accompanied by feelings of dislike, mistrust, or hate for cultures deemed inferior.

face

The standing or position a person has in the eyes of others.

feminine

Cultures focused on having a good working relationship with one’s manager and coworkers, cooperating with people at work, and security (both job and familial).

high-context cultures

Cultures that interpret meaning by relying more on nonverbal context or behavior than on verbal symbols in communication.

importance to identity

The degree to which group membership is important to an individual.

indigenous peoples

Populations that originated in a particular place rather than moved there.

individualism

Characteristics of a culture that values being self-reliant and self-motivated, believes in personal freedom and privacy, and celebrates personal achievement.

indulgence

Cultural orientation marked by immediate gratification for individual desires.

long-term orientation

Cultural orientation where individuals focus on the future and not the present or past.

low-context cultures

Cultures that interpret meaning by placing a great deal of emphasis on the words someone uses.

masculine

Cultures focused on items like earnings, recognition, advancement, and challenge.

membership esteem

The degree to which an individual sees themself as a “good” member of a group.

metacognitive CQ

The degree to which an individual is consciously aware of their intercultural interactions in a manner that helps them have more effective interpersonal experiences with people from differing cultures.

microculture

Cultural patterns of behavior influenced by cultural beliefs, values, norms, and rules based on a specific locality or within an organization.

motivational CQ

The degree to which an individual desires to engage in intercultural interactions and can easily adapt to differing cultural environments.

norms

Informal guidelines about what is acceptable or proper social behavior within a specific culture.

ostracized

Excluded or removed from a group by others in that group.

power distance

The degree to which those people and organizations with less power within a culture accept and expect that power is unequally distributed within their culture.

private collective esteem

The degree to which an individual positively evaluates their group.

public collective self-esteem

The degree to which nonmembers of a group evaluate a group and its members either positively or negatively.

restraint

Cultural orientation marked by the belief that gratification should not be instantaneous and should be regulated by cultural rules and norms.

rules

Explicit guidelines (generally written down) that govern acceptable or proper social behavior within a specific culture.

short-term orientation

Cultural orientation where individuals focus on the past or present and not in the future.

stereotype

A set of beliefs about the personal attributes of a social group.

uncertainty avoidance

The extent to which cultures as a whole are fearful of ambiguous and unknown situations.

values

Important and lasting principles or standards held by a culture about desirable and appropriate courses of action or outcomes.

Chapter Wrap-Up

In this chapter, we started by discussing what the word “culture” means while also considering the concepts of co-culture and microcultures. We then looked at the critical functions that culture performs in our daily lives. Next, we discussed the intersection of culture and communication. Lastly, we ended this chapter discussing how you can improve your intercultural communication skills.

6.5 Chapter Exercises

Real-World Case Study

Roy and Jalissa originally met in graduate school. On the first day that Jalissa walked into grad school, she was glad to see someone else near her age, which was older than the average student in the class. Even though Roy was White and Jalissa was African American, the two immediately felt drawn to each other. Before they knew it, Jalissa and Roy were inseparable. Jalissa’s husband started to get jealous of Roy until he met Roy and realized that Roy was gay.

Over the years, the two graduated and went to different jobs that were close to each other. Roy and Jalissa still would get together regularly and go shopping, go to the movies, have dinner, etc. The two of them considered themselves as highly culturally intelligent people. Jalissa was a Dean of Diversity at a liberal arts college, and Roy taught cultural studies at a large research university. The two often had pet names for each other that people outside of their relationship could view as racist or homophobic, but they knew the spirit behind their pet names was meant in jest and not ignorance, ethnocentrism, or fear.

One day Roy and Jalissa were hanging how in a store when Roy found an African Mask. Roy grabbed the mask, walked up behind Jalissa, and shouted, “Abugga bugga!” Jalissa turned around and laughingly slapped Roy on the arm responding, “You White racist cracker!” Jalissa looked at an older White woman standing in the row completely startled, and she just busted out laughing and Roy joined right in.

  1. In this case, was Roy culturally intelligent? Why?
  2. In this case, was Jalissa culturally intelligent? Why?
  3. Was this interpersonal interaction appropriate? Why?

End-of-Chapter Assessment

  1. Milagros belongs to a very distinct South American tribe. Bravery is very important in her tribe. From an early age, all boys and girls are taught that bravery is akin to being a member of the tribe. Furthermore, people who are not brave are often banished from the tribe. For this tribe, what does bravery represent?
    1. a rule
    2. a norm
    3. a value
    4. a belief
    5. a worth
  2. African Americans; Bisexuals, Gays, and Lesbians; Irish Americans, Southerners are all examples of what?
    1. dominant cultures
    2. co-cultures
    3. subcultures
    4. microcultures
    5. collaborative cultures
  3. As a transgendered individual, Melanie realizes that many people in her dominant culture do not understand, agree with, nor support transgendered individuals and causes. Which facet of collective self-esteem does this represent?
    1. private collective esteem
    2. membership esteem
    3. public collective esteem
    4. importance to identity
    5. other esteem
  4. The degree to which an individual views the world from their own culture’s perspective while evaluating other cultures according to their culture’s preconceptions often accompanied by feelings of dislike, mistrust, or hate for cultures deemed inferior?
    1. ethnocentrism
    2. stereotypes
    3. prejudice
    4. discrimination
    5. cultural annoyance
  5. Juan’s culture is marked by expensive houses, fast cars, rich food, and all the luxuries one could desire. Which of Hofstede’s cultural differences does Juan’s culture represent?
    1. individualism
    2. high power distance
    3. masculinity
    4. short-term orientation
    5. indulgence

Notes

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3 Baldwin, J. R., Faulkner, S. L., Hecht, M. L., & Lindsley, S. L. (2006). Redefining culture: Perspectives across the disciplines. Lawrence Erlbaum.
4 Wrench, J. S. (2001). Intercultural communication: Power in context. Tapestry Press; pg. 12.
5 Leeming, D. A., & Lemming, M. A. (2009). A dictionary of creation myths. Oxford University Press.
6 Spradley, J. P., & McCurdy, D. W. (2008). Conformity and conflict: Readings in cultural anthropology. Pearson; pg. 3.
7 Kevin. (n. d.). Disney traditions [Web log post]. https://disneyprogramsblog.com/disney-traditions/
8 Tajfel, H. (1981). Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge University Press; pg. 255.
9 Luhtanen, R., & Crocker, J. (1992). A collective self-esteem scale: Self-evaluation of one’s social identity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18(3), 302-318. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167292183006
10 Bailis, D. S., & Chipperfield, J. G. (2006). Emotional and self-evaluative effects of social comparison information in later life: How are they moderated by collective self-esteem? Psychology and Aging, 21(2), 291–302. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7974.21.2.291
11 Downie, M., Mageau, G. A., Koestner, R., & Liodden, T. (2006). On the risk of being a cultural chameleon: Variations in collective self-esteem across social interactions. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 12(3), 527–540. https://doi.org/10.1037/1099-9809.12.3.527
12 Downie, M., Mageau, G. A., Koestner, R., & Liodden, T. (2006). On the risk of being a cultural chameleon: Variations in collective self-esteem across social interactions. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 12(3), 527–540. https://doi.org/10.1037/1099-9809.12.3.527; pg. 537.
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