22 October 2012
Enhancing Cultural Sensitivity - Hofstede
Education / Culture Diversities

The Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede developed the cultural dimensions theory, which describes differences between national cultures and can help us define its effect on people’s behavior and its influence on the ease of multicultural communication. It is quite insightful when trying to develop a deeper understanding of how cultures can impact behavior. However, the study was based on IBM employees in different countries and we therefore do not believe that the categorization of cultures applies to any company or person.

The first dimension Power Distance differentiates cultures based on the perception of how important hierarchy and inequality are. Cultures with small power distance consider hierarchy at the workplace as being established more for convenience rather than as a real necessity and employees perceive their superiors as more accessible and closer.  In large power distance cultures, relations at work are much more formal and hierarchy is perceived as essential and inviolable. Therefore, we can imagine there might be potential misunderstandings arising in business relations between countries with a short PD and a large PD.

The second dimension Individualism vs. Collectivism distinguishes cultures to the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. High individualism cultures give more importance to individual initiatives and low individualism nations are characterized by the high necessity of belonging to organizations, groups, and social system leading to a constant battle between “I” and “we”.

The third one is the Masculinity vs. Feminity dimension, competitiveness vs. cooperation. “The distribution of emotional roles between the genders” can influence the quality of communication between two sides. What is more important in business: money or people? This dimension needs to be understood in the context of traditional stereotypes when defining gender roles.

There is also the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension, which indicates that people who come from low uncertainty avoiding cultures are more willing to take risks in life and most probably in business as well. In contradiction, nations with high uncertainty avoidance tend to be more emotional, less resistant for unexpected situation thus needing more written rules and regulations. We can then assume that business activity is much higher in low Uncertainty Avoidance countries. No risk, no gains?

The next dimension Long-term vs. Short-term orientation focuses on a society’s time horizon. Cultures where people attach more importance to the future tend to be more persistent, willing to save and have better capacity for adaptation to different situations. Short-term oriented nations opt for tradition, preservation and quick results. So future or presence then?

In conclusion, cultural aspects can be analyzed from very different angles, and this is only one of the theories. Clearly, there are many other factors influencing relations and cultural sensitivity, nevertheless Hofstede’s theory allows seeing the “traps” that are waiting for us in cross-cultural relations. Today’s world requires us to be aware of cultural differences, to be tolerant and have a bit of courtesy and goodwill to be able to create a friendly atmosphere in an international environment and to significantly improve cross-cultural communication. Cross-cultural awareness can be of significant relevance when navigating in international relations and business. It can lead a company to succeed or failure in global markets.

“To know one’s self is wisdom, but to know one’s neighbor is genius”  - Minna Antrim

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