My Friend is a Palestinian Bedouin: VI. Cultural Differences and the Intercultural Encounter
There is much dissimilarity in communication styles between individualistic cultures (mostly Western) and collectivistic cultures (mostly Eastern). In individualistic cultures people tend to rely on the use of words to convey meaning. In collectivistic cultures people do not rely on language alone for communication. Tone of voice, timing, facial expressions, and behaving in ways considered acceptable in the society are major means of expression (Anderson & Hiltz, 2001). Cultural value orientations exerted a stronger influence on nonverbal as compared to verbal expressions of emotion (Wong et al., 2008). Individualism was positively associated with higher expressivity norms in general, and for positive emotions in particular (Matsumoto & 60 others, 2008). For instance, consider a study comparing indigenous Dutch individualists with Surinamese and Turkish collectivists (Mesquita, 2001). The study found that “emotions in collectivist cultures (a) were more grounded in assessments of social worth and of shifts in relative social worth, (b) were to a large extent taken to reflect reality rather than the inner world of the individual, and (c) belonged to the self-other relationship rather than being confined to the subjectivity of the self” (Mesquita, 2001, p. 68).
Cultures are divergent in their accepted ways of communication on (at least) two dimensions: directness and expression of emotions. Differences in directness refer to the idea of expressing verbally what one thinks in a direct and open way, and/or expressing oneself in an indirect way, like in one’s posture or behavior. Dissimilarities in emotional expressiveness refer to the degree in which emotions are openly expressed (and perceived as relevant). A theoretical framework for understanding differences in conflict resolution styles was proposed based on high/low levels of directness and high/low levels of emotional expressiveness: (1) discussion style (direct & emotionally restrained), (2) engagement style (direct & emotionally expressive), (3) accommodation style (indirect & emotionally restrained) and (4) dynamic style (indirect and emotionally expressive) (Hammer, 2005).