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Influence of culture on emotions and communication styles

This paper explores the possibility and the extent of culture’s influence on the communication process and styles. Communication is the process through which individuals share ideas and information. Its effectiveness is gauged on the level of understanding by the receiver. Such sharing of ideas and information may be explicit/precise or requiring the receiver to infer/deduce the meaning from the ‘not conclusive’ message that is passed. The parties communicating, in this case, are human beings with diverse cultural and emotions orientations which act to influence the perceived outcome in the message exchange between such parties. The ‘co-existing’ factor leads to more complex element of culture (Kapoor, 2003). Culture is simply the way of life of a given people. It will refer to the values, norms and basically the foundation on which a group of people base their reasoning and pluralism on. Cultural values have varying extents of meaning across the various cultural divides. Some divides have much emphasis on the values as presented by culture than others. Longitudinally, individuals, within a cultural divide, value their cultural aspects with varying degrees.

In considering the possible influence on communication it is important to also consider the constituents of and individual. Emotions can be defined as the textual expressions representing the writes’ mood and the facial expression. Emotions can alter or improve an interpretation of a plain text. The development of various sets of emotions may vary across cultures and individuals. The evoking of the emotions is largely dependent on a person’s personality , which is the sets of characteristic that differentiate a person from the other .An individual will emotionally respond to similar information differently depending on the sender of such information. Emotions being internal can be regulated by an individual in determining the extent that they will be released.

Abstract

Researches indicate that culture has an influence on the way individuals exchange information and ideas and indeed the way such ideas are interpreted. The definition of communication by including more than one individual depicts a cultural aspect. The involvement of an individual as an entity capable of making an inference from what information has been relayed can as well not be overlooked. There is also a possibility of prior determination of what is to be understood by the hearer. Communication can as well be either direct or indirect, from the second dimension. There is a general idea that Asians are collectivists with the Europeans and Americans being individualists. Researches indicate that people with values at individual-level close to the norms in the culture are happier than those with values less normative.

Discussion and Literature review

A culture is constituted by, among other elements, individuals. In dissecting the culture, it is indispensable to first consider the individuals and then look at them in the cultural context. Culture entails of those patterns, implicit and explicit, for and of behavior usually acquired and then transmitted by symbols, encompassing the distinctive attainment of human groups, comprising human artifacts, ideas, values and norms that bides (Brown & Singelis, 1995).

Psychology presents a human being as an entity that can influence and be influenced by the environment. The environment, for purposes of this paper, will be composed of people in the societal setup. As individuals co-exist, they influence each other and develop a boundary that guides them in their relationships. In relating, each individual will first display the ‘self’ and will probably be influenced by the environment to have a collective representation in the said relationships. Two concepts come into the limelight here; the individualism and the collectivism. Individualism is the expression of someone’s self. An individual’s self will attempts to protect itself from societal intrusion. Individualists reason as entities and explicitly express their ideas to others as well as insist that such ideas be taken as truth. Collectivism is the group context that an individual associates with. A collectivist will, before passing/inferring any information consider the societal values/say in such a matter. Such a person will communicate ideas guided by the cultural setting. In both cases, emotions will still exist.

The concept of self across cultures

Self concept is an essential mediator in cultural behavior patterns. This notion gives room for a more specific role of ‘self’ in regulation of preference for conversational styles. The ‘self’ might be linked to some communication styles such as collectivism and individualism that has previously been associated to culture. Subsequent to this, the broad terms of individualism and collectiveness may be used for cultural description while idiocentric and allocentric characterize individuals. The two images describing the self emphasize the connectedness referred to as interdependence relationship and the uniqueness and separateness of individuals referred to as independence of self. This draws the conclusion that the more individualistic a culture is, the higher the probability of sampling the independent self. Similarly, in collectivistic culture, there is a likelihood of people sampling a more interdependent self. Dependence and interdependence of the self determines the behavior characteristics of an individual (Neumann, Steinhäuser & Roeder, 2009). It is important to note that culture is a composition of similarities in individuals’ behavior and as such, a collection of individuals affecting communication style in a similar way indicates a cultural influence on communication. The definition of culture and that of individuals is related in the sense that an individual is a subset of a culture. An individual’s characteristics can only be defined in the context of the culture. It is the sum total of a culture’s characteristics that creates boundaries within which the concepts of good and bad can be outlined. For example, a culture may have a regard for openness in communication. Individuals who exert silence in conversations appear to exhibit vices in such cultural context.

Emotions in the individualistic and collectivist contexts

Culture has direct influence towards emotional predictions based on the meanings as well as practices that contexts their occurrence (Mesquita, 2001). His sample included individualists and collectivist in Netherlands. Among the collectivists, emotions were characterized as relational and also contextualized in the phenomena whereas among the individualists, it was characterized as intrapersonal and subjective. His co-relational and procedural study identified some major differences including the interpretation that emotions signals a change of reality among the collectivists as compared to internal, subjective feeling and indeed a little or no implication for belief among the individualists. The findings of the study revealed a concurrence with the hypothesis, that collectivists emotions related to the phenomenon and could only be explained within the contextual relationships and were also a reflection of the said relationships. On the contrary, individualists’ emotions referred less to their contextual social environment. The research findings further revealed that among the collectivists emotions are shaped in a style similar to ideas as well as practices of the cultural settings of occurrence but underlining the disparity of oneself and others/society among the individualists. Furthermore, the boundaries that exist between subjectivity of emotional experiences and the social reality were found to be thinner in collectivism than in individualism cultures.

In communicating with individuals, it becomes necessary to first identify what kind of orientation, whether individualism or collectivism, that they hold. As drawn from the articles findings, this indeed seems to limit the sender of the information to the kind of information that can be received. The idea of collectivism builds a wall inhibiting communication in two ways. First, the sender of information is guided entirely by what has been inculcated by the culture. The assumption in such a person is that the contextual culture is ideally good. There will however be the limitation of the social coverage that the said culture be ‘good’ or perhaps acceptable. As such, the question of ‘what’ in the information may be compromised to fit in that particular cultural orientation. Subsequently, collectivism dictates that the two parties involved in a meaningful conversation be culturally related. Second, the receiver of the information is not at an individual liberty to interpret the information so received (Neumann et al, 2009). One has to go back to the cultural files so as to infer the meaning. In both the cases, culture dictates the emotions that individuals develop from information stimuli.

It is important to appreciate that though culture is a valuable asset in the global society and indeed the diversity that brings in beauty and indeed minimize global competition; the world is increasingly becoming a global village. Individuals will no longer be restricted to their original interpretation of signs and ideas. Emotions should not be expressed in the cultural contexts only but also on an individual basis. Indeed the possibility of inhibiting both elements in emotional expression should be every person’s efforts. Once information is relayed, an individual should try to have and individual interpretation as well as be informed of the collective interpretation depending on the sender of the information. Either way, the need for a background on the sender and the receiver should be availed to the respective parties. Expression of a set of emotional elements once information or idea has been received is a critical issue in understanding an individual whether from the individualism or collectivism orientation. Almost all emotions are extremely meaningful for purposes of capturing the global thematic features in a situation. These features commonly referred to as appraisals assist in simplification of the complex social situations by reconstituting that complexity into a single strain intrinsically meaningful in the context of the person experiencing them. For example, emotions like pride, anger, guilt and friendly feeling all reflect a significant theme that goes beyond the mere positive or negative evaluations. The themes give a description of individual’s perception to their relationship with the surrounding environment. As such, friendly feelings and pride that are positive might be associated with social harmony and personal achievement which are definitely different themes.

Findings and Discussion

Influence of culture on emotion suppression

As aforementioned, individuals exist in societal setups that have capabilities of influencing the way such individuals express or fail to express emotional signs. The concept of emotional suppression is the failure to display ones interpretational responses of information received or limiting the extent of the expression done. According to Butler et al, (2007), Americans of European values orientation would report less emotion suppression than would Americans who held Asian values and that those holding European values would only suppress their emotions for identity protection. The later would associate emotional suppression with high levels of emotional negativity. As such, European values seemed to hold that an individual could only give up the self expression of emotions unhappily. They identified two major barriers in understanding emotional responses in social interactions as self regulating efforts and the culture. Self regulating efforts can be interpreted to mean that an individual applied personal efforts to fail to or limit the emotional expression. Such would be a false expression of the reality within an individual though it would propagate communication flow. The positive that could be associated with the self regulating efforts is that there is liberty of an individual to distinguish which issues to apply emotional suppression. Whether this is ideally acceptable or not, the effectiveness of communication which is between the two parties can be evaluated.

This research further narrowed down to two specific issues namely emotion suppression and two groups of participant who were Americans whose cultural orientation was either Asian or European. Existing literature suggested that emotional suppression may be less linked to negative emotion among the Asian cultures in comparison to European culture, whose emotional suppression, also displayed as a safeguarding of the self and an assertion of one’s will (Kapoor, 2003). The findings of this research showed that cultural orientations tend predict the differences in frequency and the function of emotional suppression as well as the negative emotion related to it.

As drawn the findings, emotional suppression was also found to be a reduction of emotional disclosure. The generalization of these findings may pose a challenge since the sample taken had a similar foundation of culture. Nevertheless, some sectional components of the findings were varied. While communicating, the expression of the receiver’s emotional expression is dependent on the societal values that the individual holds (Nezlek, Kafetsios & Smith, 2008). Much as an individual would want to express the emotional expressions as experienced during a communication, there will always be the element of what the relationship existing between the parties communicating entails. For example, in the smallest element of culture that can either exist between immediate family, members must carefully consider their emotional expressions in efforts to maintain harmony. It is possible that a message passed is not delivered yet there is harmony between people but is ultimately not possible to relay a negative, as perceived by the group, emotional expression and maintain cohesiveness. The ability to balance between regulations of emotional responses and maintain the need for the real self in responding to information relayed would be an ideal venture for every individual. Such a balance would ensure that communication is made effective without losing one’s self. Furthermore, emotional responses must be duly regarded useful in the process of communication since they offer the required feedback.

Effects of individualism and collectivism on conversational styles

Individualism and collectivism dimensions of culture are founded on some varying fundamental issues that may affect the way people communicate. A research conducted sought to come up with a mediation model in attempting to spell out the manner in which culture do influence the communication style from a sample of nine hundred and seventy two individuals across four cultural backgrounds of America, Japan, Korea and Hawaii. According to Park. & Kim (2008), that individuals can differ with both independent and the interdependent distinctiveness. The intention was to establish if self-construals were aspects of culture that accounted for the alleged usefulness of conversational constraints. In so doing, it’s easier to trace possibilities of a linkage between culture and the individual values of either independence or interdependence construals of the ‘self’. These conversational constraints are the wide-ranging as well as overarching criteria for selecting a conversational strategy and which influence the construction of a message. In their research they identified a gap where culture is broadly expressed into individualism and collectivism as two contrasting aspects and never as a dimension for explaining why people vary. The research revealed that there is extensive use of interaction strategies intended to provide a protection from the societies’ influence of the self’s autonomy.

Individuals across cultural divides seem to have a thirst for a certain level of independence. Though the degree of independence may also vary, this demonstrates the diminishing trend of culture in communication. The self’s autonomy could only be hindered by the harmonization element that is required in the society. With the continued social civilization, a time may come when individuals will co-exist without necessarily agreeing. This does not at all eliminate the need for communication but emphasizes on the diminishing level of concurrence, between the sender and the receiver in communication, which is usually deemed to be necessary for cultural coexistence. According to Brown & Singelis (1995), cultural collectivism compared to individualism tends to be positively associated with the apparent interdependence, but usually unconstructively related to independence.

Consistency of culture and the self –concept: Asian Americans and European Americans Contexts

According to Chen & English (2007), consistency in cultural differences within and across different contexts demonstrates robustness as well as boundaries that exist in cultural differences in the consistency of self-concept, and also the need for examining several forms of stability in self-concept. The hypothesis was that the cultural variances in consistency of self-concept extended to importance of self-view and the self-enhancement. The researches proposed that a low consistence, as aforementioned, do not necessarily indicate insufficient enduring and meaningful self-view but instead a possibility of it coexisting with the firm. Of the two categories of participants, temporal stability among the Asian Americans’ ratings of self enhancement within the specific relationships was found to be as high as that of the European Americans. The researchers yielded to other researches suggesting that human beings display a certain degree of manipulability and irregularity in their self concept across contexts but Asians hold more flexible self concepts (Kitayama & Mesquita, 2006). The conclusion was that Asians particularly from the East has a relatively low consistence in their self concept globally which reduces abstractness.

In fact, referring to the multifaceted research carried out by Brown & Singelis (1995), it’s clear that development of self-construal is greatly influenced by complex cultures. As drawn from findings, individual dimensions do not necessarily match with the perceived cultural levels. Self-contractual and cultural collectivism is affected by the prevailing socialization norms, practices and institutions where individual separateness is accounted for. During socialization of a child, collectivist mothers tend to encourage empathy and listening in their kids, while under individualists’ mothers, kids are taught keys words and self-expression skills crucial in promoting cognitive development, problem solving capacity and the perceived autonomy in building friendships.

High and low contextualization in communication

High contextualization in communication refers to a scenario where much of the information is thought to be internalized in a person or in the physical context. Message is inferred from the context. The parties communicating are thought to be familiar with each other’s physical context as well as the internal perception of ideas and information being passed. Low context communication refers to the explicit, explanatory and clear use of the accepted codes to pass information. Park and Kim had interest in studying relationships that existed between adherence to European as well as the American cultural backgrounds to communication in Asia. They had the notion that Asian cultures utilize a high context communication as advanced in the 2001’s Gudykunt concept of both high and low contexts in communication. A high context communication among the Asians is associated with Confucianism that emphasizes on communication as a tool towards developing harmony as well as maintaining it in interpersonal relationships. Asian values seemed to mediate the identified relationships between collectiveness, which is the solidarity sense in a society, and communication behavior. On the other hand, individualistic values were said to be related to low communication that focuses on uniqueness of an individual and hence use of explicit codes in passing a message (Kapoor, 2003).

Indeed, Asians were found to harbor more recognition to collectiveness, emotional self control and conformity to norms as well as humility. The researchers examined three hypotheses, among two hundred, and ten Asian America and hundred and thirty six European America, as follows. First, for both Asian and European Americans, the open and explicit styles of communication were to fit with the low context style of communication. Second, the Asian Americas were to display less use of low context style of communication and instead use high context than the European Americans (Chua et al, 2005). Finally, for both samples taken, and with the element of sex and race, the hypothesis was that high level adherence to Confucius would positively relate to high context while negatively relating to low context styles of communication. The findings were that contrary to the hypothesis, collectiveness was found among the European Americans and the conclusion was that perhaps European Americans belonged to in-groups that valued assertiveness and self expression.

Intentionality in communication

Intentionality is the indication of aims, plans, goals and urgency guiding the actions intended to be followed by an individual. Cultural variations may be founded on the societal structure. Such structures may require that individual’s actions closely coordinates with those of the other members of society as well as reducing social conflict. Others may motivate setting of one’s plans and goals. In contrast, the first structure calls for individual’s sensitivity to the environment while the later expects that the environment is sensitive to the individuals. Intentionality is determined by the different perceptions of primary and the secondary controls inhibited within individuals. Primary control provides for the individual’s exercise of freedom and control over a person’s psychology (Kapoor, 2003). Secondary control implies the inability to separate an object or idea from the field in context. Subsequent to this issue, motivation is in independence to autonomy in thinking for those under influence of primary control whilst guiding those under secondary control. The emphasis of emotions is more on those in secondary controls as such; these groups of individuals associate the tone in the voice during conversation in inferring the meaning.

Self determinism in communication

Self determinism is the theory asserting that individuals have an entire control of their destiny. Personal responsibility is therefore the key to influencing what is and would happen in the future. The process of communication involves inferring of information whether sent or received. As such, an individual has a responsibility in determining the meaning. Culture must not be taken to cover-up a person’s irresponsibility in making sound inferences in the conversations. The influence of culture in communication must be subjected to individuals’ efforts to control meaning. The search for the reality is a personal responsibility and which is dependent on a person’s need to not only coexist with others but also to develop as an individual. Furthermore, the amount of time available in corporate world equates with money. In corporate world, individuals communicating disrespectful of their cultural background are likely to use a more direct, explicit and a clear style of communication. This is meant to improve time efficiency and save energy. Clear evidence that the world is tending towards direct style of communication is indicated by the use of interpreters when communicating to various parties with diverse cross-cultural backgrounds (Chen & English, 2007). In order to effectively identify with such parties’ culture there is need to hold cultural harmonization forums first.

Social status of the communicating parties

Power relationship between the communicating parties is also a variable that influences communication. When conducting supervisory roles, communication is usually more direct especially in conflict management than it is among subordinates. The later would use non-confrontational / indirect communication. These two aspects of communication indicate that individuals consider the context within which they are communicating. Whether among the individualists or collectivists, the said aspects appeared to prevail. Though there is no direct relationship between power and culture, the two interacts in the real word. Relationships usually exist between two people who are not at per. Two subordinates though at the same social level are at different levels in terms of who knows more in particular issue concerning the organization. The subordinate who knows more of issue A assumes the role of the “more powerful” in that issue (Yoon et al, 1996). Respect which is associated with culture since it is an element/value geared towards bringing harmony also exists between people of different power levels. There is also some degree of respect that is shown by an individual who is depending on the other. All these scenarios depict a resultant communication style which is culturally based (Butler et al, 2007).

Convergence and divergence in communication

Divergence in communication is the disagreement that arises from the receiver of a message between the actual message as per his/her interpretation and the reported interpretation. In conflicting situations, expatriates and their host nations diverge in communication, not only because of the obvious typecast cultures but also by alterations of responses accordingly though the motives vary. Power –distance perspective is the most valid explanation in this phenomenon. Convergence element is strongly displayed by the superior condition of the East whereby direct-indirect peculiarity is diluted by the expatriates who alter their approach to conflict (Brown & Singelis, 1995). This is, in both groups, a reaction to urgency. The clarity of communication and the diminished sensitivity to the face needs as compared to the obtuse communication, and the honoring face needs has increasingly acquired more value in situations where time is essence. On the other hand, the abstractness of direct communication is assuming a more diplomatic path which serves the needs of a global workplace especially in dealing with a collectivist Asian (Nezlek et al, 2008). Moreover, agreeing to norms does serve and indeed promote a harmonious and mutually respectful workplace.

General comments on methodologies and samples

Culture as a variable influencing communication cannot be numerically expressed. In general, the methodologies used captured data from the participants and were later generalized to be a representation of a non definite issue. The studies therefore were more of measures of intent behavior instead of the actual behavior patterns. Approximately eighty percent of the sampled participants did not have the Asian’s collectivism cultural orientation. The participants were tested whether they believed in such an orientation. This definitely affected the consistency of the idea flow from the participants. It appears that the participants were aware of the data that they were supposed to generate. Moreover the samples were too small to correctly constitute a generalization. In a culture based study, the sample should be big and wide in terms of occupation and age composition. As such, the data would be collected not only from the students, as it is the case, but from the wider population. Cultural differences are likely to be less pronounced amongst students than it is in other groups (Chua et al, 2005). How negatively or positively skew the data did not get the desired attention that such a data should have. Deductions on such non-vector subjects should be majorly based on the Skewedness and not on mere cross-correlations.

The overreliance on previous researches in coming up with deductions is also evident in determining the relationship of emotions and culture on communication. The propagation element increases the error that is supposed to be as minimal as possible. The errors accumulated are loaded onto a new study meaning that from the onset, the study is adversely affected by previous errors. The ideal scenario would have been to carry out the coincidental researches at a reasonably close interval of not more than a year to increase the validity. However the researchers’ attempts hold a substantial validity which provides a basis for future research and which are currently useful with low error prevalence.

Synopsis

In conclusion, the aforementioned discussion displays a relationship between emotions, culture and the communication style adopted by individuals. The general consensus is that human beings exhibit, from theories of creation, a common origin. They are also social beings that cannot escape the influence of others in their social life. Although there is evidence of strains of individuals whose energy protect them from influence from others, there is a limit that such a characteristic can endure. For example, individuals against some national ideas will however concur with the wishes of their families or their closest friends. According to Brown & Singelis (1995), when relevant intermediate values are considered whilst analyzing communication and culture, the diversity across culture and be justified. These two authors consider the direct effect that culture has on an individual behavior and resulting communication patterns. In fact, culture is seen to influence the psychological make-up of an individual thus affecting the communication behavior exhibited by the person.

Even if the said friends are supporting the negation of the national idea, it still remains that those close friends constitute a society and as such a culture. Moreover, when construction of both the society and individual correspond, individuals are more likely to have a more involvement in the society and hence be more affectively involved (Chua et al, 2005). It is important to note that due to the dynamic nature of the communication interactions, intercultural communication standards can be achieved only if the communicating parties mindfully adjust their behavior in communication.

As drawn from findings, individual dimensions do not necessarily match with the perceived cultural levels. Self-contractual and cultural collectivism is affected by the prevailing socialization norms, practices and institutions where individual separateness is accounted for. During socialization of a child, collectivist mothers tend to encourage empathy and listening in their kids, while under individualists’ mothers, kids are taught keys words and self-expression skills crucial in promoting cognitive development, problem solving capacity and the perceived autonomy in building friendships. Prior research which basically encouraged on orthogonal tests on groups in deriving cultural comparisons, tend to effectively open a wider scope in culture study by perhaps encouraging potential researchers in contributing to the elaboration on the correlation that cultural.

Recommendations

In efforts to achieving better deductions, any cultural and self reacted studies ought to be carried in the very cultural context of the participants. When dealing with the collectivist individuals, it will be better to determine their strength in their cultural orientation. This will perhaps facilitate relations and effective workplace culture which act to boots performance level from team levels tickling down to the entire organization. When conducting such cultural tests or cross-sectional research, attention ought to be laid on the perceived impact that preceding findings would have on the conclusion derived. The associated tests should be conducted in such a cultural context. Similarly, when studying their susceptibility to adopt individualism, the cultural setting should remain collectivism. Future research work on this area should focus on the influence of the self on communication. It would be interesting trying to prove the possibility of self influencing the communication styles more than the culture would do and get the same results.

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