12 Dimensions of Culture, #7
Expression is the seventh of the 12 Dimensions of Culture that KnowledgeWorkx uses to map out the intercultural terrain. If you haven't already, you should read our article introducing the 12 Dimensions.
Conceal vs. Reveal
Have you ever been in an intercultural situation where you found someone else’s behavior completely inappropriate? Or one where you simply couldn’t read the other person and found them cold? The Expression dimension is about how much emotion it is appropriate to show in a given context.
Whereas the Connecting dimension was all about how inclusive or exclusive your information sharing and physical space is, expression is all about how much you reveal or conceal your true emotions and the unspoken rules that govern that expression.
In a reveal-oriented culture, you find people’s true emotions easily reflected in their expressiveness, their use of their body in terms of hands and facial gesturing, and the language they use. In these cultures, it is okay to frequently reveal frustration, disappointment, anger, joy, excitement, approval, and so on because it allows for open communication. While they are quick to express emotion, people from these cultures might also be quicker to forget, let go, and move on after an emotion has been expressed.
In a conceal-oriented culture, the expression of emotion is restrained. You are taught as a child to constrain yourself, to be disciplined, to not show your anger, frustration, disgust, and so on. When an emotion is shown, that emotion is taken very seriously, especially if it is a negative emotion.
When what’s revealed isn’t what’s really going on
The degree of authenticity behind emotions is not always connected to whether a culture is more reveal or conceal oriented. For example, in a conceal-oriented Guilt/Innocence culture, someone might feign ignorance when a wrong has been committed because that is the only option left to maintain innocence. So, when someone breaks a small rule and is caught. Their first reaction might be to apologize for their ignorance and resign themselves in a subdued manner to the justice of the authority, in hopes the punishment will be milder this way.
In some reveal-oriented cultures, the emotions that are expressed are not the emotions that the person feels, but rather, the appropriate emotion to express at a given time to accommodate a relationship or a specific situation. Emotions are revealed that aren't really there; acted; played; pretend. This may be more prevalent in Honor/Shame and Power/Fear worldviews and can be seen as inconsistent, un-transparent, or even deceitful by people from a more Guilt/Innocence worldview.
Negotiations in the Arab world are a good example of where expression can be a theatre piece. To negotiate a deal you act and play, to test the other party. You act sad and see how the other party responds. Act disappointed and see how they respond. You crack a joke to deflate things, and then you put pressure on again and see how they respond. You continually experiment with emotions in the negotiating process.
Learn how to determine the correct dosage of emotion in email and life
It's important to on the one hand learn how reveal cultures work: whether there are genuine emotions or theatrically enacted emotions, and on the other hand to learn how to measure emotion and use the right dosage and appropriate expression in a concealing environment:
The unspoken rules that govern revealing and concealing emotions face to face also extend to email. Of course, the expression of emotion in email is a big challenge to begin with, but some cultures have more of a tendency to attempt it than other cultures.
In general, in an intercultural environment, positive emotions in emails are not a problem, but the best choice is to not display negative emotions over email at all. Negative emotions are better talked through face to face if possible, or, if not possible, at least over the phone.
When you’re in an intercultural situation, keep a careful watch on how you reveal your emotions, and which emotions are appropriate to reveal in a given situation.
To begin your culture learning journey, Contact us or get our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.
This is just one piece of KnowledgeWorkx' core framework. View the whole framework here.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.