Kate Elwood introduces another interesting cross cultural study via her column for The Daily Yomiuri:
Dale Carnegie's famous self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People was published in 1936 and has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.
Much of Carnegie's advice fits right in with common Japanese behavioral norms and communicative patterns. For example, Carnegie advises, "Don't criticize, condemn or complain," "Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly," and "The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it." Perhaps partly for this reason, the book has also been a best seller in Japan.
Interestingly, the "influence people" part of the title takes center stage in the Japanese title, Hito o Ugokasu, or "how to move people," omitting the "winning friends" bit. But what it means to influence people may be different depending on culture.
Cultural psychologists Beth Morling, Shinobu Kitayama and Yuri Miyamoto asked Japanese and American university students to describe one of two different types of situations. The first group was asked to write about situations in which they had influenced or changed people, events or objects according to their own wishes. The other group was told to provide information about situations in which they had adjusted themselves to people, events or objects.
The researchers found some interesting differences. Ninety percent of the American situations related to influence involved another person, but only 61 percent of those described by the Japanese respondents did. The Japanese situations were often concerned with things like shifting furniture or work schedules.
Additionally, in 21 percent of the situations of influence described by the Americans, a positive consequence for other people was indicated. For example, one respondent mentioned helping his brother study, which led to his getting an A. In contrast, only 5 percent of the Japanese situations of this type alluded to a beneficial outcome for someone else. In fact, 33 percent of the Japanese situations of influence referred to going against situational demands. For example, "My mother was used to serving bread, but I asked for rice."
There was divergence between the groups related to the adjustment situations, as well. The Americans were much more likely to phrase their adjustment as an obligation, using phrases like "I had to adjust..." Forty-one percent of the adjustment situations described by the Americans used this kind of wording compared to only 9 percent of the Japanese situations.
At the same time, the Japanese respondents were more likely to make explicit references to the gap between what they would have done and what they ended up doing as a result of modifying themselves to match surrounding people, events or objects. Twenty-three percent of the Japanese students wrote things like, "I was not having fun, but I pretended to enjoy myself," but only 8 percent of the Americans similarly made the contrast plain.
Morling and her colleagues suggest that for the Japanese, surmounting their personal inclination was a positive sign of dedication to the relationship, while for the Americans following the dictates of situational demands was a requirement, not a voluntary action.
The researchers then showed new groups of Japanese and American students descriptions of situations that had been produced by the earlier respondents and asked them two questions concerning each situation. One was whether, in the situation described, they would feel that they had done something because of their competence, power, or effort--what the researchers term "efficacy." The other was whether, in the situation described, they would feel merged with other people, or "relatedness."
As expected, both groups felt more efficacy in the influence situations and more relatedness in the adjustment situations. Perhaps also predictably, the Americans felt more efficacy in the influence situations than the Japanese did, and the Japanese felt more relatedness in the adjustment situations than their American counterparts did.
What surprised Morling and her colleagues more was that the influence situations described by Americans received high relatedness ratings in addition to high efficacy ratings on the part of both the American and Japanese respondents. The researchers conclude that American influence situations are "distinctly social events," which engender feelings of closeness on the part of the influencing person.
A Japanese man once told me that it was hard to translate "make a difference" into Japanese. I suggested eikyo o ataeru as a way of putting it in Japanese, but he made an ambiguous response. I now see that, like so many things, there's a bit more to it than a quick look in the dictionary will disclose.