Have you met someone for the first time and found their behavior cold and distant? Perhaps they seemed non-communicative and you simply couldn’t read them. Today we're talking about the dimension of Expression; how much emotion is appropriate to show in a given context.
Last week we saw that Connecting is all about how inclusive or exclusive you are in sharing information and your interpersonal space. Expression, on the other hand, is all about how much you Reveal or Conceal emotions and the unspoken rules that govern that expression.
In a reveal-oriented culture you find people’s emotions reflected in their expressiveness, their use of their body language through gestures and facial expressions, and what they say about themselves. In these cultures, it is okay to frequently reveal frustration, disappointment, anger, excitement, and approval. While people are quick to express emotion, they may also be quick to let go, forget, 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 restrain yourself, to be disciplined, to not show your anger, frustration and disgust. 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
While this dimension seems fairly straightforward, not all expressions of emotion are the same. Emotion can be used in very different ways. In some cases, the emotions that are expressed are not the emotions a person feels, but rather, the emotions they feel are appropriate to express. The choice of what to express at a given time depends on what is needed to accommodate a relationship or a specific situation.
This role-playing approach to expression is more prevalent in Honor/Shame and Power/Fear cultures. It can seem inconsistent, un-transparent, or even deceitful to people from a more Innocence/Guilt worldview. Read about the Three Colors of Worldview if you are not familiar with these terms.
Someone from an Innocence/Guilt, individual accountability, directed destiny background is likely to stick with expressing emotions they are actually feeling – “being authentic”. Someone from an Honor/Shame or Power/Fear, community accountability background, however, will often express emotions that preserve or add to Honor and Power, or serve the community, rather than what is actually felt by the individual.
Negotiations in the Arab world are a good example of where expression can be a theater 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 the pressure on again and see how they respond. You continually experiment with emotions in the negotiating process.
In reveal-oriented cultures it is important to learn to distinguish between genuine emotions and theatrical ones. In more conceal-oriented environments, it is important to learn how to measure emotion and use the appropriate amount for a given context.
The unspoken rules that govern revealing and concealing emotions also extend to email. Conveying 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 in email at all. Negative emotions are better talked through face to face. Or, if that's not possible, at least over the phone.
When in an intercultural situation, keep a careful watch on how you reveal your emotions, and try to get a feel for which emotions are appropriate to reveal in a given situation.
* This article originally shared by knowledgeWorkx