Individualistic and Collectivistic Cultures Assignment
One significant difference between individualistic and collectivistic cultures is how membe rs of the cultures save face. The term face refers to the standing or position a person has in the eyes of others, or “an individual’s claimed sense of positive image in the context of socia l interaction” (Oetzel & Ting- Toomey, 2003, p. 600). When we attempt to “save face,” we strive to maintain a positive po sition in the eyes of other people with whom we communicate or to respect the position of others. When we “lose face,” we are embarrassed or humiliated, and we believe that our po sition in the eyes of others is diminished. When a culturally individualist person’s face is thr eatened, they prefer communication from others that is direct and helps them manage the t hreat. On the other hand, collectivist people prefer that others communicate with them indi rectly in order to retain harmony (Merkin, 2015). Those from collectivist cultures are more likely to use plural possessive pronouns (e.g., “our”) rather than singular possessive pronou ns (e.g., “my”), though we are not sure whether collectivism influences language or if indivi duals are primed to use collectivist language (Na & Choi, 2009). The concept of face appears in most cultures, but it manifests itself in different ways. Interc ultural communication researchers John Oetzel and Stella Ting- Toomey (2003) have found that those in collectivistic cultures place more emphasis on the face of others. In an individualistic culture, face is often the source of one’s personal pride o
r self- respect, and saving face is a personal goal. It is one reason why one may make excuses, rati onalize, laugh, or excuse her behavior rather than admit she is wrong. For example, the first officers discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers likely were swayed by their perspec tives about face, meaning that they chose not to threaten the captain’s or air traffic controll er’s face when they made a request or offered a suggestion, even when lives were at stake. But U.S. air traffic controllers were more interested in accomplishing tasks rather than savi ng face, which the first officers could have viewed as a threat to their own face. In a collectivistic culture, face influences a person’s status in the social group or in society a s a whole, and people feel an obligation not only to save face themselves but also to help ot hers save face and not bring shame on their group (Fitzgerald, 2003). In this way, individua ls in a collectivistic culture might view their self- concept through the lens of their group or community memberships. In China’s collectivisti c culture, for instance, the Chinese word for “politeness” includes four components: respect fulness, modesty, a warm attitude, and meeting standards. In this culture, saving face mean s first respecting others by showing appreciation and admiration for them. Second, one mu st be modest, which is demonstrated by not calling attention to oneself or elevating oneself. Third, an attitude of warmth requires that people show consideration, kindness, and hospi tality to others. Finally, one must behave in ways that are appropriate and that meet society ’s standards. To meet these goals in conversation, Chinese people often present themselves in a modest or self- deprecating way and will avoid saying what they actually think if it might hurt others (Chen g, 2004).
Like low-context and high- context communication characteristics, the differences between individualistic and collecti vistic cultures exist on a continuum. There are elements of individualism and collectivism i n all cultures, but to greater or lesser degrees. For example, Germany is classified as a mode rately individualistic culture, whereas Japan is moderately collectivistic (Oetzel & Ting- Toomey, 2003). Nearly three- quarters of the world’s cultures can be described as collectivistic (Triandis, 1989).
Based on what we have discussed about the differences between individualistic and collecti vistic cultures, you probably understand how conflicts can occur when people interact with others who have different values on issues such as what is best for the group versus what i s best for the individual, being unique versus fitting in, and self- reliance versus cooperation. If you want to be a competent communicator when interacting with individuals from other cultures, you must strive to understand the social norms of pe ople from other cultural backgrounds. Figure 3.3 summarizes some differences in the chara cteristics of individualistic and collectivistic cultures that can influence communication.
Figure 3.3: Communication in individualistic versus collectivistic cultures
Similar to cultural orientations toward low or high context, a culture can have a tendency t oward individualism or collectivism. There are elements of both in all cultures, but to great er or lesser degrees.
Source: Based on information from Novinger, T. (2001). Intercultural communication: A practical guide. Austin, TX: Universit y of Texas Press
Cultural Differences and Interpersonal Communication
Narrated video covering communication differences between low-context and high- context cultures and individualistic and collectivistic cultures.