Sanchez-Burks, who conducts research on cultural and ethnic group differences in the patterns of workplace interactions and relationships, including the role of nonverbal emotional cues; and Shinobu Kitayama, who studies the greater social interdependence of people in East Asian compared with Western societies and its consequences for their emotions, relationships, and problem-solving styles, with Easterners relying more on holistic information processing than Westerners.


In the first presentation, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks of the University of Michigan discussed two different characteristics that play a role in how well a person communicates and works with people from other cultures: relational attunement and emotional aperture.

Relational Attunement

The workplace can be thought of as having two dimensions, Sanchez-Burks said. “It’s the paper and the people. You can call it the task and the social–emotional, or the task and the relational, and the way in which people deal with these two different dimensions varies greatly across cultures.” Understanding these differences is one key to getting along with people from other cultures, he said, and it is a key that is particularly important for Americans.

Research shows that, in countries around the world, the usual pattern among people working together is to pay close attention—or, in sociocultural terms, to have a “heightened relationship attunement—to other people and to the task or, in situations when there is no task, just to the people.” However, Sanchez-Burks said, there is one outlier, or anomaly, in the pattern that appears consistently in the research, and that is the United States. Compared with people in other countries, Americans are the most individualistic, the most independent, the most task-focused, and the least relationally attuned, and this has implications for how they go about their jobs relative to how people in other countries go about theirs (Sanchez-Burks, 2002, 2005).

Sanchez-Burks uncovered this pattern in a series of experiments that he summarized for the workshop. In some early work, for example, he would play a video or audio recording for people and later test their memories to determine what they had paid attention to. In one particular study looking at Anglo Americans and Latinos (i.e., Mexicans and Mexican-Americans), he found no cultural differences in memory for task-related items, such as the nature of the project, but there was a huge difference in memory for relational information, such as how people got

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