Develop Intercultural Communication Skills in Pastoral Settings
- To introduce participants to how
groups from collectivist and individualist perspectives see themselves and how
they view groups constituted differently from themselves
- To indicate how these different
perceptions affect meetings where groups from different perspectives need to
outline some of the cultural features that play into intergroup conflict and
how these features might be addressed
- Develop practical knowledge about
intercultural communications in pastoral settings.
- Increase awareness of how to
communicate effectively with persons and groups in cultures other than one's
- Use modes of communication that
are proper to the culture being addressed.
- Lead, discuss, and make decisions
using culturally appropriate processes with intercultural groups.
basic skills in conflict resolution.
This module takes the material that has been learned in the
previous modules and applies it to determine how to work with groups of
differing cultures in ministry situations. The module begins by considering how
groups look at themselves, and it then examines how groups interact, meet, and
The second half of the module introduces participants to the
intricacies of dealing with conflict in settings where the differences fall
along cultural lines.
How groups see themselves and how they interact with other groups
has two particularly important dimensions: (1) whether one's group is more
collectivist or individualist in nature and (2) what happens when a
predominantly collectivist group and a predominantly individualist group have
to interact with one another.
The Face of Groups
is the public image of a group, or how a group wants others—individuals or
groups—to see it. This involves two projects: (1) presenting our face in the
way we want others to perceive and interact with us and (2) doing what we need
to do within our own group to support that face.
Recall that collectivist cultures often have a stronger sense of
hierarchy or high-power distance. Communication is often more indirect ("high
context"). Authority and status tend to be inherited. Sanctions and rewards are
based on one's social position in the group.
Individualist cultures, on the other hand, are typically more
egalitarian and low-power distance. Communication tends to be more direct ("low
context"). Authority is to be earned rather than inherited. Sanctions and
rewards are based on individual performance rather than social position.
Whether a culture is more collectivist or individualist affects
how it regards and maintains its face. In other words, a collectivist or
individualist orientation influences how a culture behaves to present itself to
others and how it maintains itself.
Content of Face
Stella Ting-Toomey, one of the foremost
researchers in this field, has analyzed how face works in "The Matrix of Face:
An Updated Face-Negotiation Theory." According to Ting-Toomey, there are three
predominant values that shape the face of a group and are particularly
- Autonomy. My group is self-sufficient and does
not need to be tutored or guided by other groups. We do not want to be treated
as dependent children.
- Morality. My group is likeable, reliable,
approachable, and deserves to be included in activities and events. We live by
certain values that are good and important.
My group has resources, achievements, and prized values. These need to be
acknowledged and respected by other groups.
In an individualist
culture, these three contents of face apply especially to individuals. In a more
collectivist culture, they stand out in a particular way for the entire group.
Based on Face Management
As has already been noted, collectivism and hierarchy often
correlate in cultures. With that correlation comes a "high context" way of
living. In face management, that translates into more indirect modes of verbal
communication and a greater use of body language to express feelings and ideas.
In more individualist cultures, because of the likelihood of
emphasizing equality and favoring a "low context" way of living, more direct
communication tends to prevail, and body language does not play a significant
For example, people coming from individualist cultures often have
difficulty understanding when "yes" means "yes" and when "yes" means "no" in
collectivist cultures. In collectivist cultures, to say "no" to someone of
superior rank—especially in face-to-face situations—dishonors them. Thus,
people from individualist cultures need to learn the more subtle cues that
indicate whether "yes" means "yes" or whether "yes" means "no."
The use of silence is another form of communication that typically
means something different in individualist and collectivist cultures. In
individualist cultures, silence is the absence of communication or,
alternatively, implicit agreement with what is being said ("silence means
consent"). In collectivist cultures, silence can be a powerful mode of
communication. It can mean agreement, but it also can mean profound
disagreement. (See the discussion of avoidance below.) People in collectivist
cultures who have been oppressed by individualist cultures will sometimes test
the sincerity of their individualist counterparts. For example, in Native
American cultures historically oppressed by Europeans, Native Americans tend to
notice how well Europeans are able to remain silent without interrupting Native
Americans who are speaking.
Body language is also an important form of communication. In
individualist cultures, children being scolded are typically expected to
maintain eye contact with their elders as a way of showing respect and
sincerity. In many collectivist cultures, however, the exact opposite is
expected: the child being scolded is expected to look down and avoid eye
contact with their elders.
Another cultural variable is how close or how far away one stands
from the person one is speaking with. Proximity can mean either intimacy or
seriousness of intention. Distance can mean either respect or disinterest.
The same differentials hold for body contact and modes of
greeting. Rules may be different for men and for women within a culture, and
how one greets a person of the opposite sex differs among cultures.
Finally, expressions of emotion vary from culture to culture.
Giggling may be a sign of agreement or solidarity (especially around something
that is perceived as humorous) in individualist cultures, but it is frequently
a sign of nervousness in collectivist cultures. Likewise, practices such as
weeping in public may have different meanings across cultures.
Meetings with Differing Cultures
are part of parish and school life. What some people are not aware of is how
much culture can shape meeting and decision-making styles. What follows here
contrasts styles of individualist/equality/low context/long-term time
orientation with styles of collectivist/hierarchy/high context/short-term time
orientation. These are, of course, exaggerations or ideal types. However,
by using them to create a rather stark contrast, one can get a better feel for
the distinctive styles that affect meetings and decision making.
Individualist Styles of
Meeting and Decision Making
cultures that work out of a sense of equality and concern for the long term are
typically more task-oriented
when it comes to meetings. Meetings are called for a purpose, and a clear
agenda is established ahead of time. Meetings begin and end at prescribed
times. If the work of the meeting is finished early, so much the better; people
have the advantage of getting away sooner than had been expected.
There are clear rules for how to proceed in a meeting. (People often
Rules of Order.) It
is the task of the person moderating the meeting to keep participants on task
and following the rules. To allow more people to speak, sometimes a stipulated
time length for any remarks is established at the outset of the meeting.
Everyone is encouraged to speak to the issue within the timeframe
allotted. There may be a procedure for determining when there has been enough
debate. Ultimately, a vote is taken, with the majority (or other plurality)
determining the outcome.
Collectivist Styles of
Meeting and Decision Making
cultures that work out of hierarchy and demonstrate greater concern for the
short term tend to prize the maintenance of good relationships among the
participants over the completion of the task. Settling a task too quickly can
damage relationships for future meetings. While a time for beginning and ending
the meeting may be established ahead of time, the meeting cannot start until
everyone has had a chance to greet everyone else and inquire about their
families, their health, and the like. When a sense of harmony is in place, the
meeting can get under way. Meetings are preferably not ended until harmony is
again re-established. This may require some eating and drinking together.
The use of Robert's Rules of Order is considered a rather rude way of
conducting business because they do not adequately honor a group's face. Rather,
when an item of business is introduced, the elders of the respective groups must
each first address the issue before it can be opened up for debate. This
somewhat formal way of addressing the issue establishes the face of the group
in terms of autonomy, morality, and competence. Moreover, setting time limits
on elders' speaking damages face. The task of the moderator of the meeting is
to assure that the face of the various groups is honored before proceeding with
In debate, individuals will speak, but rarely will a member of a
group (especially if young) contradict directly anything the elder has said. If
a contrary point is to be made, it must be done in a way that reinforces what
the elder has said even as a slightly different point is made. Elders must be
given a chance to respond and affirm what a member has said so as to show that
what appears to be a contrary idea really is not so. In some instances, younger
members of the group are expected not to speak at all.
If the moderator wants individuals to ask questions, it is best
done by letting the groups gather to discuss the matter among themselves and
then letting each group appoint a spokesperson who will present the questions
to the larger group. Individuals often will not feel free to speak
independently of the group.
When it comes to making a decision, groups will gather with their
elders to determine how they will vote. Then the voting can take place. Often,
the most important aspect of the decision is that the group is united in
presenting its vote.
and Mutual Invitation
facilitate sharing and discussion in a diverse group, Eric Law introduced guidelines
for respectful communication as well as a mutual invitation process model in
the early 1990s in The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for
Leadership in a Multicultural Community.The processes he outlines promote true dialogue when diverse
groups encounter one another around a meeting or discussion table. The concept
of invitation empowers a person because it is a way of giving power away. Accepting
an invitation is a way to claim power. In this way, invitation becomes a
spiritual discipline for intercultural relationships.
Leadership and Response
to Complex Issues
procedures, how groups believe leadership should be exercised and the ways in
which groups think complex questions should be addressed also may fall along
these individualist and collectivist lines.
In individualist settings, leadership is often seen as enabling
individuals to bring their talents to bear on issues the community is facing.
People will be respected as good leaders if they can demonstrate competence (by
citing their training and education) and show their skills in bringing people
together to carry out necessary tasks.
In facing complex issues, a good leader is someone who can break
down an issue into discrete tasks and develop a timetable for meeting them. Skills
in planning and setting goals and objectives are especially prized.
In collectivist cultures, leaders may be chosen based on their
rank and status within the community. In such cultures, leadership is more about
trustworthiness than specific skills. People will be respected as good leaders
if they come from a family that has shown a capacity to keep a community
together and promote harmonious relationships. In facing complex tasks, the
leader who brings the community along and keeps the community together is more
important than a detailed plan. Plans may be articulated, but their purpose is
often more to impress outsiders with the competence of the group than to
provide a detailed guide of how to get to the desired end.
both meeting and leadership styles have advantages. If one starts from a task orientation,
as individualist cultures often do, satisfaction arises from getting the task
accomplished. If one begins with a relationship orientation, as collectivist
cultures often do, satisfaction arises from maintaining good relationships with
Both styles also have disadvantages. A task-oriented approach can
trample on the feelings of some of the participants. A relationship-oriented
approach can go on and on and never complete what needs to be done.
with Conflicts in the Community
are a natural part of human interaction. Conflict is not always an entirely
negative experience; sometimes very constructive things can come from resolving
a conflict. The following information shows how culture influences the way we
deal with conflict. Again, the individualist-collectivist typology will be
The perspectives of self and other are important in examining conflicts: What
do I see myself trying to do in the conflict? What do I see the other as trying
to do? It is also helpful here to refer back to the discussion of face
from the previous session. Individualist cultures are concerned principally
about individual face over the face of the group. Collectivist cultures are
more concerned with the face of the group than individual face.
the previous discussion about meetings, individualist approaches will often
frame conflict in terms of the issues at stake, although relationships may be
heavily involved. The concern in conflict is to resolve the issue. The mode of
communication is typically a direct one rather than an indirect one.
Individualist approaches may rely on a strategy of dominating the other in order to
win. In some circumstances, these approaches will adopt a policy of compromise,
with the intention of later returning to the conflict when conditions are more
favorable for winning.
approaches may frame the conflict in terms of issues, but
relationships—especially regarding group face—are always key in the strategies
involved. The concern in the conflict is to maintain good group face. Because
hierarchical patterns of organization are in place, the preferred mode of
communication is indirect rather than direct. There is a tendency to choose
strategies of avoidance
rather than risk loss of face. If avoidance is not possible, obliging
the other party will be an alternative. The conflict is then not resolved but
allowed to continue, albeit implicitly and indirectly, so that it makes
resolved relationships difficult to achieve. By refusing to re-engage the
conflict, a dispute may go on into the next generation.
According to Ting-Toomey and her colleagues, a range of behaviors
(verbal or nonverbal) are employed in conflict situations to defuse, aggravate,
repair damaged image, restore face loss, or heal broken relationships. These
behaviors are referred to as facework. A dominating facework can include defensive and
aggressive behaviors like yelling, credentialing, and a competitive
one-up/one-down strategy that push for a group's own position or objective
above and beyond the other group's position or interest. Avoiding facework emphasizes the
preservation of relationship and harmony, and it uses the following strategies:
making excuses, not directly confronting conflict, avoiding contact with the
other group, obliging or giving in to the other group, pretending to gloss over
the conflict, and seeking the help of an intermediary or third party. Integrating
facework addresses both the issue resolution and the preservation of
relationship and harmony. Some strategies that promote mutual face-saving are
remaining calm, mindful listening, apologizing, compromising, intentional
reframing, practicing collaborative dialogue, and problem solving.
a community together where individualist and collectivist approaches are in
play at the same time can be difficult. Because conflict can involve both
issues and relationships, there is a likelihood that strategies will veer back
and forth between these two foci.
In addition, contextual issues can be at stake as well. Sometimes
in immigrant and minority communities, church settings may be the only places
where a group's autonomy and competence face has a chance of being respected.
What is happening to the immigrant or minority group outside the church circle
in everyday life will constantly invade disputes within the church. This is
most evident where two groups are struggling for control in the same parish—be
it over Mass schedules, use of space, or whose saints and Madonnas will be
honored. Hence, keeping external context, issues, and relationships in mind is an important
component of successful conflict resolution.
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