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  • Writer's pictureStacy Taylor, LCSW

Are You Having a Culture Clash?

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Jan and Alana were a couple I knew who argued frequently. When Alana directly stated her needs, Jan found this off putting. And Alana complained that Jan often beat around the bush and wasn't straightforward about preferences.

There were a number of reasons for the clashes. But one real factor was different cultures. Alana was from an Italian-American family in the East Coast where people spoke their minds. Jan grew up in an Asian country, where direct communication was frowned upon. Consequently, they were each annoying each other through their styles of communication, although they weren't trying to.

Some issues between people are culture clashes, as they were with Jan and Alana. But the clash doesn't have to just be between those from different countries. There can even be culture clashes between those who live in different regions of a country.

For instance, in the US, a person who grew up in the South may communicate differently than someone from New York. In a similar way, a person from the Midwest may have different expectations around communication than someone from California.

If someone tends to be direct, this behavior could be offensive to someone who considers directness rude. But if a person prefers directness, another person being indirect could appear passive-aggressive or avoidant. And yet each person is just doing what was appropriate within their culture.

If you are having difficulty with another person, you may want to consider whether culture is playing a role. And ask yourself: what did you learn about communication from your culture and from where you grew up? Did you learn to be forthright and direct? Or did you learn to express indirectly what you are feeling and needing?

If culture may be playing a role, there is much that you can do. You can try to become more "culturally competent," that is, educating yourself about the norms in different cultures. Perhaps you and the other person can talk about the differences and share about each of your culture's expectations. Through doing this, there may be greater understanding and fewer arguments.

(Note: any reference to a person in this blog, or any blog, is not of a real person, but a composite.)

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