Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

cultural value orientations communicating across cultures

CQ Communication & Decision-making Cultural Value Orientations

Introduction:

In this second blog post discussing the ten cultural value orientations of Cultural Intelligence (CQ)1Go to https://senduwiki.org/_media/summary_of_the_10_cultural_value_orientations_in_the_cq_assessment.docx to see a summary of all 10 CQ cultural value orientations., I will focus on the values related to communication and decision-making. It is important for the cross-cultural worker to understand these different values in order to avoid misunderstanding and offense. In order to help you, I offer an example in each value orientation pair. I’m sure you can come up with examples from your ministry context.

Again, I’ve included a discussion question after each summary of the three identity related cultural value orientations. Please share your comments. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Low-Context/Direct and High-Context/Indirect:

Communication styles differ in important ways between low-context and high-context cultures. In low-context settings, the relationship between people is a small factor in many conversations. For instance, the length of the line at a checkout counter is more important than the relationship one has with the cashier when deciding where to line up. People speak directly and frankly, and value clarity in others. Meeting agendas in low-context settings are usually brief and to the point. The chairperson who moves the discussion along quickly to reach decisions is admired.

On the other hand, for communication in high-context cultures, the relationship is primary. The relationship is refreshed and celebrated before any business is discussed. Conversation is more indirect. An intermediary who has a relationship with both parties may be employed in difficult conversations to reach an agreement. The implicit meaning of the communication will be discerned based on the relationship. Saving face is an important value in most high-context cultures.

Making a gospel presentation on the first contact might be acceptable in a low-context setting. But this would seem rude and inappropriate in a high-context culture. For people in this cultural context, a serious topic like the gospel requires a deeper relationship than a casual encounter on the street. If you are from a low-context culture, you need to develop an appreciation for the need to develop a relationship before presenting the gospel.

Yet we need to avoid letting the relationship preclude sharing the gospel. Friendship evangelism must get to evangelism or it is only friendship. We cross cultures and develop friendships in order to introduce them to the greatest friend, Jesus Christ.

In what ways have you had to adjust your communication style in this value spectrum?

Neutral/Non-Expressive and Affective/Expressive:

Emotional expression is the focus of this cultural value orientation. One end of the spectrum generally refrains from openly expressing emotions while the opposite values open expression of emotions. In contrast, the neutral/non-expressive side of the spectrum desires communication guided by reason and views emotion as a sign of weakness. The effective/expressive end sees emotion as affirming and strengthening the reasoning of communication.

Adjusting to different emotional expression orientations is difficult. Personality may be as much of a factor as culture in these differences. Too much or too little emotional expression can lead to significant misunderstanding. Careful observation of local emotional expression will help us modify our expressiveness. We need to be careful that we don’t come across as mimicking and mocking.

How can we adjust our emotional expressiveness without appearing phony?

Low Power Distance and High Power Distance

Power distance is a cultural value orientation regarding decision-making and leadership. In low-power-distance contexts, there is an emphasis on collaboration where everyone has input and participates in the decision-making process. Often in these cultures, people call everyone in the organization by their first names and avoid using titles.

In contrast, high-power-distance cultures are very conscious of titles and status. For them, age, experience, education, and family connections are important factors in leadership. Those with superior status in these areas are the decision-makers.

Generally, North Americans of my generation (I graduated from High School in 1969) are more at home with low power distance than high power distance. Yet vocational experience and local cultures can make a difference. When I was president of Alaska Bible College, a student (who was my age) enrolled after retiring from the Coast Guard. While many students called me by my first name, he was never able to do so. He always addressed me by my title. You see, the Coast Guard culture was very high-power-distance oriented. This illustrates the fact that we will sometimes find different orientations in the same location and will need to develop sensitivity and flexibility in relating to these variations. Publicly we will need to adapt to the dominant orientation of our ministry setting.

Does Jesus’s teaching on servant leadership favor the low-power-distance orientation? I don’t think so. Certainly, sinful attitudes such as pride and arrogance can accompany high-power-distance. Servant leadership is still leadership and you can exercise this type of leadership in both high- and low-power-distance contexts. Although Jesus was clearly a servant, he was still Lord and Teacher (John 13:12-17). All cultural value orientations can demonstrate godly values and all them can and will be affected by human sin.

How can we teach/model servant leadership in high-power-distance cultures?

Universalism and Particularism:

This pair of cultural value orientations describes how people apply standards in different situations. Universalism-oriented cultures apply the same standard to everyone regardless of circumstances or relationships. In contrast, cultures that are on the particularism side will apply standards differently, depending on relationships or circumstances. Those who apply the same standard will change those who apply different standards with favoritism or nepotism. The reverse charge would be insensitivity and harshness.

Conflicts in a mission setting can develop across these value orientations. For example, Western missionaries are often uncomfortable when a national pastor hires his son as an associate or successor. We need to acknowledge that this happens in North America as well. While we should encourage spiritual growth and biblical qualifications for leadership, we also need to recognize the value of building a pastoral team composed of those we know and trust.

What are some strategies that you have found helpful for coping when standards are applied differently?

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2 Comments

  1. Very insightful explanation of differences to be aware of as we relate with other cultures, or even any other individual. Too often we make assumptions and judgments of others that are false.

    What came to mind for me was the Word’s teaching on wisdom, relationships, and character. The principles of listening, being few in words, love/care for people, humility, gentleness, respect, forgiveness, etc. seem foundational to communicating through these cultural barriers.

    • Gary Ridley Sr

      Derrick, thanks for your comment. Yes, Scripture’s teaching on wisdom, relationships, and character are foundational in cross-cultural ministry!

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