Cross Cultural Theory: Expressing your Emotions across Cultures

Matthew MacLachlan

15 Jul 2010

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt your business counterparts were holding something back from you? Or perhaps you’ve been in a meeting and not been able to tell how your colleagues feel about your proposals? Conversely, have you ever found yourself feeling that your international counterparts should learn to keep to themselves and control their emotions?

The extent to which people express their emotions can often be described using the terms affective andneutral. People from affective cultures tend to express their feelings and emotions openly whereas people from neutral cultures usually try to hide their thoughts and feelings. One of Fons Trompenaars’ seven cultural dimensions, these two opposing concepts can help us to understand behaviours and reactions to situations so that we avoid making false interpretations or judgments about others when working across cultures.

When doing business in Brazil or living and working in Italy, both affective cultures, you may find that your counterparts show their reactions immediately and directly through verbal and non-verbal channels such as increasing the level of their voice, using gestures or making more physical contact. However, if you are from a neutral culture like the US or Finland, this may make you feel uncomfortable and sometimes even aggressed. Meanwhile, your Brazilian or Italian counterparts may find your lack of outward expression of feelings confusing and might perceive you as being cold and reserved.

When working across cultures it’s important to be able to recognise how the display of emotions or lack thereof can impact relationships and cross-cultural communication. Failing to understand how your business counterparts express themselves can result in major misunderstandings or misjudgement.

Participating in a cross cultural awareness training courselike Doing Business in Brazil or Living and Working in Italy, you can learn not only how to correctly interpret your international counterparts but also how to control your own reaction to it.

 



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