Sidewalk Talk

Rule Makers and Rule Breakers with Michele Gelfand

October 19, 2022

Michele Gelfand is a Professor at Stanford University, and an expert on negotiation and cross-cultural psychology. Her book Rule Makers, Rule Breakers explores how tight and loose cultures wire our world, and in doing so offers unique insights on how we might bridge today’s cultural divides.

Michele and Traci chat about the impact of culture on everything from international negotiation to couple’s arguments over chores… in a wide-ranging and fascinating conversation that might just shift how you see yourself and the people around you.

Episode Timeline

  • [00:09] Intro 
  • [0:58] Meet Michele
  • [3:33] “Tight” and “loose” culture as a puzzle
  • [5:25] Michele and Traci share traveling stories and how they illuminate cultural differences (and subcultural similarities)
  • [8:58] What is culture?
  • [10:19] How countries develop a tight or loose culture
  • [12:17] How understanding culture can create empathy
  • [16:27] The polarization at play in the USA’s culture
  • [17:40] Why experiencing threat can lead people to want a tighter culture
  • [19:31] Michele shares the behind-the-scenes of a fascinating study challenging the views of people from Pakistan and the USA have of each other
  • [21:33] Cultural intelligence as a way of connecting more deeply
  • [26:32] How tight and loose cultures responded to the pandemic
  • [29:16] Getting curious about psychology in international negotiating 
  • [34:07] Negotiations in couples (the impact of leaning tight or loose)
  • [35:45] Household chores and the surprising thing they reveal about attitudes and culture
  • [40:51] The relationship between rules and social class
  • [44:48] Michele’s life advice (including a touching reflection from her late father-in-law)
  • [47:35] Closing
  • [48:01] Outro

Resources Mentioned

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers (Michele’s book)

Standout Quotes

  • “Cultural intelligence is critical for connection because then you're really open-minded to people's lives and why they evolved the way they did. And it's really hard sometimes not to be judgmental.” (Michele)
  • “In the US, individualism and doing your own thing is so part of the culture. And partly it's something that we've inherited because we have more wealth than other cultures and so in contexts where there's not a lot of wealth, you need to have strong support. You need to kind of help out the family. Like, it's just absolutely necessary.” (Michele)
  • “there's less debt and there's less alcoholism, less obesity in tighter cultures.” (Michele)
  • “loose cultures did far worse during COVID. But loose cultures are really open and creative and tolerant.” (Michele)


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Find | Traci Ruble


On Instagram: @TraciRubleMFT

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Find | Michele Gelfand


On Twitter: @MicheleJGefland



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