Why Can't I Talk to My Neighbors? Understanding Cross-cultural Relationships
If you live in an urban or suburban area, chances are you are surrounded by neighbors from different cultural backgrounds. I am a white caucasion with a white-anglo-saxon protestant background. In my case, I have a family from Mexico on one side of me, another from India or Pakistan on the other side of me; and an African-american family across the street from me. Although I have not personally had any problems with my neighbors, it is conceivable that communication could be difficult. Cultural experts say this is because we all come from different cultural backgrounds characterized as cultural dimensions. This hub discusses the concept of cultural dimensions and attempts to show that understanding cultural dimensions can be very helpful in cross-cultural relationships.
Cultural experts have discovered up to nine different cultural dimensions. Those nine cultural dimensions include:
- Power Distance
- Individualist vs. Collectivist
- Future Orientation
- Gender Egalitarian
- Humane Orientation
- Uncertainty Avoidance
- Low vs High-context Communication
This cultural dimension refers to the tolerance level for power sharing. Cultures prone towards low power distance orientation are not afraid to share power or challenge authority while cultures with high power distance are more apt to tolerate lack of power sharing. When dealing with a neighbor from a high power distance culture it might not be advantageous to confront him in front of his family.
This cultural dimension refers to the relative degree to which a person thinks of his own needs first or the needs of the group first. A person from an individualist culture might think of "me" first whereas the person form a collectivist culture who might think of "we" first.
This cultural dimension has to do with gender roles in a society and the rights of women within a given culture. I had a friend who lived in Pakistan for awhile. His Muslim Pakistani friends would become incensed and offended whenever they found him helping his wife with household cores. Some Latin American cultures also exalt the male members of society over females. If attempting to establish a relationship with a male member of a low gender egalitarianism culture, you might not want to do traditional female assigned jobs in front of him.
Uncertainty avoidance refers to the degree to which societal members tolerate change. Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance are very traditional and very slow to adopt change. Those from high uncertainty avoidance cultures do not fill comfortable with ambiguous situations.
Low- and High-Context Communication
Another important cultural dimension has to do with communication styles. Researchers have found that communication within most cultures can be classified along a low- and high-context continuum. Those from high context cultures build very solid relationships and do not need many words to explain a task or situation. Those from low-context cultures do not need much background in the relationship to share and discuss ideas. Due to a lack of context, those from low-context cultures use a lot of words to explain meaning.