Hierarchy and authority
Police officers apply standard procedures which have the aim of treating everybody in the same way as well as of securing each other in case a situation escalates. As not every member of the public is aware of this, there may be misunderstandings as far as some police actions are concerned which could lead to unnecessary conflicts between security forces and their counterparts.
A police officer’s duty is to enforce law and order. In this capacity they may sometimes appear quite tough. If, for example, a counterpart is a refugee still struggling with the images of war and flight from their home country, this could lead to manifestations of trauma including symptoms such as aggressiveness.
In such cases, the best solution would be to give explanations which would reassure people and create trust and rapport, allowing an effective and appropriate handling of the situation. The language used should fit the target group in vocabulary, structure and pace as well as be neutral with elements of empathy for the people in such a difficult situation.
Authority is not a quality a person has automatically; it is given to somebody on the basis of certain criteria. These can be a particular role in society (parent, teacher, judge), a certain moral or intellectual superiority or physical dominance.
Linked to this concept is the concept of hierarchy. Hierarchy in the Vocal in Need context implies the social ranking accorded to higher and lower status.
Whether someone is regarded as an authority and the ways in which authority is observed are different from culture to culture. Furthermore, how clearly authority is displayed in a family or institution is also culture specific. Some cultures such as those of the Muslim religion tend to be highly hierarchical and authoritarian. In these societies, authority depends on biological factors, for instance age and gender. Male elders enjoy the highest authority; young, unmarried females have the lowest. This ranking is reflected in the family as well as in society in general.
In societies where tribal structures prevail, hierarchy and authority are also seen in relationship to the tribal patriarch. People who have grown up with this concept may struggle to accept other forms of authority. Even if they live in western societies.
In western societies, hierarchy and authority may show less obviously. This doesn’t mean that the concepts are less important than in societies with stronger hierarchical structures. These societies just have a different way of living these concepts.
According to the Globe Study, societies relevant for the Vocal in Need project display authority and hierarchy according to the following ranking, starting with the highest scores: Nigeria and Morocco, Turkey, Germany, Italy and Iran, Ireland and England, Poland, Austria (House, 2011). Of course, this is only an overall tendency as there is cultural variation even within one country.
- Remember that concepts of hierarchy and authority are culture specific.
- Find out where your counterpart is from. This helps you understand how authority and hierarchy are understood.
- Avoid feeling annoyed if you have the impression your authority hasn’t been accepted. Your counterpart may not be able to read your way of displaying authority.
Hecht-El Minshawi, Beatrice, Kehl-Bodrogi, Krisztina (2004), Muslime in Beruf und Alltag verstehen. Business zwischen Orient und Okzident. Wichtige Infos in Englisch, Weinheim/Basel: Beltz Verlag:
Hofstede, G., Hofstede G.J. (2009). “Die Regeln des sozialen Spiels“. In: G. Hofstede and G.J. Hofstede, ed., Lokales Denken, globales Handeln. 4th ed. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, p. 2.
House, R. J. (2011). Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: the GLOBE study of 62 societies. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
Kabasci, Kirstin (22006), Kulturschock. Kleine Golfstaaten. Oman, Bielefeld: Reise Know-How Verlag Peter Rump GmbH.