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Social Media is Collectivist

By Mari D. González

Whenever I hear advice on the best use of social media to attract users, I go back to my introduction to cross-cultural communication graduate course.

In collectivist (Latin America, Arab countries, Southern Europe) as opposed to individualist (U.S., Northern Europe) cultural groups, social media is intuitive. People in collective cultures are group-oriented. Their self-identity is directly related to their group or groups of reference. They thrive by being sensitive to the group’s harmony. For members of collectivist societies, communication with one another is frequent and spontaneous. Because language is a reflection of culture, one might say that Spanish-speakers tend to be more social. Collectivist cultures as opposed to task-oriented or individualist cultures understand that in social media:

  • Broadcasting is not conversation.
  • Two-way communication is conversation.
  • People can tell who is not being genuine.
  • Unless you are a broadcaster, social media is about the quality not the quantity.
  • Conversations require three steps – listening, processing information, and responding.
  • Conversations and meaningful engagement are time consuming.
  • Time is not necessarily money and relationships take you further than money.

As an interculturalist or intercultural communications professional, my focus is on what happens when people from two different cultural groups or different enculturation, i.e., staff at U.S. companies, whose values are dominant, and Latinos communicate, assuming they are using the same language–English and/or Spanish. In essence, my interest is in studying how the speaker’s message is received and interpreted by the listener according to contextual meanings that are intrinsic to her or his early socialization.

Edited by Connie Cobb

cross-cultural consulting

Our initial conversation is an opportunity to assess your company’s needs and to understand what you wish to accomplish. After the assessment, we can advise you on the best approach to use such as employee surveys, moderated dialogue, or training sessions.

We customize our training and develop it after an initial needs-assessment consultation to understand what recurrent issues need to be resolved and what objectives managers want to accomplish. Listening is at the core of what we do. There is not a cookie-cutter approach. We facilitate a process for change and transformation with participants’ input that standard training cannot accomplish.

For more information, contact us.

Low and High: Context in Communication

Vitalworks-Hospital-CCO Public Domain

By Mari D. González

Published at DTC Perspectives on September 16, 2014

As a professional medical interpreter and a cross-cultural communication consultant, I find cultural contexts the most challenging and fascinating aspect of translating between Spanish-dominant patients and English-dominant doctors during medical interpreting assignments.

Cross-cultural communication refers to the comparing and contrasting of different communication styles based on culture. One of the basic tenets in cross-cultural communication is the influence of our personal and social identities on the way we communicate.

If we are dominant in one language—in the case of monolingual speakers—or more dominant in one language than another—in the case of Spanish-dominant or English-dominant speakers—a particular cultural programming or set of values, world view, or behavior always dominates when we converse. Harry C. Triandis observes in his article, “The Self and Social Behavior in Differing Cultural Contexts” that “People who speak different languages or live in nonadjacent locations…have different subjective cultures” (1989, p. 506). Our dominant or primary language provides an essential clue into our social upbringing and communication styles.

Spanish-dominant Latinos/Hispanics are predominantly “collectivist” and “high context” due to their group-based identity and their ability to get implied meanings in oral communication. Triandis further states, “Individualists give priority to personal goals over the goals of collectives; collectivists either make no distinctions between personal and collective goals, or if they do make such distinctions, they subordinate their personal goals to the collective goals” (p. 509).

Generally, Spanish-dominant patients lack the necessary knowledge of U.S. culture to completely understand the narrowness, linear-ness, and precision of “individualist” or “low context” communication. On the other hand, a medical provider or physician whose primary language is English may often get frustrated by the expansiveness, circular-ness and all-over-the-place “high-context” communication style of Spanish-dominant patients.

The medical interpreter, in her role as cultural broker, performs a delicate balancing act: She has to explain to doctors that the patient is giving the context for his or her answer while explaining to the patient that the doctor is looking for a precise, specific, and short answer. Impatience is the doctor’s natural reaction to a perceived overload of information. This need for exactness is crucial in the financial, accounting, and technology fields, but it is not always recommended at the doctor’s office because impatience does not help in building trust. It results in patients not asking the right questions or reporting inaccurate information due to a fear that the doctor may get upset.

People from collectivist cultures, such as Spanish-dominants, value harmony over confrontation. Harmony is an essential value if you come from a large and extended family. Maintaining harmony and balance is a requirement to keep large groups functioning. Furthermore, people from high-context societies sharply scan emotions and grasp what was not explicitly said. It does not matter if a doctor smiles at the patient while being impatient. The emotion and what he or she implied was perceived first.

To mediate this exchange of low context and high context communications, medical interpreters find themselves repeating the doctor’s linear and precise questions to patients who typically give the whole context by using stories and not answering with a yes or no or with a specific number. Most patients eventually understand that their doctors are looking for clear-cut information, but they do not always understand why the rest of the information is not as important.

Let’s not confuse a basic-to-intermediate-level of fluency in a foreign language with understanding the culture of those who speak it as their primary language. Applicants for jobs as health care providers may include fluency in Spanish, or any other second language for that matter, among their qualifications, but that may indicate nothing about their “cultural fluency.” Cultural fluency is gained through socialization or a constant association with those who speak a different language, which promotes a sense of shared comfortableness. If language fluency was acquired indirectly through media such as CDs, DVDs, books, or even through courses that are devoid of people from that culture, the cultural fluency that allows one to perceive differences in communications styles will be lacking.

Low-Context and High-Context at the Oscars

By Mari D. González

The Oscars’ controversial comment by Sean Penn when presenting Alejandro González Iñárritu is a great example on how communication between members of Low-context and High-context groups causes misinterpretation.

According to anthropologist and intercultural communication pioneer, Edward T. Hall, North European and North American macro-cultures would be defined as “Low-context” because their communication preference is characterized by explicit verbal messages. Hall further explains that in Low-context, “Effective verbal communication is expected to be direct and unambiguous.” On the other hand, societies from the rest of the world including Latin America, Asia, and Arab countries utilize “High-context” communication in which, “most of the information is part of the context or internalized in the person; very little is made explicit (Hall, as cited by de Mooij, 2014). In these countries, people are programmed to read context and meaning between words.

Low-context communication is related to an individualistic identity in which people are “I” conscious and express private opinions publicly. Conversely, in High-context or collectivist societies expressing personal opinions and disregarding group of reference’s perceptions is not recommended. There is a risk of making them feel humiliated or what Asians call “losing face.”

In collectivist cultures, personal identity is related to and not separate from that of the group of reference as in “we.” An offense to a person of that group is an offense to all members who identify with that in-group. Hence, a perceived offense to Iñárritu could be perceived as an offense to those who identify as Mexicans because their individual identity is not separate from that of the group of reference as it is for members of individualistic cultures.

Millennials’ High Context is Influencing American Values

By Mari D. González

I’m pleased to see how millennials are influencing our current society. They have acquired a broader awareness of their social and global environments than previous generations.

Millennials are more “contextual” or high context and have influenced the workplace and our current societal values. They are more in tune with their immediate social environment and with global happenings and expect people to have a sense of a global community. They care about world affairs and social causes.

These facts are relevant to cross-cultural communication because millennials are changing the emerging fabric of the American culture.  I’d attribute these changes to two factors. One is the circularity and interconnectedness that online communication offers. Secondly, a great majority of millennials come from cultures that are collectivists such as Latino and Asian.

More on this topic at Hiring Millennial: You’re Likely Missing the Point.

Latinos in the U.S.

By Mari D. González

This is a comment I shared on the Hispanic Professionals LinkedIn Group discussion titled, “Bilingualism Key to Breach the Gap.”

“The hope for the advancement of Latinos in the U.S. lies among young educated and aware Latinos/Hispanics who are the product of bilingualism for they did not grow up during the time when speaking Spanish was prohibited.

Unfortunately, before the 1970′s  Latinos or Mexican Americans were either forced to identify  with the general, macro, dominant culture–white–or to be secluded in cluster communities up to the explosion of the Chicano Movement which proclaimed the recognition of the indigenous roots of Mexican culture and empowered Mexican Americans to advance politically.  As radical as it was, the painful conscientious movement was indeed needed.

As a result, young Latinos and Latinas are enjoying one of the greatest legacies from it–bilingualism. We are also more knowledgeable of the two cultures that makes us up. We are integrated. We are expanding our awareness of our culture of origin–Latin America–by socializing online, by traveling and by being more exposed to different cultures and places.

Young Latinos and Latinas are currently graduating from college in record numbers. This can be attributed to our collectivist values, or group efforts to mentor and tutor, to expand culturally appropriate program in colleges and high schools such as Puente and above all to having a willingness of being role models to upcoming students.

That is what differentiates Latinos from whites and blacks. Latinos have a strong commitment to improve their communities. Even when succeeding Latinos might leave their neighborhoods to study or work, most return to uplift others.

Who needs JLo, Jessica de Alba, Ted Cruz, or any of those washed out Latinos. While they might be popular, they have no true influence. Influence is acquired by taking responsibility for and by making an impact on others’ lives and by uplifting human values.

Being Latino is not a label. Being Latino is a strong community commitment to help Latinos in need. Yet, we need to move away from history to create a clear vision of the future as one cultural group. We must ask ourselves, What is it that we want as a group?  Where are we moving toward? What our direction should be?”

Generalizing Hispanics

By Mari D. González

Fast and easy analysis does not always translate into accurate analysis.  The infographic below from CutCue states that “U.S. Hispanics are very proud of their heritage and never forget where they come from.” This might be true for Latinos/Hispanics across generations—more specifically Latinos/Hispanics of Mexican descent who are the majority.

However, the next statement, “They are self reliant and have a negative view about asking for help” relates more to individualistic societies. In general, Latinos/Hispanics regardless of their acculturation level tend to be on the collectivist side. So, my question is—Which segment of Latinos/Hispanics is CutCue talking about?

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