4.11: Definition of Space

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Definition of Communication
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Definition of Power

 

Physical Space

The use and meaning of physical space represent an important, but too often neglected, aspect of cultures.

1. Definition

Private
There is a strong sense of personal space and clear borders and boundaries between one space and another. Ownership of space is important. Doors are there to be closed and it is appropriate to knock before entering.

Public
The boundaries between personal and public spaces are weaker and more flexible. Space is shared rather than owned. Doors are there to be kept open and access is free.

2. Implications

Private
– Closed door meetings.
– Private offices and partitions.
– Minimal interruptions and disruption.
– Permission is needed to enter private spaces.

Public
– Large rooms, few if any partitions.
– Managers mixed in with staff.

Activity
Where would you position your culture on this spectrum? Do you know where to position other cultures? How could you find out where other cultures are positioned? (Keep in mind that these determinations are generalizations, there are significant variations within cultures based on subcultures, countercultures and divergent individual preferences.)

Click here to see the answer.


Communication Space

Cultures

Communication space can be likened to fruit. A coconut is very difficult to open, however once opened it has a tender flesh. A peach is easy to squeeze and open, yet it is difficult to extract the stone. The watermelon is in-between. It has a sweet, red, juicy pulp without a cone at the center.

1. Definition

Peaches (i.e. USA, Latin America)
Very open and friendly at first site. Willing to share personal information, it usually is easy to engage them in conversation. However, once you’ve gotten to know each other, they may be reluctant to self-disclose and reveal their real inner self (private information). Will tend to adapt to the situation in terms of their mood and demeanor. Peaches may think that coconuts are cold and boring while watermelons are complicated.

Watermelons (i.e. Vietnam and China)
Open toward others but a bit reserved. Strongly oriented toward living in harmony with others and willing to listen to others. Practice modesty and humility and define themselves through their attachment to groups. Hence, they may struggle to disclose private information even though they are patient and willing to listen. Typically adopt a “pokerface” or smile with strangers. May think that peaches are fake and coconuts are selfish.

Coconuts (i.e. Central Europe, Scandinavia, Russia)
Tend to be more distant with strangers. Dislike to talk extensively about ordinary things (small talk). Building a relationship takes time but they prefer to self-disclose extensively once they have reached a certain level of comfort. Struggle to put on a face in social situations. Want to be the way they are. May think that peaches are superficial and watermelons are complicated.

2. Implications

Peaches
– Can easily get into a conversation.
– Tend to adapt their mood and demeanor to the situation and are generally positive and outgoing in their demeanor.
– Struggle to self-disclose private matters and the inner self.
– Easy to socialize and hang out with strangers. Like to have a very broad social network and to get to know many different people.

Watermelons
– Can easily converse but prefer to maintain some distance with strangers.
– Will adapt their demeanor to the situation to make others feel comfortable (put on a “face”).
– Will patiently listen to others but will not easily disclose their inner self and “ego” to others. The most important thing is to maintain face.
– Sociable but don’t seek the company of strangers. Like to know many people but have a few close friends. Relationships are mostly based on kinship.

Coconuts
– Tend to keep some distance with strangers and don’t like small talk.
– Want to be “authentic” and may find it difficult to put up a smile or face in social situations if they don’t feel good at the time.
– Prefer to have conversations about more substantial matters and talk about their inner self. Don’t like to spend time with people talking about things they don’t consider consequential.
– Tend to prefer to have a few close friends rather than knowing many persons superficially. Unless it is required for work or other purposes, they won’t necessarily seek to meet new people.

 

How Public / Private Communication Space May Collide

 

Americans (Specific)
Germans (Diffuse)


• tolerant of conflict

• different roles are to be played in different situations

• look for concrete and pragmatic levels for solutions

• demand precision in communication

• need harmony in specific situations

• are regarded from outside to be superficial in their character

• talk about personal things only with select persons in specific situations

• intolerant of conflict

• there is no role to be played, the identity has to be fulfilled

• looks for abstract and general levels for solutions

• the ability to generalize in communication is appreciated

• need harmony in general

• are regarded from outside to be deep in their character

• actively look for opportunities to talk about personal things in many situations

The Danger Zone…
…is reached, when a person with a specific orientation in their private / public space meets a person with a diffuse pattern:

When A interacts with B:
A is assuming that his direct and strong comments / criticism is only reaching the public and not the private zone of B. Result: B will be offended, because she takes criticism personally. This, in turn, will not be understood by A.

When B is invited to the house of A, she may think that this entitles her to a close friendship. This is not the case, because the house of A is a public zone and A will be irritated, if B starts to behave like an old friend.

When B interacts with A:
B is assuming that she entered the private zone of A and will not understand, that A is not paying attention to their ”friendship” when he is town and does not call B.

When B invites A, B divulges a lot of personal information about the family and her way of life, which will create expectations on the side of B to receive the same depth of information from A. This may not happen and irritate A and disappoint B.

When they leave, B will think that A must be superficial and A may think that B must be deep and emotionally in need of friendship.

Activity
Where would you position your culture on this spectrum (peach – watermelon – coconut)? Do you know where to position other cultures? How could you find out where other cultures are positioned? (Keep in mind that these determinations are generalizations, there are significant variations within cultures based on subcultures, countercultures and divergent individual preferences.)

Click here to see the answer.

 

< Back to 4.10
Definition of Communication
        Next to 4.12 >
Definition of Power