keep-calm-and-tighten-up-6Cultural differences not only lie between Americans and those from other countries. There are cultural differences amongst Americans based on our geography. Studies have shown how people from different sections of the country approach things differently and have different outlooks. Cultural differences need to be considered when we negotiate with others. We shouldn’t just negotiate to one norm, but instead must take into consideration the culture of the other party.

States vary in terms of their tightness or looseness, according to a study at the University of Maryland which is discussed in an article of Scientific American. Some states have strong norms and little tolerance for deviance (tight) or weak norms and greater tolerance (loose). The reasons for the difference is in large part based on the ecological and historical differences between the states.

Tighten Up or Hang Loose

Studies of cultures in different countries have concluded that cultural differences often arise from different ecological and historical conditions. Tight countries have endured a wide range of ecological and historical threats with loose countries having gone through fewer.

  • The strong norms in tight nations help humans coordinate their social action in the face of numerous survival threats.
  • Loose nations are more able to ”afford” more latitude and permissiveness because they face far fewer natural and human made threats.

Research on the fifty states shows that some striking similarities in why states vary in the strength of their social norms, which is displayed on this map. Tighter states have,

  • More threatening ecological conditions, with a higher incidence of natural disasters, poorer environmental health, greater disease prevalence and fewer natural resources.
  • Greater perceptions of external threat, reflected in the desire for more national defense spending and higher rates of military recruitment.
  • A higher average of conscientiousness, lower impulsivity, greater self-control, orderliness and conformity relative to looser states.
  • Greater social organization (less instability and greater cohesion), better indicators of self-control (lower alcohol and illicit drug abuse) and lower rates of homelessness relative to loose states.
  • Higher incarceration rates, greater discrimination, lower creativity and lower happiness.

Tightness was calculated with a composite index involving many variables, including the,

  • Severity of punishment for violating laws,
  • Degree of permissiveness or deviance tolerance in states,
  • Strength of institutions that constrain behavior and enforce moral order, and
  • Percentage of the total state population that is foreign, which indicates diversity and cosmopolitanism.

Looser states had greater average openness, a personality characteristic associated with non-traditional values and beliefs, tolerance toward difference and cosmopolitanism. Tighter states are located primarily in the South and the Midwest. Looser states are located in the North East, the West Coast and some of the Mountain States.

For instance, a “looser” Californian may be more likely to tolerate someone different than him or herself and feel less of a need to enforce moral order in society. Someone from Tennessee may be “tighter” and feel that deviance from socially acceptable behavior needs to be discouraged and more likely to support institutions like churches or law enforcement that create and enforce moral order.

This information is only useful if you know where the opposing party was raised, which is not normally on a person’s business card. Striking up a conversation with whom you will be negotiating could have many benefits, including learning where the person is from and possibly gaining some insight on their approach. You could describe your client’s position in terms that would appeal to someone from a tight or loose culture, someone who values more social control or someone who values openness and tolerance. There’s no guaranty of success, but this is an approach worth trying.