How We Talk About Culture
In order to compare how things are done in different Cultures, we need vocabulary, a way of talking about something that is quite intangible. Throughout the years, various scholars have developed models that are used to describe Cultural Differences. They all utilize horizontal scales with terms that describe a particular value system at each end. These scales are called Dimensions of Culture. An example of one Dimension is Task vs. Relationship.
• Emphasis on task accomplishment.
• Work relationships are created and dropped easily, based on the needs of the situation.
• Doing good work consistently and being reliable is valued
• Emphasis is on who is in the workgroup.
• Work relationships are built up slowly over time and are for the long-term
• Good work comes from collaboration based on deep, trusting relationships.
Cultural Dimension models are used to:
- Foster Cultural Self-awareness: To help people understand that their own behavior is culturally determined.
- Foster “Other-awareness”: To provide a tool with which to understand and interpret the behavior of those who come from a different Culture.
- Provide a common vocabulary: to give people a set of common words they can use to speak about the differences they encounter.
- “Map” Cultures. By placing two or more Cultures on the horizontal line, you can visualize how different people’s behavior might be similar situations.
Cultures are never pure versions of one pole or the other in the model. All Cultures have aspects of both extremes, but if we look at the general tendencies of a Culture, we can position them as being more toward one pole or the other.
It is also the case that the absolute position of a Culture on the horizontal line is not as important as the relative positioning of Cultures. The value of knowing your position on a Dimension is where you are in relation to people from other Cultures you might be interacting with.
In an upcoming blog post, we will further explore this concept of Cultural Dimensions by deep diving into the Dimension of Low-Context vs High-Context Communication, which is the primary Dimension that impacts the activity of presenting.