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Your international and multicultural context

Globalisation has brought people from different cultural backgrounds much closer together and this should be taken into consideration in today’s multicultural business environments.

While cultural diversity gives access to many different perspectives and often fuels creativity and innovation, it brings with it challenges which include the risk of miscommunication, prejudice and conflict. Developing an awareness of different cultural dimensions is a possible solution to these problems and has been the focus of much research, such as the influential studies conducted by Geert Hofstede.

Between 1967 and 1973, Geert Hofstede carried out two large-scale surveys of 117,000 employees working for IBM, the multinational technology corporation. Using the results from surveys conducted in 66 countries over several years, Hofstede and his team obtained a score (out of 100) for each country, along particular cultural dimensions. Hofstede found there were visible differences between the outlooks and behaviours of different nations along six main dimensions which emerged from the survey data.

The Hofstede framework can be used to describe a society and identify the implications for the organisational culture of businesses that operate within it. This, in turn, can inform the way in which they communicate.

The dimensions identified by Hofstede’s research are:

  • The Power Distance Index gauges the cultural relationship with authority. In a country that scores highly along this dimension, people don’t usually question authority figures, whether this is a parent, teacher or line manager. People are less likely to expect to be consulted about decisions that affect them than those who are citizens of a country with a low score.

  • The Uncertainty Avoidance Index measures the degree to which a society feels threatened by uncertainty or ambiguity. A nation that scores highly in this dimension believes in absolute truths and is intolerant of ‘deviant’ ideas or behaviours. It has strict timetables and establishes formal rules. However, the attachment to these rules, according to Hofstede (1994), is an emotional one, which means they are not necessarily respected in practice. Those societies that have low scores in this dimension are more tolerant of uncertain situations and value virtues such as originality.

  • The Masculinity/Femininity Dimension tries to discover the extent to which the dominant values in society are ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. Masculinity, in Hofstede’s framework, encompasses assertiveness, materialism and a yearning for recognition. In such a society, meetings are regarded as a chance for self-assertion rather than decision-making. Conversely, feminine societies value collaboration and security.

  • The Individualism Dimension attempts to measure the degree to which society values the individual. In nations which score highly in this dimension, people are expected to look after and take responsibility for themselves. They tend to think in terms of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’. Speaking your mind is seen as a sign of honesty and a virtue. Transgressors often feel guilt. By contrast, in collectivist societies, loyalty lies with the group rather than the person and their immediate family. It is important to preserve harmony and feelings are communicated indirectly. Transgressors often feel shame.

  • The Indulgence versus Restraint Dimension measures the degree to which a culture allows people to indulge their basic needs and desires. A society may seek easy gratification of its own desires and impulses, or may suppress them by imposing rules and regulations.

  • The Long-Term Orientation versus Short-Term Orientation dimension measures the degree to which a culture is focused on the past, present and future. A society scores highly in this dimension if it deals with present and future challenges, while maintaining links with the past. This society looks favourably upon innovation and change. In contrast, a low score is typical of societies who highly value tradition and well-tested norms, and are less keen to change.

You’ll have a chance to explore and compare cultural dimensions using Hofstede’s findings.

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This article is from the free online course:

Business Fundamentals: Effective Communication

The Open University