We focus on 7 key questions that reveal the underpinnings of culture
After getting a handle on the fundamentals of the Peach and the Coconut — a culture based on a fair playing field or a culture based on relationships — one can take the next step into more of the particular ways in which cultures are different from one another.
Why is it important understand differences in global cultures? Have you every had an international negotiation go bad and not know why? Have you ever thought you were extremely clear in agreeing on a certain outcome, but then the actual results are a complete surprise? Why does that happen?
Understanding the fundamental principles of culture will help. We find that the following seven questions provide a strong starting point in understanding cultural differences. Each question introduces a pair of cultural orientations between which conflict and confusion often arises.
1. How do we deal with time differently?
Monochronic describes a time based cultural orientation that is ordinal, where activities are linear, specific and defined. Schedules, GANT charts, agendas, process orthodoxy and dialectic communication are artifacts of monochronic cultures.
Polychronic describes a time based cultural orientation where order and definition are fluid. Activities are non-linear, communication is dialogic and multiple topics are discussed in what appears to be random order. Creative individual space, impromptu meetings and equifinality are artifacts of polychronic cultures.
2. How do we deal with status differently?
Achievement is a cultural orientation where accomplishments are used to determine individual status. College degrees, titles, certificates and income levels determine individual status. Vitas that list accomplishments (such as “New York Times Best Selling Author”) are the artifacts of achievement oriented cultures.
Ascription is a cultural orientation where affiliations are used to determine status. Tribal affiliation, religion, age, gender, political party, family linage, or even village affiliation determine status. Tribal symbols, dress codes, facial hair or style requirements, or genealogy are the artifacts of ascription-oriented cultures.
3. How do we find agreement?
Universalism is a cultural orientation where one right way and universal law determine what is true. Strong professional and ethical codes, legal procedures and contracts are the artifacts of universalist cultures.
Particularism is a cultural orientation where individual relationships are more important than rules. Strong social rituals, obligations, social networks and meeting and greeting rituals are artifacts of particularist cultures.
4. How do we measure contribution?
Individualism is a cultural orientation where identity is contained within individuals. Ethical behavior, accomplishment, and achievements are rooted in individual behavior. Resumes, performance evaluations, “employee of the month” awards, and bonus systems are artifacts of individualist cultures.
Collectivism is a cultural orientation where identity rests with the group first. The greater good of the team, the company or even the nation are put before the rights of the individual. Team performance evaluations, team building through social engagement and uniforms are artifacts of collectivist cultures.
5. How do we work as a team?
High Power Distance
High Power Distance is a cultural orientation that encourages inequality. Leaders, elderly and other high status individuals are seen as separate from lower status individuals. Opulent offices, limos, palaces, and high security are artifacts of high power distance cultures.
Lower Power Distance
Lower Power Distance is a cultural orientation that encourages individual equality. There are few barriers to social interaction between high status and low status individuals. The rare use of titles, common spaces and equal access to work spaces are artifacts of low power distance cultures.
6. What level of involvement in other’s lives is appropriate?
Specific Focus is a cultural orientation where precision, definition and segmentation are highly valued. High levels of specialization, careful definition and reductive logic are artifacts of specific cultures.
Diffuse Focus is a cultural orientation where holism, integration and sustainability are highly valued. Open spaces, long pauses, and conditional logic are artifacts of Diffuse Focus.
7. How do we define appropriate expressions of emotion?
Neutral is a cultural orientation where public emotions are guarded, protected and private. Stone faced, poker faced and ridged public figures are artifacts of a neutral culture. Neutral cultures often let emotions build up and release is volcanic and temporary.
Affective is a cultural orientation where emotions precede logic and are public and ritualistic. Use of hand and facial gestures are artifacts of affective cultures. Affective cultures often have public displays of emotion in media and in work environments.
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