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How Southeast Asian women deal with competing demands to be assertive and accommodating

26 July 1996


In American society, assertiveness is an important means of achieving goals and is highly valued in .the professional arena. In the united States, mainstream values regarding what constitutes healthy and adaptive interpersonal behavior often reflect a valuing of stereotypic, middle-class masculine behavior and . related norms, e.g., individualism (Fine, 1985; Gervasio & Crawford, 1989). Many of the values embraced by Southeast Asian cultural groups are quite different from American values, including the importance of community relationships, group orientation, conformity, self-restraint in interpersonal conduct, and the concept of saving face (Fukuyama & Coleman, 1992; Sue, Sue, & Ino, 1990; Uba, 1994). This study investigates how the values underlying assertiveness in American culture conflict with Southeast Asian values, and in particular how Southeast Asian women cope with competing demands to be assertive and accommodating. The research approach is a qualitative analysis; nine Southeast Asian women were interviewed with respect to how they cope with competing demands to be assertive and accommodating. The results from the study provide rich information that could potentially be useful in augmenting future quantitative studies relating to different cultural expectations for interpersonal behaviors, particularly . with regard to interpersonal relating and assertiveness in the professional arena. The results suggest that the issue is not the values underlying the construct of assertiveness per se that make it difficult for Southeast Asian women to behave in an assertive manner, but the clash of competing values between the individual's cultural values and the mainstream cultural values.


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