Complementary schismogenesis

Imagine you’re used to leaving only a short pause after someone else has finished speaking before you start; you’re speaking to someone who normally waits longer before speaking, and neither of you are aware of this difference is speaking styles. In such a situation, you will probably dominate the conversation, while the other person will have great trouble getting a word in edgeways. You might conclude that they have nothing much to say, while they might think you’re very pushy and unwilling to let them say anything.

If language and cultural differences become exagerated when they come into contact, what you have is complementary schismogenesis. This is a term coined by Gregory Bateson to describe what happens when people with different cultural norms come into contact: they each react to the other’s differing patterns of behaviour by doing more of the opposing behaviour.

Another example of complementary schismogenesis can happen when someone who is used to standing close to the person they’re talking to has a conversation with someone who feels more comfortable with a larger space between them and the other person. The first person will keep on moving closer while the the second will keep on moving away. This is also an example of proxemics – the study of how people use space.

Source: An Introduction to Language and Linguistics, by Raply W. Fasold & Jeff Connor-Linton

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This entry was posted in Language.

4 Responses to Complementary schismogenesis

  1. Frost says:

    As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the book “Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf” addresses these issues when interacting with Finns. That book piqued my interest in topics like this one. Thanks for the sharing.

  2. Adam says:

    I’ve got a co-worker that leaves long pauses after she finishes a thought, about 5-10 secconds. I tend to think she’s done with her story, and I start talking. Then I get an angry glare, and she says, “I’m not finished!” This happens regulary. It’s instinctive for me to fill the silence, so I never learn my lesson. Some days I just don’t respond at all, because I can’t tell when she’s done with her story. (I get glared at for that, too.)

  3. TJ says:

    hehe well that all reminds me of someone that can barely leave spaces in his speech for others to talk …….. in fact ….. would he be silent for a moment? hmmm nah .. i dont think so ..

  4. Minstrel Ayreon says:

    I’ve actually seen this happen between teammates–a Chinese guy and a Ukrainian guy. The Ukrainian was very, very domineering and the Chinese guy was the total opposite, and they reacted to each other by becoming more and more exaggerated in their behaviors, and the group became dysfunctional really fast. To add to this, I am fairly northern U.S. in my behavior and my fourth groupmate was very southern U.S.–which brings with it a less extreme version of the same difference. Not to say I’m domineering (I actually tried very hard to get the Chinese guy involved in the group without his being shouted over), but I don’t like a lot of social chitchat when there’s work to be done.

    I wish I’d had this blog to show to my group members to get the point across (instead of the loss of tempers that happened on almost all sides).