Lesson 12 Blog – Cultural Politeness Can Cause Chaos

Culture is such a tremendous, subtle and at most times unconscious creator of attitudes and driver of behaviors that everyone who has regular contact with others outside of their own culture, professionally, socially, or recreationally could benefit immensely from  learning about it. The various cultural values one could itemize would be an endless task if let to an individual to do so. Sometimes reading books or seeing movies about or that heavily feature other cultures is a good way to learn and I highly recommend this, it’s a very valuable thing to do. Also if you are fortune enough to befriend a someone from the culture you are interested in learning about even better!  In addition traveling and immersing oneself is also a superlative idea albeit it can be expensive and difficult to do. That said I feel one should do all he can to learn about and expose himself to other cultures to understand more about them. It’s a rich experience no matter which road to learning you take. But an item not on the above list is an extremely valuable tool taken from the social sciences that can give great aggregate information about many cultures around the world and distill many subtle levels of cultural values into six easily understandable items is called Hofstede’s Data (The Hofstede Center, n.d.). Using this online tool can help you get a healthy birds-eye view of a culture that you may intend to enter or that you interfacing with currently in real-time. Created by psychologist Geert Hofstede these six cultural value items are power distance (how people feel about the distribution of power in society), uncertainty avoidance (the proclivity to desire social structure to avoid troubles), individualism (how much one relies on oneself versus being beholden to a social group), masculinity (how the genders of a society differ in the dominant roles each is allowed to play), long-term orientation (the proclivity to order one’s life oriented towards long-term or immediate goals), and indulgence (the measure to which one is socially allowed to let one’s hair down), (Geert Hofstede, n.d.). These cultural values data tools are a fabulous addition to the cultural learning tools I mentioned above and I wish I had used any or all of them before my first chaotic cultural bugaboo with some Japanese people that I was trying to work with in musical project.
imgres imgres-1

Besides what I currently do in my life as a human activist, wellness coach, and holistic fitness artist I am a musician. And many moons ago back in the 1990’s some American friends and I had what we thought would be a great idea. We wanted to create a cultural fusion band that featured American musicians holding down the music, and Japanese female singers upfront taking care of all the vocals. On paper and in our minds it was a great idea, in practice it was a disaster! Cultural aspects of how to communicate and what effective communication actually is can be quite a tricky thing to deal with. And assuming that others share your style and method of communication norms is a totally understandable ethno-centric move which I’m sure we all do. We simply take for granted, or even hope that others can understand both our basic and nuanced communications. In the case of my friends and I, we had no idea how the cultural values of masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation may have combined to torpedo our project and cause a lot of bad emotions to go around. Succinctly put it seems that because of firstly deferring to our male gender, secondly not wanting to be unpleasant, disagreeable or to have conflicts, and thirdly to do whatever it took to reach the intended goal of forming a successful performing band, the Japanese women we contacted to join our band almost never spoke their true feelings about anything we discussed as we met and planned putting this project together. Basically they just “yes’d” us to death! They agreed with everything we asked them or presented to them without challenging us or stating when they disagreed or plain old didn’t like what direction we were going. I can’t tell you the chaos this created when we actually started to try to set up studio sessions for rehearsals! Things became quickly unraveled. The pressure of spending money and time to do rehearsals that they didn’t want to do in a project where they disagreed with almost everything we did was too much. They cracked and let seep out their disagreement with us way after the fact! We as American’s could NOT understand this type of behavior at all and it left a frustratingly bitter taste in all our mouths. And i’m sure the ladies were as baffled at our “poor communication” as well! Perhaps a little research into Japanese culture and communication styles on our part would have gone a long way. In fact I’m sure they would have because we knew absolutely nothing about the Japanese and we fully assumed that they would approach music and communication the way we did. In the Japanese ladies eyes they were being polite, well mannered, and agreeable, to us americans they were lying, being deceitful, and immature by not clearly communicating upfront at the time of our initial meetings and causing confusion! This incident was such a huge eye-opener for me. Ill never forget it. Even though it seems like a trivial thing it was actually quite shocking emotionally as I was in such disbelief of what was transpiring. The whole thing twisted my head around 108^ as I felt I was trapped in the Twilight Zone of bad communications when things started falling apart. Oh well, live and learn I guess. And I certainly learned to respect the importance of understand culture when engaging other people!

 

References

 

The Hofstede Center (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from

https://geert-hofstede.com/

 

Geert Hofstede (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from

http://www.geerthofstede.nl/dimensions-of-national-cultures

One Comment

  1. Daren Kenneth Kullman April 17, 2016 at 9:10 PM #

    PSY 533 Unit 05 Blog Comment
    Darryl,
    Great insight in to the Japanese culture. Even though it was frustrating and didn’t work out, your experience just being in such a different culture must have been amazing.
    I was curious if knowing Hofstede’s research ahead of time would have been helpful or given you insight in to the potential problems ahead of time? It may have been useful to have a general understanding of the tendencies, but is it possible the individual singers were simply difficult people to work with and not indicative of the entire culture? Do you see that Hofstede’s research, although in common use in psychology, appears to have a fundamental flaw in that there is no account for the individual (G. & Hofstead, 2016)?
    As you already know from the discussion comments I truly struggle with the concept that ALL of a culture are similar and see that even the discussion in this way may violate ethical principles of individualism (American Psychological Association, 2010). I understand your bad experience left a sour taste about Japan in your mind, especially with the failed business dealings, however, there may be plenty of people in Japan who could see that model succeed.
    My struggle continues when I can see that as leaders, especially when faced with putting together a multicultural team, we can use Hofstede’s research in order to prepare for possible issues that may arise (G. & Hofstead, 2016). Further, the use of the research may give us insight as to why a problem occurs. Time and time again, we see in the writings that the research seems to be validated by personal stories, as in your own.
    Thanks for the post. Truly made me think deeply about the use of the research in relation to the ethical dilemma of lumping a group together in a collective way.

    References
    American Psychological Association. (2010, June 1). Ethical principles of psychologisgts and code of conduct: Including 2010 amendments. Retrieved from APA.org: http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/ (Links to an external site.)
    G., H., & Hofstead, G. J. (2016). Dimesnions of national cultures. Retrieved from geerthofstede.com: http://www.geerthofstede.nl/dimensions-of-national-cultures

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar