Cultural and Gender Differences
As we might expect, levels of self-disclosure and appropriateness of disclosure differ form culture to culture. The United tes is considered to be an informal culture (Samovar, Porter, & Stefani, 1998, p. 82). As a result, Americans tend to disclose more about themselves than do people from other cultures. Levels of formality can be inferred by how formally people dress, how formally they address each other, and how much they self disclose. Germany, for instance, a country that seems-like the United States-in many ways, has .a .much higher degree of formality. Germans are likely to dress well even if just visiting friends or going to school. They also use formal titles in their interactions with others and have fewer close friends. Germans are also more private and disclose less than-do Americans in similar relationships.
Particularly in the beginning stages of a friendship, such cultural differences can easily lead to misconceptions and discomfort if the people involved are unaware of them. For instance, ‘a person from the United States may perceive an acquaintance from a more formal culture as reserved or less interested in pursuing a “genuine” friendship, whereas the acquaintance may see the person from the United States as discourteously assertive or embarrassingly expressive about personal feelings and other private matters. • Given the differences in culture, can we assume that disclosure always deep-ens relationships? Unsteady and Kim (1997) have discovered that, across cultures when relationships become more intimate self-disclosure increases. In addition, they found that the more partners self-disclosed to each other the more they were attracted to each the and the more uncertainty about each other was reduced (po 325)
Women tend to disclose more than men, are disclosed to more than men, and are more aware t an men of cues that affect their self-disclosure (Dindia, )000, p. 24; Re is, 1998, p. 213). Of course, this generalization is not true in all cases. Deborah Tannen (1990) argues that one way to capture the differences between men’s and women’s vernal styles is by paying attention to “report talk” and “rapport talk” (I’. 77). Her point is that men in our society arc more likely to view conversation a~ report-talk-a way to share information, display knowledge, negotiate, and preserve independence. In contrast, women are more likely to use rapport talk a way to share experiences and establish bonds with others. When men and women fail to recognize these differences in the way they have learned to use conversation, the stage is set for misunderstandings about whether or not they are being truly open and intimate with one another “Learning about style differences won’t make them go away,” Tannen remarks, “but it can banish mutual mystification and blame” (pp. 47-48)
At the heart of intimate self-disclosure is sharing your feelings with someone else, and sharing feelings is a risky business. Why is this so? When we share our feelings about something important, we are generally giving someone else potent knowledge about us that they might use to harm us. Yet all of us experience feelings and have to decide whether and how we disclose them. Obviously, one ‘option we have is to withhold or mask our feelings. If we decide to disclose our feelings, we can display them or we can describe them.
many people need to be more demonstrative of good feelings than they typically are. The bumper sticker “Have you hugged your kid today?” reinforces the point that people we care about need open displays of love and affection. Displays become detrimental to communication when. the feelings you are experiencing are negative-especially when the display of a negative feeling appears to be an overreaction. Although displays of negative feelings may make you feel better temporarily, they are likely to be bad for you inter personally. Displays of feeling often serve as an escape valve for very strong emotions. In this way, they may be a more healthy approach than withholding feelings because we “get them out of our system.” Unfortunately, especially with negative emotions, these displays can often damage our relationships or cause stress in our relational partners. In many families, children learn to “stay out of dad’s . way if in a ‘bad mood.'” Children do this when they have experienced the power of dad’s emotional displays. Rather than just display our emotions, we can use the self-disclosure skill of describing feelings to help us share our feelings with others in a manner that does not damage our relationships or cause stress.