Cultural Kinetics

Compliments – globally accepted?

“Nothing is so silly as the expression of a man who is being complimented” (Andre Gide)

Who doesn’t like to receive a compliment? It may be because we have performed a work task well, cooked a wonderful meal or simply because we look nice, but even small compliments can go a long way to enhancing our confidence and self-esteem.

So what are they? Well in the world of Intercultural Communication compliments can be defined as ‘face enhancing speech acts’, intended to have a direct positive effect on the recipient. They can be used to express admiration or approval (well done – that was great!), replace greetings or gratitude (oh you are such a star for helping me!), soften face-threatening acts such as criticism (you did that really well but next time should consider doing it this way…) or simply re-enforce desired behaviours (it makes me so happy when you do that…).

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However, individuals can respond very differently when receiving compliments. There are three main ways in which responses to compliments are made:

  • Acceptance (‘thank you’ or ‘yes I know’)
  • Deflection (‘I bought it on holiday’ or ‘do you really think so?’)
  • Rejection (‘oh no I’m not’ or ‘don’t be silly’)   

So do individuals from different cultures respond to compliments in the same way or are there differences in their behaviour? Much research gives weight to the argument that differences do exist. A study conducted by Barnlund and Araki (1985) examined how Americans and Japanese individuals pay and receive compliments. They found that whereas the Americans accepted or justified their compliments when receiving them, the Japanese denied them, simply smiled or did not respond at all. For example, if a student had got a good grade for an assignment and the lecturer said ‘well done – your work was great’, the American student may say ‘thank you, I worked really hard on it’, whereas the Japanese student may never dream of responding in such a manner. Other studies, for example by Chen (1993) and Nelson et al (1996), support this suggestion. This indicates that there is a clear link between the individualistic (e.g. American) and collectivistic (e.g. Japanese) attitudes present in a society and the way in which compliments are perceived and responded to.

It must of course always be remembered that whilst the general population of a culture may share common traits and behaviours, individuality also plays a role, and it would be foolish not to acknowledge that there are always people who do not ‘follow the norm’.

So in the future, before throwing out compliments left, right and centre, maybe spend some time to think about the person you are giving them to, and don’t be surprised if you do not get the response you expect!

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Intercultural Communication Adventure

A great explanation of what intercultural communication is from Dr Deborah Swallow!

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Interfaith Dialogue – for people of faith only?

Here at Cultural Kinetics, I dream of a day when people of the world will accept one another, despite the faith or culture we come from. Whilst in the UK our communities live in relative peace and harmony, there are of course times when extremist views, racism and violence raise their ugly head. It is at times like these when the need for interfaith dialogue is more than ever.

In my work promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding, I often try and speak out against those who preach anti-faith rhetoric and hate. At times, this has put me at odds with others within my own community, because many often feel that as someone not currently practicing any religion, I do not have any “right” in defending the rights of people to live through their faith in peace. However, it is because I expect to be respected and left in peace myself that I expect the same rights for others, and so is why I campaign for tolerance and understanding between people of any background.

Speed Dialogue - Web Page Header

So what is interfaith dialogue I hear you ask? It refers to a positive, constructive and cooperative interaction between people of different religious beliefs and backgrounds. Whilst many may think that this is a rare phenomenon, there are in fact many institutional and community organisations across the UK and around the world engaging in this kind of dialogue. Its aim is to increase understanding and respect, rather than set an expectation for people to compromise their beliefs.

It would be foolish to believe that peace is easy to achieve, but it is right that it should be, and is, achievable. When speaking to people of faith about this, I find that my views are increasingly accepted but am still often asked ‘where do I think I came from’ or ‘how did I get here’. When I am asked, I simply reply that what matters to me is that I am here, that we are all here, and so believe that we should all do what we can to treat each other with respect and compassion.

I always have and will strive to help unite communities so that the spirituality of all people can be listened to in an environment that is devoid of dogmatism, disillusionment, oppression or criticism of any kind. Join me on this journey…

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Stereotypes are a part of everyday human behaviour. The term stereotype was first used in its modern sense by Walter Lippman in his 1922 essay titled Public Opinion, where he suggested that “a stereotype may be so consistently and authoritatively transmitted in each generation from parent to child that it seems almost like a biological fact”.

Since then, stereotyping has been theorised, discussed and researched upon in many fields including social psychology, sociology and intercultural communication. Lippman (1922) and Katz & Braly (1933) theorised that “the process of stereotyping contributes to the dynamics of intercultural contact, in attributing to individuals the traits that allegedly characterise the group that the target person has been assigned to by the perceiver”.


It can be seen that stereotyping plays an important and useful role in human behaviour, but that it can also lead to negative beliefs and behaviours. They can help us to make faster and more informed judgements of other people, but can also be misleading and cause us to hold misleading and inaccurate views of others. There is clearly a great deal of research and theory available, but it is important to note that the study and understanding of stereotyping has an important role to play in many fields.

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