Monday, January 30, 2012

The art of culture: Communication

In class we were discussing how what you do (and don't do) by means of gathering information in your field research will blatantly affect what information you come out of your field study with.  This is particularly pertinent to my project since what I think it means to be American will directly impact how I interpret the experiences of other Americans abroad.  Whether this has something to do with who I converse with, what books I read, what I interpret to be significant (or not significant), or whether it has to do with looking at African-American expatriates through a Anglo-American lens.

But just because you aren't like the people you study, and just because your field information will be skewed because of who you are doesn't mean you shouldn't do the research.  Though, I do think that it might be helpful to get a better handle on what I think it means to be an American so I can put it aside and reassess American-ness through someone else's perspective.

There are ten elements of culture we discussed today, and the first I want to discuss is Communication.  As I work in the Field Study office, I was going through some of Malcolm's files and found a worksheet, "Contrast Your Communication Styles with Host Nationals."  I don't know about my Host Culture's communication styles yet, so I won't guess.  What I will do is compare mine to my Home Country, which the worksheet also facilitates.

Direct/Indirect Communication

Me: First, I think I'm a low-context communicator about 95% of the time.  I use direct communication: what I say is what I mean, I do not beat around the bush.  I'm not manipulative or passive aggressive when communicating with others.  It doesn't help me, so I don't do it.  And though I can often read what other people want when they communicate with me, unless they use direct communication, I rarely--if ever--humor/indulge them with an answer.  I dislike acting on others' indirect communication because it is so often used against you if you should misinterpret.  Because I am not easily offended, this doesn't usually end up hurting me if they should decide to tell me what they want in a more direct manner later on.

Home: In class today it was said that Americans tend to be more or less "direct" communicators (i.e. low-context communicators).  You can take most of what Americans say at face value and just believe them.  I agree about this in comparison to many other cultures, however, I think that if you want to cut it a different way, women tend to be thought of as 'indirect communicators' while men tend to be thought of as 'direct communicators.'  Also, perhaps privileged Anglo-Americans feel more comfortable being direct communicators while less privileged-class Americans tend to be indirect communicators.  I believe this because I believe that indirect communication is a consequence of not being allowed/permitted/accepted as direct communicators.

Linear/Circular Communication

Me: I'd say it depends on the point I'm trying to get across, that I am both linear and circular.  I say what I need to say often, but I am willing to have a circular conversation, and most conversations for the sake of conversation end up being circular in my book.  Also, as I tell stories, circular motion is often the only way to go, but I reserve this for written stories, as most people's attention spans are two short-lived for circular story telling.

Home: It varies from person to person.  I don't know that you can say an American communicates linearly or circularly.  I'd say that like me, most people in my home country fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, using each when it is most applicable or appropriate.

Detached/Attached Communication

Me: This is a real issue for me as I am both, and I think this is why my form of communication really 1.) confuses people, 2.) is often misread/misunderstood, 3.) is responded to negatively.  Detached communication, "issues are discussed with calmness and objectivity.  Emotion is kept at a minimum, and objectivity is preferred over subjectivity.  People who use detached communication may feel that they are just being rational and fair."  Attached: "issues are discussed with a high level of emotion and feeling.  People communicating this way think they are showing sincerity or personal concern for the topic and the person with whom they are interacting."  Now, what I do: I am usually detached from my topic.  I am very objective, so I will present a side of a conversation without knowing if I fully believe it.  I almost always feel very calm and objective when conversing with others.  HOWEVER, I discuss everything with lots of passion.  I therefore come across as being factual and opinionated.  Because I express my 'argument' with passion, people expect it is my personal opinion, and so have a difficult time arguing against it for fear of offending me.  Because I remain unaffiliated with most conversation topics (in my mind), almost always feel I am being rational and fair by presenting a side of the issue--whether I believe it or not--while others interpret my passion as perhaps decided and unchangeable.  Because these two modes of communication are usually considered contrary, I am very often misunderstood as disagreeing with someone when in actuality I was agreeing with them.  I get many negative reactions to things I am saying because people interpret my indirect communication incorrectly rather than listen to the words I am actually saying.  Confusing enough?  Yes, that's what I've been told.

Home: I think people tend to be one or the other.  I have a hard time with people who show little-to-no passion about anything.  But I can see how my form of communication could get extremely confusing.  I think women, homes, or religious institutions tend to communicate in an 'attached' manner.  Though, to be fair, people who tend towards feeling or emotion are more 'attached' communicators.  However, there is a good potion of our culture that prides itself in and expects detached communication.  You find this in the work place, or in the education system.  There are certain places where either/or are expected or appropriate within our culture.


Me: I am 100% an idea-oriented communicator.  "In this form of communication, disagreement with ideas is stated directly, with the assumption that only the idea, not the person from whom the idea came, is being attacked."  However, I am very aware that others are relationship-oriented where "disagreeing with an idea is viewed the same as disagreeing with the person who originated it.  Intellectual disagreement in particular is handled more subtly and indirectly.  This communication style emphasizes interpersonal harmony and strives to maintain the relationship between people."  I consider idea-oriented communication the ability to "play" with ideas, to flesh them out, to beat them down, to roll them out and stretch them, and see what they can go through in order to decide if it's something I believe.  Others become very frustrated by this tendency I have because they think I am attacking them, which is never ever the case.  Others, when they argue with me about one of my ideas, interpret my response as offended, when really it's just the here-to-fore discussed 'passion.'  This is my biggest communication problem with my family as I play with ideas, while treating the relationship unaffiliated with the ideas.  My family rarely feels this way, and often thinks I am attacking their opinion.

Home: I think most people are relationship-oriented by socialization.  I don't know how I missed the boat.  I think it's less okay to be unable to be idea-oriented in a collaborative work environment though you always have the person in your work group who is unable to take idea-criticism and therefore is always offended by one thing or another.  Realizing that most are relationship-oriented makes me feel very boxed-in and caged, as I have to think and re-think the way I present a thought I have so not to offend anyone which usually skews the correct and clear communication of the idea itself.  However, when I try to by myself and state an idea the way I think it, I am not usually met with acceptance.  I think in desire to maintain relationships people have with others through this type of communication no one really ends up being themselves, but a person with layers and layers of filters.  I have yet to find a good thing about this, though I know there should be.  (I'll give it more thought.)

Signing off for now, to continue to think about communication styles.

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