How to win (and lose) friendships across cultures: Why relational mobility matters


In this article, we have reviewed research which suggests that to understand which relational strategies work in what social context, it is important to understand the characteristics of external social environments which surround individuals, in particular relational mobility. This is called the socio-ecological approach to cultural and regional differences in mind and behavior, an approach which complements previous cross-cultural research. North American societies, as well as urban areas, are high in relational mobility, which means there are an abundance of options for interpersonal relationships. In such a social ecology, people tend to be more confident in their abilities, trust strangers, and be more open about sensitive personal matters. Behaving this way helps them in their goals of acquiring and keeping beneficial friendships. The social environments in East Asia and rural areas, however, tend to be low in relational mobility. Interpersonal relationships are generally pre-determined, and there are fewer options to meet new people. In a social ecology like this, it appears wise to avoid offending others. Doing so will help to maintain harmony in those long-lasting, hard to replace relationships. To put it in a nutshell: Sure, friendships can be tough, but they’re easier to manage if you’re aware of the rules of the game.


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