We are now in a global village where people from different cultural backgrounds live and work together. This article looks at the cross-cultural differences regarding anger management and how people can live and work together.
Australian society, which derives much of its cultural identity from its British roots and American culture, has a general avoidance of emotion and anger. The “she’ll be right” attitude still pervades much of Australian culture today. This attitude says “no matter what the situation, or the emotion that you are feeling… “stay calm and understated.” For example, if you lost your job you may say “I’m a bit annoyed at losing my job.” This completely understates the emotion of grief and loss you may be feeling.
“Don’t Complain and Don’t Explain”
Kerry Packer Motto Towards Life – Media Mogul
This attitude extends to the expression of anger. In Australian society there is no space for a healthy, acceptable expression of anger. The only option is to laugh it off. This is true for both the sexes, but especially women. The other social norm that exists is the pressure to get along with most people that you encounter in life. If you don’t get along with people you are deemed to be a troublemaker. This is especially the case in workplaces. There are literally cases everyday where workers suffer bullying and harassment and are told to keep quiet and not to make a complaint to Human Resources for fear of being demoted or being branded as a troublemaker. This is completely ridiculous. And the workers suffer in silence as a result.
Let’s compare other culture’s attitudes towards anger. In one group, you have countries such as Bangladesh, Greece and Italy who encourage the expression of emotion and anger. In another group you have countries such as Japan, certain section of India, UK where there is focus on emotional repression and politeness. And most other countries fall somewhere between these two extremes. There are many positives and negatives regarding the different cultural norms of the different countries. The main question is—how do people from different cross-cultural backgrounds successfully relate to each other without instances of miscommunication.
My wife is Canadian, with Bangladeshi roots. A few years ago I travelled to Vancouver to meet her family. I had the unique experience of living with an Italian family friend and spending significant time getting to know her mother, father and brother who all were from Bangladesh. What immediately struck me was how honest and open everyone was with each other. There appeared to be a lot more room for emotions than what I was used to interacting with my family. Which for me, this new family environment was extremely warm and supportive experience that challenged my relatively cold and distant way of interacting with friends and family back in Australia.
My situation is not unique and many people now live and work with people from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. This provides opportunities for innovation as well as different challenges. Let’s look at the work and home environment in terms of the expression of anger.
One issue I faced living with my wife was the expression of anger and emotions at home in our relationship. She was used to living in a much more emotionally charged environment, where anger was freely expressed. My upbringing was the opposite, where emotions were “swept under the carpet”. Anger was not expressed and was a sign that something was seriously wrong. Over time we have created a new norm in our relationship that’s a compromise between our two cultural backgrounds. Now anger is expressed when needed. However, there are times when we deal with our emotions ourselves without needing to express them to the other person. Why? Because sometimes emotions get in the way of life and stop us from doing what we need to do. This is one of the problems with overly emotional cultures. They spend all their time and energy expressing themselves often to the detriment of getting on with life and doing things. This point is raised by the Marriage Guru, Dr John Gottman, in his books. His central thesis is— no one type of relationship works best. The common element for all successful relationships is that both parties are able to come to an agreement for how they wish to run their relationship. For us, we came to a new norm for expressing emotions at home.
Anger, Culture and Work
More and more people are now working with people from different cultural backgrounds. For example, my wife is a researcher at PA Hospital and 50 percent of her colleagues are from countries outside Australia. Again, a big part of the work dynamic comes back to conflict and the expression of anger and other emotions. The main problem is that different cultures have different expectations (as discussed earlier in the article). The solution is a strong understanding of the different cultures and a shared understanding of how you need to interact. Where there is successful integration, workplaces are finding that there is actually better communication between staff, especially when difficulties arise. For a long time in Australian corporate workplaces there has been this prevailing understanding that you leave your personal stuff at home and are professional at work. This has meant that you don’t make issues of anything, stick to the solution and definitely don’t talk about your emotions very much.
Let me provide an example. A client came to talk with me earlier this year regarding work issues he was having with his boss. He was working in a large Australian bank that was going through a cultural transformation. He boss came from a large accounting firm where anger, emotions were definitely not expressed at work. My client came from an army background where anger was expressed often and frequently. Over time he was able to re-negotiate his working relationship with his boss so that he was able to express his anger and emotions without fear of being sent to Human Resources.
It appears that this re-negotiating of relationship norms is what is required for people from different cultural backgrounds to both work and to live together. Instead of seeing people from different backgrounds as difficult, see it as an opportunity to grow and develop. Getting the right balance when it comes to expressing your anger and emotions is an art. Successfully interacting with people from other cultures may help you to develop this very important skill.