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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary 6 Persuasion Persuasive communication is a critical element in the success of a variety of missions before, during, and after combat operations. Even in a single culture, different people will respond differently to different persuasive techniques, and when people are from dissimilar cultures, the complications multiply. Although facts may be important, perceptions may be more important. Thus it is critical, not only for effective communications but also for building trust and respect among local populations and counterparts, to be aware of the ways that culture may influence both the approaches to and the perceptions of persuasive communications. The guiding question for this panel was, How is the persuasive appeal of conversations, messages, and activities that are intended to foster social change affected by sociocultural factors? Offering their perspectives on this question were three presenters: Jeanne Brett, a researcher in the area of negotiation and dispute resolution, who discussed the differences among “face,” “dignity,” and “honor” cultures and offered insights into how and why the effectiveness of direct versus indirect confrontation for resolving disputes differs across these cultures; James Dillard, who described research on the power of narratives to influence across different cultures and how narrative influence may often be effective on a subconscious level; and Brant Burleson, who focused on the cultural similarities and differences in the types of behavioral strategies that people use to seek support from and demonstrate support to others.
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary DIRECT AND INDIRECT CONFRONTATION Jeanne Brett of Northwestern University discussed how confrontations are handled differently in different types of cultures. First, however, she noted that in her work she speaks about cultural prototypes, not cultural stereotypes. “The idea of a cultural prototype,” she explained, “is that there is a central tendency that describes the culture, but by no means are we expecting everyone—every group, every organization, every institution in that culture—to be exactly alike.” In other words, understanding a culture does not make it possible to predict the actions of all individuals in that culture, but it does make it possible to predict how people in that culture will behave on average. With that preface, Brett introduced the three particular types of cultures that she studies in her research—(1) face cultures, (2) dignity cultures, and (3) honor cultures—and explained the attributes of each type (for an example of her research, see Brett, 2007; Brett et al., 2007). Asian cultures tend to be face cultures, she said. “This means that Asians’ sense of self-worth is in large part extrinsically defined by what others think. A person’s face is the respectability or the deference that a person can claim by virtue of his or her relative position in the social hierarchy and through proper fulfillment of his/her social role in that culture.” Thus, she said, face cultures tend to develop in societies that have stable hierarchies and in societies that have clearly defined and reliably imposed social norms. Such cultures, in which behavioral expectations are enforced through monitoring and sanctions, are referred to as tight cultures, and they leave little room for individual interpretation or improvisation. As an example of how expectations are enforced in a tight society, she told the story of an American graduate student who was visiting Tokyo with his wife and started to cross the street against a red light. He felt a tug at his sleeve and looked down to see a little Japanese boy pulling him back onto the curb. “Here’s this obvious foreigner who does not understand the tight culture rules, and so it’s up to all members of the society to monitor, enforce, and reinforce them.” The second type of culture, the dignity culture, is exemplified by the culture in the United States. In a dignity culture, a person’s sense of self-worth tends to be intrinsic; it is determined by the person’s own beliefs about his or her worth and not by what others think. Furthermore, people in dignity cultures tend to believe that they are, at least theoretically, socially equal to one another. “Dignity cultures tend to be loose cultures in which social norms are relatively flexible and informal,” Brett said, “and in loose cultures, social expectations permit individuals to define the range of tolerable behavior within which they exercise their own
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary preferences.” In a loose culture, a person can decide for himself or herself whether to cross against the red light if there is no traffic. The third type of culture, the honor culture, may be dominant in Middle Eastern countries. In such cultures, a person’s sense of self-worth depends both on the person’s own intrinsic estimation and on the recognition of that worth by society. “Honor cultures tend to develop in competitive environments of rough equals,” Brett added, “and as a result, honor is always in flux, lost and gained through cycles of competition.” An honor culture will generally have a combination of tight and loose cultural characteristics, with the social norms being clearly defined and strictly imposed within the family and the clan but being relatively flexible and informal between families and clans. Of course, Brett added, each of these three culture types is an idealization, and in reality a country’s culture will exhibit characteristics of each. Americans, for example, will take face and honor into account, as well as dignity. “The difference between cultures is a matter of emphasis and a matter of the context in which you find yourself.” Next Brett discussed the difference between direct and indirect confrontation. When conflicts arise, people have the choice of dealing with them directly, making their concerns very clear and explicit, or indirectly, indicating in a subtle way that there is a problem and using more implicit communication to get the message across. As an example of indirect confrontation, she repeated a story told to her by one of her students.1 The American student, Jim, was living in Hong Kong and had contracted with a Chinese manufacturer to produce a number of bicycles that he was selling to a German buyer. When he visited the Chinese factory, Jim took one of the bikes on a test ride and discovered that it rattled—something that would be unacceptable to the buyer. “Never mentioning the rattles, Jim talked generally to the factory manager about the German buyer’s expectation of quality,” Brett said, “and at the end of the day, Jim went back to Hong Kong and waited to hear from the German buyer. A month later the German buyer contacted Jim to let him know that they were delighted with the bicycles and wanted to reorder.” If Jim had chosen a direct confrontation, he would have pointed out the rattling problem to the manager, told him it was unacceptable, and directed him to fix it. Instead, Jim left it up to the manager to decide what had to be done, relying on his comment about the buyer’s expectation of quality to make it clear what he wanted. In this way he “gave face,” signaling his respect for the factory manager, whereas a direct confrontation 1 The story is printed, with permission, in Brett, 2007.
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary would have been interpreted as a sign of disrespect. “The success of Jim’s indirect strategy,” Brett said, “was in giving face to the factory manager, signaling that he respected the factory manager’s expertise and trusted his integrity to make the repairs.” The story illustrates an important point, Brett said: that indirect confrontations are often the most effective way of resolving a dispute, as they do not threaten the face of any of the participants. Empirical research has shown that face giving is generally effective in resolving conflicts in both China and the United States, whereas face attacks are generally not. “Giving face in negotiation cues reciprocity, leading to problem solving and agreement,” she explained. “Face attacks in negotiations, such as claims, threats, and other aggressive verbal strategies, generate retaliation, counterthreats, deception, and impasses.” There are various forms of indirect confrontation that can be used to avoid attacking face. One can, for example, ask questions or tell a story as a way of pointing out a problem without having to state it explicitly. And using a third party is an approach to managing conflict that is frequently used in face cultures. This may be because face cultures are typically hierarchical, so there is usually a third party with the hierarchical authority to resolve the conflict. The key is that when such a third party decides, neither of the original parties loses face because neither has confronted the other directly, so neither has backed down to the other directly. Third parties are also used to resolve conflicts in dignity cultures like the United States, Brett noted, but the purpose of using the third party is quite different: it is to expedite the resolution of the conflict, not to save face. Still, she commented, “face saving is exactly what effective mediators in dignity cultures do.” Finally, Brett asked, will indirect confrontation work as a means of resolving conflict in an honor culture, such as those in the Middle East? The research she described looks only at face and dignity cultures, but in theory, she said, indirect confrontation should also be effective in honor cultures. “In honor cultures, self-worth is a function of both the person’s own estimation of self-worth and the recognition of that worth by society. This suggests that in honor cultures, just as in face cultures, social respectability is extremely important. So conflict management that signals social respectability should be more effective than conflict management that does not.” Furthermore, although honor cultures also have an element of self-worth that is viewed as intrinsic, this should not make indirect confrontation any less useful, as research has shown that face giving is important even in dignity cultures. Thus, she concluded, indirect confrontation should prove to be a useful approach to resolving conflicts in Middle Eastern cultures, just as it is in Asian and Western countries.
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary THE POWER OF STORIES As James Dillard of Pennsylvania State University, the next speaker, noted, most people think of persuasion in terms of situations in which a person makes it clear up front what his or her position is and then sets out to make a case for that position—through an opinion piece on the editorial page, a face-to-face discussion, or some other formal communication. Dillard focused on a different type of persuasion, what he called “persuasion absent intent to persuade,” and how research in that area might be applied to helping the U.S. military in their overseas missions. In particular, he focused on the persuasive power of stories. The telling of stories has a number of functions, Dillard said. First, stories tell people what to expect in various situations so that the listener can benefit from the experience without having to go through it personally. Stories also illustrate and impart values, indicating to the listeners the right way and the wrong way to do something. They also create and maintain shared identities, Dillard said. “Whether you’re entering a military organization and your identity is to become a warrior, whether you’re entering citizenship into a country and you’re going to incorporate this idea of a citizen, or whether you’re being recruited into a terrorist group and the story is one of how your sibling or your friend has been abused by the oppressing power, these are all stories that help us create our identities, that tell us who we are, and that maintain those identities throughout our lives, or as long we connect with that group of people.” Although the particular stories told vary from culture to culture and group to group, the functions of the stories are very much the same everywhere, Dillard said. There has been a great deal of research on how stories—or narratives, as they are usually referred to in the literature—affect people’s beliefs. At least 60 quantitative empirical studies have been conducted, he said. Some have been experimental, others correlational. The experimental studies generally ask the participants to read something and then measure the effects of that reading. “There’s a study, done about 10 years ago now, in which people were asked to read a story about a woman whose sister was killed at a shopping mall by a psychopath. They were then asked to make judgments about how frequently violence occurs at malls across the United States and how likely they were to be attacked if they would be shopping at a mall.” The studies found, Dillard said, that the more people were engaged in the story—the more that they themselves became a part of the story—the more likely they were to believe that such violence was likely to happen to them and to others at a mall. Generally speaking, the research has found that such stories can change people’s perceptions of the probabilities of how likely various things are to happen.
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary Another type of research, correlational studies, often focuses on people’s reactions to television or some other visual entertainment. One study found, for example, that watching the television show Desperate Housewives changed people’s beliefs about breast cancer. Other research has focused on people who have watched Lie to Me, a television show roughly based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman, who has studied how to detect whether a person is lying from their facial expressions and body movements. “People who watch a lot of that tend to believe that other people are trying to deceive them more often, and they tend to believe that they’re better at detecting deception,” Dillard said. One of the reasons that stories are so effective in changing people’s beliefs and opinions, Dillard said, is that they do not appear to the listener or reader to have any persuasive intent. When people recognize that they are being persuaded, they often resist, particularly if they are being asked to change their minds. But when the intention to persuade is removed, people’s natural defenses against persuasion are reduced. Furthermore, stories have the ability to engage people, both cognitively and emotionally, so that they get lost in the narrative. Once they are engaged in this way, they are more open to accepting new ideas. Dillard described research done at Pennsylvania State University with his colleagues Mary Beth Oliver, Daniel Tamul, and Ken Bae that looked specifically at the effectiveness of narratives compared with public policy news articles. Participants were asked to read newspaper-style items that were in one of two formats. Either they were narratives told from the point of view of a particular person, or they were written as policy news articles. The two formats were of the same length—about 500 words, so that they took about 100 seconds to read—and had the same information. Each of the items was written about a person in one of three stigmatized groups—immigrants, elderly persons, or prisoners. The people who read about a prisoner heard, for example, that he had contracted cancer and hadn’t been able to get health care. In the narrative version, the prisoner spoke directly, saying something to the effect of, “The judge gave me 25 years, but God gave me life.” Then the story went on to show how the prisoner had only about six months to live. In the policy article, the same information was provided to readers, but it was written in the third person. The goal of the study, Dillard said, was to see how people’s attitudes toward and opinions of these stigmatized groups were affected by reading the two types of items. “We asked people how these stories made them feel: happy, sad, if they experienced compassion, did they experience anger. We asked them about their attitudes toward helping these groups, how important
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary it would be to help immigrants, how important it would be to help the elderly, how important it would be to help prisoners. We asked them about their intentions to discuss these particular groups with their friends and family, whether they were likely to seek more information about the group, whether they would sign a petition favoring societal action that would help the group or donate money to the group.” The results are shown in Figure 6-1. In the figure, the height of each bar indicates how favorable the subjects’ intentions were toward the members of a particular stigmatized group. As the figure shows, the subjects generally had more favorable intentions toward the elderly—they were more likely to try to help them, to seek more information about them, and so forth—than toward immigrants, and they had more favorable intentions toward immigrants than toward prisoners. For the purposes of the experiment, however, the important comparisons are between the groups of subjects who read the narrative and the groups of subjects who read the policy news article. In each case, the subjects who read the narrative had significantly more favorable intentions toward members of the stigmatized group than did subjects who read the policy news article. “I emphasize,” Dillard said, “that these are really brief news stories, the kind that you’re likely to encounter over breakfast.” What had caused the difference in the subjects, the researchers found, seemed to be differing levels of compassion. The subjects who had read the FIGURE 6-1 Attitudes based on narrative compared with policy news formats.
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary narratives felt more compassion toward the people in the stories than did the subjects who read the policy news article. Furthermore, the researchers also had a behavioral measure in the experiment—how much information the subjects sought out on the stigmatized groups they had read about—and they found that the behavioral measure showed a difference as well. In short, the subjects were not simply reporting different levels of interest in the stigmatized groups; their behaviors differed as well. In other situations, it might be an emotion other than compassion that is engaged, Dillard said. The narratives in this experiment were designed to trigger compassion, with such details as a prisoner dying of cancer who was unable to get medical care; other narratives would engage different emotions. “But I want to make the broader point that it’s emotion and engagement and immersion that are brought about by stories, and, once you’re in the story, things change, attitudes change, intentions change, and, ultimately, behaviors can change.” How might the Department of Defense put these insights to work? Dillard suggested a three-step approach: (1) identify the important narratives supporting an enemy, (2) disrupt the narratives or portions of them, and (3) create counternarratives. For example, he said, one of the stories that Al Qaeda is promoting is “a view of history in which the East has to struggle against the Western oppressor, and bin Laden is a sort of mythic character on the order of Odysseus or other heroes that battle against big odds.” To counteract this, one might “try to take a part of that narrative away and make it dysfunctional, or create counternarratives.” As an example of how this might work, Dillard spoke of the narratives that terrorists are promoting of themselves as “selfless, pious persons who are devoted to a larger cause. Why else would you give up your life? And that’s a very positive identity that you would do this thing for your group, make such a sacrifice.” Terrorists are also representing themselves as sophisticated experts with nerves of steel, the sort of people who can plan and carry out operations like the 9/11 attacks on the United States with tremendous success. “These are great recruiting stories,” Dillard said. So how can they be neutralized? By offering a different and equally compelling narrative about the terrorists. “We heard yesterday [at the workshop] that the Taliban has basically become a drug organization,” Dillard said. “Now there’s a counternarrative—these people are not pious experts, they are engaged in criminal activity.” Another counternarrative would be the notion of terrorists as bunglers: “the bomb that didn’t go off in Times Square, or the jockstrap jihad guy who stuck the bombs in his underwear and they didn’t go off.” Indeed, Dillard said, to judge from the reports in the popular press, “about half the time, these guys don’t blow up anybody but themselves.”
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary Telling such stories can neutralize the power of the other side’s narratives, Dillard said. More generally, it is important to understand the narratives of the other side, whether they are from newspapers, websites, children’s fables, or whatever, and understand how they see themselves. With that understanding, it becomes possible to offer another point of view, one that is more favorable to one’s own side. SUPPORTIVE COMMUNICATION In the final panel presentation, Brant Burleson of Purdue University discussed supportive communication and how responses to such communication vary by culture. Supportive communication could be important to the military, he suggested, as a way of “winning hearts and minds.” Supportive communication is a form of social support, which Burleson defined as the provision of emotional, informational, or instrumental resources in response to the perception that others are in need of that aid. Social support includes both tangible and intangible forms of assistance, so providing food, money, transportation, or health care in a time of need would be a form of social support. “In contrast,” Burleson said, “supportive communication deals with the intangibles, providing emotional support, informational support, or motivational support” (for more information on the definition of social support, see Cohen et al., 2000). Burleson’s research group has identified six different types of supportive communication: (1) comforting, (2) grief management, (3) esteem support, (4) informational support, (5) motivational support, and (6) celebratory support. Comforting is making people feel better about everyday hurts and disappointments, in contrast with grief management, which deals with situations of bereavement or other kinds of major loss. Esteem support is aimed at lessening the blow when a person has experienced some failure or social rejection or committed some kind of transgression for which the person feels guilt, embarrassment, or shame. Informational support is advice intended to help a person struggling with a problem or decision. Motivational support occurs when one is encouraging some change in behavior. And celebratory support includes things like celebrating peoples’ achievements or transitions, their good luck, and their relief about certain kinds of outcomes. One of the main reasons why people are interested in studying social support, Burleson said, is that is has been found to increase well-being, both psychological and physical. But of more interest for the purposes of the workshop, he said, is that social support and, in particular, supportive communication are known to enhance relationship well-being. “That is, it can become a major vehicle for winning hearts and minds,” he said, “Relationships can be initiated, intensified, and maintained through the exchange of
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary supportive communication.” This has been found to be true in essentially all cultures that have been examined, he said. “There may be some cultures out there where support doesn’t work, but I don’t know of any.” Conversely, the wrong sort of “support” can be harmful. As an example, Burleson told a story about a woman who had lost her daughter 17 years earlier. That daughter’s older sister had recently gotten married and had a child of her own, which made the woman very happy but also brought back sad memories of losing the younger daughter years before. When she confided to a coworker these mixed feelings, the coworker’s response was, “Seventeen years ago? Get over it. Come on, that’s ancient history. Forget about it!” While the coworker may have thought that she was trying to help by telling the woman she’d be better off just forgetting about the past, it wasn’t helpful. It had hurt the woman and made her feel somewhat estranged from her coworker. There is a great deal of research, Burleson said, that shows that when support misfires, it can be hurtful and damaging. “Efforts to provide support that go awry can exacerbate unpleasant affect states, inhibit effective problem solving, foster unhealthy dependencies, heighten stress levels, deepen depression, undermine relationship satisfaction, and damage physical health.” The implication is that it is important to know what works and what doesn’t. Which types of messages reliably provide the various kinds of support—emotional support, grief management, and so on—and which types of messages will generally prove unsuccessful and even counterproductive? These questions underlie the research agenda that Burleson’s group has been pursuing for the past several years. In particular, he said, they are attempting to answer six questions about supportive communication: What are the features of more versus less effective supportive message strategies? When does the quality of message really matter? Why do messages work, and what are the mechanisms by which they work? How much cultural variation is there in what works? Why is there cultural variation? What are the implications for cross-cultural communication practice and communication skills training? Research has found a variety of properties that increase the effectiveness of a supportive message, including such things as using politeness to mitigate the face threats inherent in providing support (Goldsmith,
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary 1994), matching the type of support offered to the situation (Cutrona, 1990), and conveying empathy, genuineness, and warmth (Rogers, 1957). Much of Burleson’s research has focused on another property, the degree to which a supportive message is person-centered, that is, the extent to which the feelings and perspective of the recipient of the message are acknowledged, elaborated, explored, and legitimized (Burleson, 1994). In general, Burleson said, research has shown that highly person-centered messages are experienced as more sensitive, helpful, and effective than low person-centered messages. This is not always true, however, as there are some circumstances in which the quality of the message doesn’t seem to matter much. In the case of a fairly mild upset, simply receiving some kind of supportive message from a friend is what is important, and the characteristics and quality of that message make little difference. At the other extreme, in the case of extreme emotional upset, it is also the case that the quality of the message is not particularly important because the person is not able to pay much attention to its contents. In every culture, Burleson said, highly person-centered messages are evaluated more positively and produce better outcomes than low person-centered messages, but within this broad pattern, there are cultural differences. Figure 6-2 shows the results of one study of such differences. Groups of Chinese and American subjects were asked to rate the helpfulness of supportive messages that were low person-centered, moderately person-centered, or highly person-centered (Burleson and Mortenson, FIGURE 6-2 Perceived helpfulness of comforting messages. SOURCE: Figure created from data contained in Burleson and Mortenson (2003). Data used with permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.
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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary 2003). The Chinese and American subjects were very similar in their ratings of messages that were person-centered to a moderate or high degree, but the Americans did not find low person-centered messages to be particularly helpful, whereas the Chinese found them almost as helpful as highly person-centered messages. Why should that be the case? “Our hypothesis,” Burleson said, “is that Americans focus more on the content of the message, which is why they discriminate more between low person-centered and high person-centered messages. In contrast, Asians focus more on the source of the message, the helper, and the relationship they have with that helper and give less attention to the actual content of the message.” The technical terms for the two types of cultures are high-context cultures for Asian and other cultures in which people pay more attention to the context and less attention to the content of the message, and low-context cultures, which do the opposite (Hall, 1976). More specifically, Burleson’s group has developed what they refer to as a “dual-process model of supportive communication outcomes” to explain why comforting communication has different effects for different people and different cultures (Bodie and Burleson, 2008; Burleson, 2009, 2010). In essence, the model predicts that the effectiveness of a supportive communication will depend not only on the features of the message—both its content and its context—but also on how thoroughly those features are processed by the recipient of the message. Thus the content of a message will have the strongest effect when it is processed extensively, as happens in low-context cultures, and will have less effect when processed superficially, as happens in high-context cultures. Conversely, the external features of the message—who sent it, what the relationship is between the sender and the recipient, and so on—will be most important when the content of the message is processed less extensively and least important when the content receives a great deal of attention. The model is still mostly speculative, Burleson said, and needs to be tested experimentally, particularly the idea that the cultural differences are essentially a product of differences in the processing of messages. His group is hoping to perform some of these tests, and it would also like to manipulate processing motivation to see if that could attenuate the differences between cultures. Theoretically, if people in the studies could be induced to focus more on processing the content of the messages, it should diminish the cultural differences in how helpful comforting messages are perceived to be. “Pretty clearly,” Burleson concluded, “we would like to think that this work ultimately has some deliverables for the Department of Defense, particularly in terms of communication skill training and training those who are on the ground in how to be supportive to those that they encounter.”