Besides physically taking ten kilo baggage in my backpack with me to Asia, I also mentally took some Communication Science related baggage with me. Although I wanted to leave university behind and get some well-deserved rest, I kept finding myself applying theories to the conversations I was having with other backpackers and locals. Two communication theories became most apparent on my journey.
Face Negotiation Theory
According to the Face Negotiation Theory people from different cultures will deal with conflict differently. People from individualistic cultures are more likely to show dominant behavior. On the contrary, in collectivist cultures individuals frequently use avoidance or obliging strategies.
Based on this theory, I had positive expectations about possible conflicts since the two countries I was going to visit, Thailand and Vietnam, both have collectivist cultures. I thought conflict would rarely occur or that it, otherwise, would be easily solved. I couldn’t be more wrong. Every conflict I encountered ranging from the taxi dropping us off in the middle of nowhere to the cancelling of our reservation, was not handled in a civil manner. To illustrate this I will describe my most memorable conflict which regarded the laundry service.
After a muddy day of rafting, I had decided to make use of the laundry service at Pai Circus Hostel. The next day I came back and after I paid, a lady gave me the same bag of laundry back that I had handed in 24 hours ago. I stayed relaxed like everyone else in Pai does and calmly said: ‘this isn’t washed’. The next thing I heard was unintelligible yelling, which was surprisingly loud for a lady her size. I was caught completely off guard and just when I was ready to accept my unwashed laundry, an English speaking volunteer helped me out and made sure I could pick up my laundry the following day. Like a knight in shining armour.
Although this conflict could have been easily avoided, it wasn’t. The Face Negotiation Theory may be relevant to professional environments, it certainly doesn’t apply to the communication towards tourists. Don’t get me wrong, Thai people are friendly and great to talk to, nevertheless the talking can quickly turn into screaming.
Social judgement theory
Contrary to the Netherlands, bargaining is a must in Asia, whether you’re on a market or you want to take a tuk-tuk. Since I had little experience in doing so, I turned to the Social Judgement Theory for guidance. The Social Judgement Theory states that individuals place new ideas on an attitude scale that is based on their established opinions. This scale consists of three latitudes. Firstly, the idea can fall within the ‘latitude of acceptance’ and can be perceived as reasonable. Secondly, in the ‘latitude of noncommitment’ an idea is neither accepted or rejected. Finally, ‘the latitude of rejection’ is the range of ideas which are perceived as unacceptable.
I tried my best, but I kept facing the latitude of rejection
The success of bargaining lies within the search for the lowest price that still falls within the latitude of acceptance. However, to find this price can be harder than finding a way to cross the streets in Ho Chi Minh City. On one educational night in Hoi An, I decided to go to the night market for some souvenirs. I tried my best, but I kept facing the latitude of rejection. At one point, my offer, apparently, so miserable that it caused a boomerang effect.
I found this little orange doll, which I thought would perfectly fit the souvenirs my grandmother had collected over the years. As soon as I picked it up, the owner of the stall came running up to me. He said that it would be 20 000 Vietnamese dong for the doll, which is about 70 eurocent. Since this was his starting point, I asked if he could sell it for 15 000 Vietnamese dong. The next thing he said, was opposite from what I expected: he asked 30 000, a sudden increase of 10.000 dong.
As confused as I was, I eventually bought the doll for the original price of 20.000. I had forgotten that new ideas or offers falling within the latitude of rejection could result in a boomerang effect. This owner had no problem reminding me. In my experience the Social Judgement Theory can be applied to bargaining, yet it is extremely hard to master. I would say it’s a process of trial and a lot of error.
The application of theories on this journey made me realize that being a Communication Science student isn’t something that can be turned off and I am glad it isn’t. I am certain that every student will reflect what they have learned on their day-to-day experiences, which can be fun as well as gratifying. This daily applicability and utility is not only what makes Communication Science so interesting, it is also the reason I am truly excited for the second year!