Similar to interaction scenes, self-disclosure relates to what people feel comfortable talking about in social scenes. The amount of personal information such as experiences and thoughts is self-disclosure. How much we disclose is related to the breadth, depth, valence, timing and targets. Each category helps explain different culture’s amount of self-disclosure.

Breadth. This refers to the range of topics that are revealed. Americans tend to reveal and disclose many more topics about their health and personality to strangers than most other cultures. The Japanese for instance are very reserved in the self-related topics they would discuss with others. Ghana self-discloses information about family and background.

Depth. The depth is related to the degree of personal information that is disclosed. Superficial topics may be about the kind of food or music you like, while something much more personal is private thoughts and feelings. Americans consistently are the most revealing in self-disclosure. Northern European countries and Asian cultures leave out most private thoughts from conversations.

Valance. This is the positive or negative aspect of the information self-disclosed. Again, Americans like to disclose more negative information than most cultures. Asian cultures are very concerned with face, so negative information is never disclosed.

Timing. The time period within a relationship that it takes us to self-disclose. You can probably can guess that Americans self-disclose rather quickly in new relationships. We talk about our name, hometown, job, school and general interests. Native Americans actually withhold much information initially because it is inappropriate to reveal too much information. Asian cultures are similar in not disclosing much personal information until the relationship grows.

Targets. This is the person to whom we are self-disclosing information. Usually, Americans self-disclose the most information to their spouse. In some cultures, such as in Nigeria, age determines to whom and what to self-disclose. This is typically the case in cultures with high power distance.

As an American, it is important to realize that to most other culture, we like to blurt out as much about our personal lives to anyone that will listen. I constantly ask myself why half of my Facebook friends find the need to post such personal information in their statuses. If I find these things absurd then cultures where self-disclosure is much more reserved will find it offensive and inappropriate. Do you ever feel uncomfortable with the amount of self-disclosure, or maybe lack of self-disclosure, within your own culture?


Interaction Scenes

An interaction scene is essentially reoccuring topics that are acceptable in social conversations. Now, you can imagine how these topics vary by culture. American culture finds it acceptable and common to ask about the family and work. At dinner parties it is expected that people will talk about their work. In France, on the other hand, you never talk about work at a dinner party. Kathy Kellerman explains normal social interaction scene between Americans.

Now, you can see that in number 2, we jump right to talking about health. This may only include, “How are you doing?” but in some cultures they might take this as asking too much about your personal life. Notice in number 3, we give a reason for our presence. While this may seem funny, most Americans can attest that when you run into someone at the store you might say, “Hi Jane, what are you doing here?” It seems almost silly since they are obviously shopping just like yourself, but we commonly say things like that.

The most accurate, and to me most comical section is 6 and 7. As we are trying to wrap up conversations, we always follow certain guidelines you may never have thought of. The evaluation of the encounter would be, “It was so great catching up with you!” Next, we try to make future plans such as, “Let’s grab coffee sometime.” We tend to want to compliment people they leave by giving them a positive evaluation like, “Well Sally, you look great.” I think the last ones can be interchanged because we tend to combine, until later and reason for terminating. “Well, I have to get to class but I’ll talk to you soon. Bye!”

Looking at this chart, it is quite funny to picture a normal conversation, and this is quite accurate. Americans tend follow this pattern in most of their social interaction scenes. Realizing our interaction patterns, and taking a step back to examine them, can shed light on some peculiar social rules Americans follow. It is easy to see how people from other cultures may think our interaction scenes are strange.

Thinking specifically about things that are okay to discuss with Americans, if you brought some of these subjects up in other countries it would be extremely offensive. In Arabic countries, you should never ask about relationship status or about another person’s family. Health may be a touchy topic for some. Making plans to meet at a later date is generally something we say out of niceties, not seriously. When you make plans in other cultures to meet, it means that you will meet with that person. It is important to take a step back and think about your own culture and how social actions might appear to others. Can you think of anything other topics or interaction scenes that might seem strange to different cultures?

Universals in Nonverbal Communication

The statement that there are some universals in nonverbal communication is preposterous, right? My entire blog, Cultural Connections, is built on the fact that the world is a diverse place and intercultural communication varies by culture. This is true, there are so many factors that dictate how people around the world communicate verbally and nonverbally. Cultural universals might be a bit of a stretch, so even though categorized as universals, I like to think of them more as general similarities.

Charles Darwin wrote a book called The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, which outlines six basic emotional expressions shared around the globe. Humans, no matter what culture, showed the same general expression for happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust and anger. We tend to think that everything varies by culture, so maybe something to express disgust would be what someone in another culture expresses as happiness. Think about this in loose terms, it does make sense. Most people assume that a smile means someone is happy, and a furrowed brow means anger.

Michael Argyle found five different nonverbal communicators to be universal. First, all cultures use the same body parts for nonverbal communication. Second, nonverbal communication is used to convey the same information such as emotions or norms. Third, motives for using nonverbal communication is similar across cultures. Fourth, nonverbal communication is used in art and rituals accompanied with verbal communication. Fifth, nonverbal communication is used to coordinate contexts within relationships. Now, these again don’t seem so much as universals, but rather similarities. These are very broad situations in which it is understandable that cultures use nonverbal communication. His research was not very specific on the actual nonverbals, only the situations they are used.

There are many criticisms regarding the idea of cultural universals in nonverbal communication. A recent article by the Huffington Post explains a study that challenges the idea that facial expressions are universal, as Darwin had claimed. I hold true to believing that there are not quite cultural universals out there, but rather strong similarities for all humans nonverbal communication. Do you agree? Or do you think there are actual universals?

8 Reasons Why Companies Should Export

My last post explained the reasons why companies stay domestic. The domestic market is sometimes challenging enough, or maybe there just isn’t the time or expertise to create and execute an export plan. Some companies are worried about the risk, so why should you export? Going global is a big step, but can be worth it! Here are 8 reasons why you should export:

1. Exporting broadens the marketing base.

2. It’s a great way to extend the life of a product.

3. You want to establish a presence in the international market.

4. Competitors have gone international so you need to go international to stay competitive.

5. Extra inventory that isn’t selling in your domestic market can earn a profit in the international market.

6. It can enhance your companies image to be seen as more progressive.

7. Exporting can help protect your company against domestic market swings and business cycles.

8. Penetrating trade barriers can help enter markets you wouldn’t be able to enter otherwise.

Do any of these sound like reasons why you want to export? Going international is a great next step for many companies. If you are still a little hesitant or think you can’t handle exporting alone, there are organizations that can help! The U.S. Small Business Administration has many resources to help those small businesses export. They offer loans, grants, help with contracting and training. For bigger businesses, or information on exporting opportunities and solutions, check out The International Trade Administration has great programs and market data and analysis available for your use. For general country information on geography, society, government, economy, communication, transportation and military, go to the CIA World Factbook. Take advantage of these great resources to go global and export! Are there any other websites you like to use to do market or country research?

8 Reasons Why Companies Stay Domestic

I am an avid supporter of going global. You may have noticed this from my blog content. While it may be difficult, it can bring many benefits to any organization. So, why do companies stay domestic? There are many reasons that companies decide not to go global. Here are some common thoughts:

1. We are doing great in our home market! There is no reason to go global.

2. Our company is struggling with the domestic market, there is no way we can take on anything else.

3. We are a small business and don’t have the resources to go global.

4. We don’t have the time, or expertise, to establish an exporting plan.

5. Our company is struggling to compete in the domestic market, we can’t focus on international markets.

6. Trade barriers are difficult to overcome in many countries and it is too much of a headache.

7. We can’t handle the risk and uncertainties. It is too unfamiliar.

8. It is too expensive to do market research and get the information we need to make decisions.

Does this sound familiar to you? Maybe your company relates to many of these concerns. These are common reasons why companies stay at home. Going global is scary, and it can involve risks. Sometimes, you just don’t know where to start and the task seems extremely daunting. This is understandable. As I previously explained, there are four requirements for exporting. Your company needs a strong commitment, lots of research, stay organized and remain flexible.

Exporting is a huge commitment, and your company may relate to these fears.My next post will cover why you should export and how to conquer these fears. Comment and let me know if you have any other fears I did not mention and I will address them in my next post!

Keeping Face

In many cultures, such as Asian and Arabic, there is an important concept called keeping face. This means that in social situations, it is important for each person to maintain respect and dignity from those they are interacting with. Keeping face can be thought of as three things. It is first and foremost social, because you want others to respect you and think highly of you. Second, face is an impression that someone makes about you. It doesn’t matter what their real impressions are, as long as you are treated and treat people with respect. Finally,face only refers to favorable social attributes. Similar to the impression, regardless of what you actually think of someone, they are owed respect and dignity.

Keeping face is all about needs that we have. One of the needs is admiration. As human beings, we have a need to be acknowledged and have our accomplishments and talents admired. In this respect, it is important to acknowledge someone’s status, success, accomplishments,reputation and capabilities. This is why status is so important in many Asian cultures. The Japanese especially take care when examining business cards upon meeting to note status and also to show pride in their own status.

Another need for keeping face is control. Being able to stay in control of your emotions and reactions shows personal authority. It is important to recognize self-sufficiency and independence. It requires a certain level of maturity and composure too keep emotions intact. Conquering your emotions means that you have freedom from your own actions, and can control your emotions and keep face.

The final need for keeping face is approval. These cultures are very concerned with being accepted and being part of an in-group. Approval rides on the integrity of moral character. If someone’s moral character is tarnished, it is impossible for someone to function within that in-group. Obtaining approval relates back to the need to be treated with respect and dignity.

Be aware of the concept of “keeping face” in certain cultures. You could extremely hinder business deals by causing someone to lose face or publicly humiliate them. Keeping face relates back to needing admiration, control and approval, so try to work on these three aspects of face. Have you ever accidentally caused a business counter part to lose face in a culture where that is not acceptable?

Negotiating Across Cultures

Negotiations are a huge part of business. It is a core activity for doing business anywhere and going international makes it even more complex. Making deals across boarders adds many new factors to consider during negotiations. Cultures vary on the preferred pace of negotiations, relationships and status of people involved, time sensitivity, risk taking, collectivism, emotionalism and the level of formality. Here are five countries to give an idea of how negotiations can differ.

1. Finland prefers direct communication. They like to get to the point and are serious. Meetings should start on time and there is generally no small talk. Finns don’t use their emotions to make business decisions so it is better to use objective facts over subjective feelings. Individuals are expected to make decisions so there does not have to be a consensus.

2. India puts a heavy emphasis on relationships. While the meetings will be formal and structured, Indians are always very friendly during negotiations. They find it rude to say “No”, so be polite and evasive with refusals. India is a polychronic culture, so negotiations will be lengthy. There is no hurry! Keep in mind that feelings are much more persuasive than facts. Indians are likely to take risks but decisions are made within the top of the company.

3. Mexico also want to build long term relationships with business partners. Negotiations are friendly and leisurely, but indirect. It is rude to say “No” outright. Mexicans are swayed by emotions rather than logic. Decisions will be a consensus made by a few people with the highest status.

4. Turkey also appreciates relationships and insists on building them before negotiations. The process is slow and expect a lot of small talk. It is important to be polite and respectful when doing business with Turks. They are not opposed to taking risks if you make a good argument based on feelings and emotions rather than facts.

5. United States like to build relationships quickly with brief small talk, and then move on to negotiations. Americans are very informal and prefer to be direct. Negotiations are very fast paced because Americans prefer decisions and solutions to be made quick. Decisions and arguments should be made with facts rather than feelings. Negotiation teams are made up of those most qualified so anyone with sufficient knowledge can make a decision.

These are only five countries to give an example of how negotiations differ by culture. Since negotiating is a large part of international business, make sure to know how negotiating is different in the country you are doing business in. Please share any other cultural differences you have encountered during negotiations!