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The two different values of authority

How is authority viewed and valued differently across cultures? This article explores hierarchical and egalitarian values systems.

The third cultural value in the TRAFIC model is authority, which is demonstrated in a continuum between a hierarchical and egalitarian values system.

The TRAFIC model acronym. The letter 'A', which stands for 'Authority', is highlighted in red.

Below are the two different values illustrating the concept of ‘authority’.

Hierarchical values system:

  • Clear definition of responsibilities, reporting lines and decision-making process (control);
  • Unequal distribution of authority (power); status is important
  • Formal interpersonal communication style as expression of respect for senior management. In some cultures, there is a clear difference in ways people are addressed, depending on the framework (professional or private)

Egalitarian values system:

  • Focus on equal distribution of power among persons involved; flat organisational structure
  • Equal opportunity for everybody to have input in the decision-making process;
  • Informal interpersonal communication style

Let’s look at these values using some contrasting statements.

Hierarchy is valued:

  • Leaders are solely responsible for an organisation’s decision.
  • Employees should not attempt to speak to Senior Executives without their own Manager’s consent. That would be disrespectful towards the latter.
  • A Senior Manager might have a separate office with a door. That privilege goes with their status/position within the organisation.
  • One should not contradict one’s parents, for they have more life experience, have earned their child’s respect and they make decisions.
  • It is absolutely normal that people who have far more wealth and status than others should have greater power and privileges.

Egalitarian structure is valued:

  • The responsibility for decisions should be a shared process.
  • In companies with a flat organisational structure, communication tends to be a bit more informal and direct between staff members.
  • Separate offices with doors are usually avoided with the aim to allow for more open communication between colleagues.
  • Parents deserve respect because of many reasons. They trust their adult children’s judgment, ask for their perspective and respect their decisions.
  • Having more power and wealth does not entitle any member of society to put themselves above other people.
Are these different attitudes and perceptions towards authority something that you have observed before? How have they influenced your interactions with others?
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Introduction to Cultural Intelligence

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