Tom Verghese shares his advice on how to navigate cross cultural situations with different attitudes to hierarchy, religion and collectivism…
In our last article, we began looking at CQ Knowledge which refers to your own personal knowledge and understanding of other cultures. We introduced the idea that differences and similarities between cultures can be assessed in terms of core values, beliefs, norms and behaviour and provided a cultural mirror which plots Nine Dimensions of Culture.
Having already discussed the first three dimensions, this month we will move onto the fourth, fifth and six dimensions and explore their application and give some tips and ideas on how to navigate these dimensions in cross cultural situations.
Dimension Four: Collectivism – Individualism
In Collectivist societies, people are concerned about the impact of their behaviour on other people and are more willing to sacrifice personal interest for the attainment of collectivist interests and harmony. Group harmony, loyalty and unity are emphasised. Examples of countries with a stronger preference for collectivist beliefs are Japan, Ecuador and India.
Individualistic societies tend to use personal characteristics and achievements to define self-worth. Free will and self-determination are important qualities. Individual welfare is valued over that of the group and everyone is expected to look after themselves and their family. Examples of countries with a stronger preference for Individualistic beliefs are The USA, Australia and Germany.
Some tips for people coming from a Collectivist culture working with an Individualistic culture are:
– Have a point of view on topics
– Be willing to speak out and challenge in meetings
Some tips for people from an Individualistic culture working with a Collectivist culture are:
– Think more from a ‘we’ than ‘I’ perspective
– Ask more questions to engage and get of sense of people’s thinking
Dimension Five: Religious – Secular
In religious cultures, religion plays a part in the everyday practices of life. This can include things like prayer, eating certain foods, observing special religious holidays etc. In these countries work and religious practices are intertwined. Countries that can be considered to have a stronger religious preference are Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Israel.
Secular cultures believe that there needs to be a separation between state and religion. These types of societies believe that decisions, work and public activities should be free from the influence of religion and religious practice. Some examples of Secular countries are Australia, Mexico and Denmark.
People coming from Religious cultures and working with Secular cultures should:
– Appreciate that others may not share the same beliefs as you
– Avoid bringing up the topic of religion unless asked
People coming from Secular cultures working with religious cultures should:
– Have an appreciation of how religious beliefs impact thinking
– Respect different belief systems
Dimension Six: Hierarchical – Equality
In Hierarchical cultures, inequality is seen as normal and is accepted as part of life. Titles and class position are very important and those in authority tend to exercise power in an autocratic and paternalistic manner. People in these cultures feel dependent on those in authority and are cautious about challenging or disagreeing with them. Countries with a stronger preference for this type of culture include Korea and India.
In Equality based cultures, value is placed on minimising levels of power. People expect to have more control and to be involved in the decision- making process. Young people are treated as equals and adults expect to be treated in the same way as those in leadership roles. Countries with a stronger preference of Equality based culture are Denmark and Switzerland.
Tips for people from Hierarchical cultures when working with those from Equality cultures:
– Learn how to express ideas with those in senior roles
– Be courageous to challenge ideas and address others as equals
Tips for people coming from Equality cultures when working with those from Hierarchical cultures:
– Respect titles, age, qualifications, positions and appreciate where you fit in
– Learn how to adapt your tone of voice, pitch and language depending on who you are speaking with.
By taking into account some of the different values and beliefs that cultures may have, we are able to increase our agility and better manage and understand some of the challenges we may face in cross cultural situations. In particular this leads to better results and fewer tensions in the work place.