Sunday, 30 September 2012 10:00

Three Colors of Worldview

The starting point to effective intercultural communication.

3-ColorsThe Lenses Through Which You View The World

The Three Colors of Worldview is what we look at first when we try to understand a new situation, because it influences so many other cultural factors. These lenses get at the beliefs and assumptions underlying behavior: for example, that being seen as honorable is more important than being seen as right. Or that maintaining positional power is more important than being shamed.

Like computer displays that create all the different colors you are seeing by mixing Red, Green, and Blue, the three worldviews that mix together are Honor/Shame, Guilt/Innocence, and Power/Fear. To communicate effectively, you have know what lenses you look through, and how to communicate to people who look through different lenses.

1. Guilt/Innocence

In a Guilt/Innocence focused culture, schools focus on deductive reasoning, cause and effect, good questions, and process. Issues are often seen as black and white. Written contracts are paramount. Communication is direct, and can be blunt.

2. Honor/Shame

Societies with a predominantly Honor/Shame worldview teach children to make honorable choices according to the situations they find themselves in. Communication, interpersonal interaction, and business dealings are very relationship-driven, with every interaction having an effect on the honor/shame status of the participants.

3. Power/Fear

Societies with a predominantly Power/Fear worldview raise children to assess where they fit into the pecking order of every situation they are in, and behave accordingly. As they grow up, they learn how to align themselves with the right people to gain more power.

How the Three Worldviews Interact

In many societies that see things primarily through a Guilt/Innocence lens, what is “honorable” is whatever follows the letter and spirit of the law. People from this culture can find it hard to understand the diverse range of things that can fall under honor and shame in other cultures.

Honor/Shame societies can find it difficult to correctly interpret the actions of people from Guilt/Innocence societies, who often display behaviors that bring shame to themselves or to their colleagues without realizing that they have done so.

Power/Fear is a natural part of many hierarchies, and is often found in large organizations, particularly the military and large corporations . However, societies with strong Power/Fear worldviews are usually led by strong authority figures, and very hierarchical. In these societies or organizations, people maintain power through instilling fear in others.

Each of the cultural lenses have positives and negatives, and all of them are present in some mixture in every culture. They represent the basic beliefs which undergird the norms and values that people create. If you want to learn more about those beliefs and values, take a look the 12 Dimensions of Culture.

Use of the Three Colors of Worldview

We find the Three Colors to be a useful starting point when analyzing intercultural situations. They are easy to remember, and they provide an easy and flexible framework through which to understand what is going on in the world around you.

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