“Dear Guillaume, in my experience perceptions of “assertiveness” are extremely culturally relative and, thus, should be handled carefully. After working for years in East Asia, for example, my “proud and powerful” presentation stye was perceived by non-Asians as insecure, lacking in confidence and self esteem—which it was most certainly was not. I would add a caution that people not to jump to conclusions about someone’s self esteem due to perceptions of assertiveness. When we speak up, how, with what body language, are closely linked to respect values, harmony and truth values, collectivism and individualism values, as well as assertiveness. Thanks!”
Dear Dianne, as i was saying in my reply to your comment, I cannot agree more. Culture definitely has a huge impact on how people perceive assertive behaviors, body language and words used. So culture impacts HOW we can be assertive, but, in my opinion (and this might be the universalist frenchman and egalitarian blended culture person in me talking) not WHY we decide to be assertive or not.
If assertiveness is a consequence of the individual’s belief that his/her opinion, ideas, contribution is potentially as valuable as anyone else’s, assertiveness is personal thing. If we link this back to Geert Hofstede‘s 3 Levels of Mental Programming, culture will create expectations towards what is acceptable assertive behavior but personality is where assertive behavior happens , or not.
As Dianne so rightly says, there are different cultural values that can impact how we can be assertive across cultures and the level of tolerance that certain cultural groups might have towards assertive behavior.
Individualistic cultures tend to give a lot of value to assertiveness. I remember my father telling me when i was a teenager: “If you need/want something, say so, otherwise nobody will do it for you.” This does not mean that cultures with collectivistic values do not tolerate assertiveness but any expression of personal need that is not also linked to to the well-being of the group might be perceived as arrogant, especially if the the pronoun “I” is used too often.
Body language and communication style also playa big role in the perception of assertiveness across cultures, especially in high power distance ones. When I first started working in India I could feel that my habit of giving eye contact equally to anyone when greeting and speaking with them was often perceived as threatening and disrespectful by some of my more traditional bosses. What I have learned to do is to make my point in a less direct way and also by playing down eye contact and my hand gestures. The cultural expectations of the environment I was in had an impact of my style, not on the substance of my message.
Finally, I have to agree with Dianne, again, that what we perceive in others might not be a good gauge of how assertive people are or not as we might be reading things wrong and there might be a lot more happening that we do not see straight away when dealing with people that might seem passive to us.
As a guideline, I keep Dianne’s wisdom close to my mind all the time: suspend judgment, assume positive intention, interpret behavior with what you know of the cultural values of others and then decide how you want to deal with the situation.
Thank you Dianne for being such a incredible guru. What I have learned from you is key to my success. 🙂