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Inter-Cultural Dimensions

Rubins vase

Hofstedes definition:
collective mental programming or the software of mind.
Stereotype = a fixed idea or image that many people have of
a particular type of person or thing, but which is not true in
In intercultural communication it is important to distinguish
between a persons cultural background and personality.

Culture refers to the cumulative deposit

of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values,
attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles,
spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and
possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of
generations through individual and group striving.
Culture is the sum total of the learned behavior of a group of
people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that
people and are transmitted from generation to generation.
Culture is a collective programming of the mind that
distinguishes the members of one group or category of people
from another

Globalization means that there is now one business

culture everywhere in the world.
If they want to do business with me, they will have to
adapt to my culture.
It is impossible to generalize about cultures there are
too many.
Intercultural training just confirms stereotypes



We know we are living in a global age.

Technology has brought the world much
closer together. This means that people of
different cultures find themselves working
together and communicating more and more.

This is exciting and interesting, but it can also be frustrating

and fraught with uncertainty. How do you relate to someone of
another culture? What do you say, or not say, to start a
conversation off right? Are there cultural taboos you need to
be aware of?

Building connections with people from around the world is

just one dimension of cultural diversity. You also have issues
like motivating people, structuring projects, and developing
What works in one location may or may not work somewhere
else. The question is, "How can I come to understand these
cultural differences?" Are we relegated to learning from our
mistakes or are there generalized guidelines to follow?

National cultures can be described according to the analysis

of Geert Hofstede - an influential Dutch writer on the
interactions between national cultures and organizational
His ideas were based on a large research project into
national culture differences in a multinational corporation
(IBM) in 64 countries. Subsequent studies by others
covered students in 23 countries, elites in 19 countries,
commercial airline pilots in 23 countries, up-market
consumers in 15 countries, and civil service managers in 14

With access to people working for the same organization in

over 40 countries of the world, Hofstede collected cultural
data and analyzed his findings. He initially identified four
distinct cultural dimensions that served to distinguish one
culture from another. Later he added a fifth dimension and that
is how the model stands today.
He scored each country using a scale of roughly 0 to 100 for
each dimension. The higher the score, the more that dimension
is exhibited in society.

Power Dstance Index

Individualism vs. Collectivism
Masulinity vs. Femininity
Uncertainty Avoidance Index
Long Term Orientation
Indulgence vs. Restraint
The Hofstede Model of Cultural Dimensions can be of great
use when it comes to analyzing a countrys culture. There
are however a few things one has to keep in mind.

Hofstedes Power distance Index measures the extent

to which the less powerful members of organizations
and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that
power is distributed unequally.
This represents inequality (more versus less), but
defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a
societys level of inequality is endorsed by the
followers as much as by the leaders.

High PD - Characteristics
Centralized companies.
Strong hierarchies.
Large gaps in compensation, authority, and respect.
High PD - Tips
Acknowledge a leader's power.
Be aware that you may need to go to the top for answers

Low PD - Characteristics
Flatter organizations.
Supervisors and employees are considered almost as equals.

Low PD - Tips

Use teamwork
Involve as many people as possible in decision making.

For example, Germany has a 35 on the cultural scale of

Hofstedes analysis.
Compared to Arab countries where the power distance is
very high (80) and Austria where it very low (11), Germany
is somewhat in the middle.
Germany does not have a large gap between the wealthy
and the poor, but have a strong belief in equality for each
citizen. Germans have the opportunity to rise in society.

On the other hand, the power distance in the United

States scores a 40 on the cultural scale. The United
States exhibits a more unequal distribution of wealth
compared to German society. As the years go by it
seems that the distance between the have and havenots grows larger and larger.

Individualism is the opposite of collectivism, that is the degree to

which individuals are integrated into groups.

On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties

between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after
him/herself and his/her immediate family.

On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from

birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups,
often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents)
which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning

For example, Germany can be considered as individualistic

with a high score (89) on the scale of Hofstede compared to
a country like Guatemala where they have strong
collectivism (6 on the scale).

In Germany people stress on personal achievements and

individual rights. Germans expect from each other to fulfill
their own needs. Group work is important, but everybody
has the right of his own opinion an is expected to reflect
those. In an individual country like Germany people tend to
have more loose relationships than countries where there is
a collectivism where people have large extended families.

The United States can clearly be seen as

individualistic (scoring a 91). The American dream is
clearly a representation of this. This is the Americans
hope for a better quality of life and a higher standard of
living than their parents. This belief is that anyone,
regardless of their status can pull up their boot straps
and raise themselves from poverty.

Masculinity versus femininity refers to the distribution of roles

between the genders .
The IBM studies revealed that:
(a) womens values differ less among societies than mens
(b) mens values from one country to another contain a
dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally
different from womens values on the one side, to modest and
caring and similar to womens values on the other.
The assertive pole has been called masculine and the modest,
caring pole feminine.

For example, Germany has a masculine culture with a

66 on the scale of Hofstede (Netherlands 14).
Masculine traits include assertiveness,
materialism/material success, self-centeredness, power,
strength, and individual achievements. The United
States scored a 62 on Hofstedes scale. So these two
cultures share, in terms of masculinity, similar values.

Uncertainty avoidance deals with a societys tolerance for

uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to mans
search for Truth.
It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members
to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured
situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown,
surprising, and different from usual.
Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the
possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety
and security measures, and on the philosophical and
religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; there can only
be one Truth and we have it.

High UAI - people with high UAI work well within a

structured environment, under strict laws, rules and
In a high UAI workplace, employees perform at their best
with clear directives and follow standards & procedures.
Low UAI - people with low UAI can tolerate uncertainty
and welcome freedom of opinions, try to have as few rules
as possible.
In a low UAI workplace, employees tend to "go with the
flow," are more flexible and do not require instructions and
rules to perform well.

For example, in Germany there is a reasonable high

uncertainty avoidance (65) compared to countries as
Singapore (8) and neighboring country Denmark (23).
Germans are not to keen on uncertainty, by planning
everything carefully they try to avoid the uncertainty. In
Germany there is a society that relies on rules, laws and
regulations. Germany wants to reduce its risks to the
minimum and proceed with changes step by step.
The United States scores a 46 compared to the 65 of the
German culture. Uncertainty avoidance in the US is
relatively low, which can clearly be viewed through the
national cultures.

Long-Term Orientation is the fifth

dimension of Hofstede which was added after the original
four to try to distinguish the difference in thinking between
the East and West.
From the original IBM studies, this difference was
something that could not be deduced.
Therefore, Hofstede created a Chinese value survey which
was distributed across 23 countries. From these results, and
with an understanding of the influence of the teaching of
Confucius on the East, long term vs. short term
orientation became the fifth cultural dimension.

Long term orientation

-ordering relationships by status and observing this
-having a sense of shame
Short term orientation
-personal steadiness and stability
-protecting your face
-respect or tradition
-reciprocation of greetings, favors, and gifts

LTO refers to the degree to which the society upholds

traditional values. High or low dimensions predispose
countries to resist or accept change.
High LTO - In a high LTO workplace, the society is
entrenched in traditions of yore, which often means that
long term commitments and hard work as a plan for
future rewards outweigh the need for rapid change.
Low LTO - In a low LTO workplace, a society change
can occur faster since long term traditions do not
impede them.

Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively

free gratification of basic and natural human drives
related to enjoying life and having fun.

Restraint stands for a society that suppresses

gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict
social norms.

In response to a disability, individuals from a culture of

indulgence feel that they have control over their future level
of function and participation in life activities;
Individuals from a background of cultural restraint may
have a sense of helplessness and be less actively involved in
taking control over their involvement in functional
activities outside of the clinic.
Additionally, in cultures valuing restraint, leisure activities
are of lesser value, which may prove important to consider
in selecting functional therapy activities. Cultures valuing
indulgence place higher importance on leisure and so
activities considered enjoyable may be more appropriate for
individuals with this cultural trait.

Indulgent cultures (such as Mexico and the USA) tend

to be happier, more optimistic and extrovert. They
place a high value on friendship, leisure time and
health, and believe that it's important to have control
over your own life.
Restrained cultures, on the other hand (such as Egypt)
tend to take a more frugal and cynical outlook,
favouring moral discipline and believing
that gratification should be repressed. These are often
very religious cultures, formed of tightly-knit

Tips for Indulgent cultures:

Make interactions fun
Give away entertaining freebies
Use and encourage user generated content
Provide honest discussion
Reflect loose gender roles by using a range of models

Emphasise how you serve the community

Frugal, show how they can save money
Strict, cultured gender roles
Website should be structured, predictable
Use formal communication

Key Points:
Cultural norms play a large part in the mechanics and
interpersonal relationships at work. When you grow up in a
culture you take your norms of behavior for granted. You
don't have to think about your reactions, preferences, and
When you step into a foreign culture, suddenly things seem
different. You don't know what to do or say. Using
Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions as a starting point, you can
evaluate your approach, your decisions, and actions based
on a general sense of how the society might think and react
to you.

We readily acknowledge that cultural

differences exist. It is apparent looking at cities like Shanghai
and Sydney that the differences are profound. Yet, within a
business context we often think that the differences have faded
away to be replaced with a generic international business
culture, one-size-fits-all from Sydney to Shanghai to
This perception is often supported by our initial view of
business in those cities. Businesspeople dress similarly and
seem to behave similarly. While art and decor have some
variations, the standard office furniture exists in any of these
locations. And yet, a few close observations will reveal the
differences that do exist.

The furniture and layout of the offices can provide an

indication of the differences. Are the offices open-plan or
cubicles? If it is a combination of the two, what positions have
offices? How are those offices decorated or furnished? These
aspects can give you an indication of how status is viewed,
and who deserves respect. Are the doors open or shut? Even
the position of the guests chairs in the office can show you the
extent of personal space that people feel comfortable with in
this business culture.



Managers at one American company were startled

when they discovered that the brand name of the
cooking oil they were marketing in a Latin American
country translated into Spanish as "Jackass Oil.
American Motors tried to market its new car, the
Matador, based on the image of courage and strength.
However, in Puerto Rico the name means "killer" and
was not popular on the hazardous roads in the

3. A sales manager in Hong Kong tried to control employee's

promptness at work. He insisted they come to work on time
instead of 15 minutes late. They complied, but then left
exactly on time instead of working into the evening as they
previously had done. Much work was left unfinished until
the manager relented and they returned to their usual time
4. A US telephone company tried to market its products and
services to Latinos by showing a commercial in which a
Latino wife tells her husband to call a friend, telling her
they would be late for dinner. The commercial bombed
since Latino women do not order their husbands around and
their use of time would not require a call about lateness.

5. Proctor & Gamble used a television commercial in Japan

that was popular in Europe. The ad showed a woman
bathing, her husband entering the bathroom and touching
her. The Japanese considered this ad an invasion of privacy,
inappropriate behavior, and very poor taste.
6. An American business person refused an offer of a cup of
coffee from a Saudi businessman. Such a rejection is
considered very rude and the business negotiations became