How do different Cultural values affect Adaptability?
Culture has many layers and is not just isolated to work culture. Your gender, age, marital status, sexual identity and orientation, family structure, the country you were born in, the country you live in, the city you live in, economic status, social status, political views, the company you work for... there are an endless number of complex cultural layers that make each person unique. Some of those cultural layers come to work with you. Some of them are enhanced while others are repressed.
So what is Culture? Culture is a fancy word for "how things are done around here". Like a rock in a riverbed, the rock acts upon the water and creates change in the way the water flows. And the water acts upon the rock, shaping facets of its structure. Each of those different streams of identity influences your attitudes, how you process the world, and how you behave in the different contexts in which you experience them.
Between 1967 and 1973 the social psychologist Geert Hofstede ran a worldwide survey within IBM to examine employee cultural values. It became the foundation of his lifetime work to analyze and compare cultural differences. The framework consists of six dimensions that not only show up in the workplace but are also reflected in individual behavior.
Power Distance Index (PDI): It measures the extent to which less powerful members of a society accept and expect power to be distributed unequally. High PDI indicates a greater acceptance of hierarchical structures, while low PDI suggests a preference for more equality.
Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV): This dimension focuses on the degree of interdependence between individuals in a society. High IDV represents a preference for individual rights, freedom, and autonomy, while low IDV indicates a stronger emphasis on group harmony and cooperation.
Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS): It examines the distribution of roles and values related to assertiveness, competitiveness, and achievement. High MAS reflects a society valuing traditionally masculine traits, such as ambition and success, while low MAS indicates a preference for cooperation, modesty, and quality of life.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI): This dimension assesses the level of tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty within a society. High UAI indicates a preference for rules, regulations, and structured environments to minimize uncertainty, while low UAI suggests a higher tolerance for ambiguity and a more relaxed approach.
Long-Term Orientation versus Short-Term Orientation (LTO): It explores the extent to which a society values long-term traditions, perseverance, and savings versus short-term gratification and fulfilling immediate needs.
Indulgence versus Restraint (IND): This dimension relates to the degree of indulgence in enjoying life's pleasures and desires versus having strict social norms and suppressing gratification.
To get an idea of how different cultures compare, check out the Country comparison tool on hofstede-insights.com.
In addition to Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions, several other cultural value dimensions have been proposed by different researchers and scholars. Here are a few additional cultural dimensions that are commonly referenced:
- High-Context versus Low-Context: This dimension, proposed by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, relates to the level of implicit communication and reliance on contextual cues within a culture. High-context cultures rely heavily on non-verbal cues, shared knowledge, and indirect communication, whereas low-context cultures tend to prioritize explicit and direct communication, relying less on contextual cues.
Guanxi: This dimension, particularly relevant in Chinese culture, refers to the importance of social connections, relationships, and networks. It emphasizes the influence of personal relationships and networks in various aspects of life, including business, politics, and social interactions.
Time Orientation: This dimension examines the extent to which a culture emphasizes past, present, or future time perspectives. Some cultural frameworks distinguish between monochronic and polychronic time orientations. Monochronic cultures tend to view time as linear, sequential, and structured, valuing punctuality and strict adherence to schedules. Polychronic cultures, on the other hand, have a more fluid and flexible approach to time, often emphasizing the importance of relationships and adaptability over strict adherence to schedules.
Communication Style: Communication styles can vary across cultures. For example, some cultures emphasize direct and explicit communication, while others may prefer indirect or nuanced communication styles. These differences can affect how individuals express opinions, convey criticism, and negotiate.
Harmony versus Assertiveness: This dimension reflects the degree to which a culture values harmony, cooperation, and maintaining social relationships versus assertiveness, competition, and individual goals. Cultures that prioritize harmony tend to emphasize collective goals, conflict avoidance, and interpersonal harmony. Cultures that emphasize assertiveness may value individual achievement, competition, and direct expression of opinions.
Ethical Orientation: This dimension focuses on the ethical values and principles that guide behavior within a culture. It encompasses concepts such as the importance of honesty, integrity, fairness, and adherence to ethical norms and codes of conduct.
As you read through those, there were probably a few that you identified with and others you often come into conflict with. Culture can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and friction. So how can we be adaptable in those different situations. The famous martial artist, Bruce Lee, one said, "Be like water."
It helps to understand the different cultural dimensions and how these frameworks have implications for adaptability in various ways. Here's a general overview of how each dimension might relate to adaptability:
- Power Distance Index (PDI): Cultures with a higher power distance may have a more hierarchical structure where authority and decision-making are concentrated at the top. In such cultures, adaptability may require individuals to be flexible and willing to adapt to the decisions and directives of those in power. Conversely, cultures with lower power distance may encourage more open communication and participation in decision-making, which can foster greater adaptability as individuals are empowered to contribute their ideas and make adjustments as needed.
- Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV): Cultures with a higher individualism score tend to value independence, personal autonomy, and self-reliance. In these cultures, adaptability may require individuals to be comfortable with taking initiatives, making independent decisions, and adapting to changing circumstances. Conversely, cultures with a higher collectivism score emphasize group harmony and cooperation. Adaptability in collectivist cultures may involve aligning with group goals, cooperating with others, and adapting within the context of maintaining social harmony.
- Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS): Cultures with a higher masculinity score may prioritize competition, achievement, and assertiveness. Adaptability in such cultures may involve being proactive, taking risks, and striving for success in a changing environment. In contrast, cultures with a higher femininity score tend to value cooperation, quality of life, and consensus-building. Adaptability in feminine cultures may involve finding compromises, seeking consensus, and adapting in ways that promote the well-being of individuals and the group.
- Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI): Cultures with a higher uncertainty avoidance score tend to have a lower tolerance for ambiguity and may seek to minimize uncertainty through established rules, procedures, and structures. In such cultures, adaptability may require individuals to navigate within established frameworks and follow predetermined processes. Cultures with a lower uncertainty avoidance score are generally more open to change and ambiguity, which can foster greater adaptability as individuals are more comfortable with uncertainty and change.
- Long-Term Orientation versus Short-Term Orientation (LTO): Cultures with a higher long-term orientation score tend to value perseverance, thrift, and planning for the future. Adaptability in these cultures may involve being patient, persistent, and willing to invest time and effort for long-term goals. Cultures with a higher short-term orientation score emphasize immediate gratification and traditions. Adaptability in short-term oriented cultures may involve being flexible, adapting to changing circumstances quickly, and balancing short-term needs with long-term goals.
- Indulgence versus Restraint (IND): Cultures with a higher indulgence score tend to value personal happiness, enjoyment, and self-expression. Adaptability in such cultures may involve being open to new experiences, embracing change, and finding ways to accommodate individual desires and needs. Cultures with a higher restraint score emphasize self-control, conformity, and adherence to social norms. Adaptability in restrained cultures may involve respecting and adapting to established norms and finding ways to channel individual desires within the boundaries set by society.
- High-Context versus Low-Context: In high-context cultures, where communication relies heavily on implicit cues and shared knowledge, adaptability may require individuals to be sensitive to non-verbal cues and context, as well as to interpret and respond to indirect communication effectively. In low-context cultures, where communication is more explicit and direct, adaptability may involve clear and straightforward communication to facilitate understanding and adapt to changing circumstances.
Guanxi: In cultures that place a high value on social connections and networks, adaptability may involve leveraging and maintaining relationships to navigate through changes and challenges. Adapting successfully may require building and nurturing guanxi networks, as well as understanding and adhering to the social norms and obligations associated with those relationships.
Time Orientation: Adapting to different time orientations requires flexibility. In monochronic cultures, adaptability may involve strict adherence to schedules, punctuality, and efficient time management. In polychronic cultures, adaptability may require a more flexible approach, being comfortable with interruptions, multitasking, and prioritizing relationships over rigid timeframes.
Communication Style: Adapting to different communication styles involves understanding and adjusting one's approach to effectively convey and receive information. Adapting in direct communication cultures may involve expressing opinions and concerns openly and directly. In indirect communication cultures, adaptability may require reading between the lines, recognizing implicit cues, and understanding the underlying meaning behind the communication.
Harmony versus Assertiveness: Adapting to cultures that prioritize harmony may involve emphasizing cooperation, consensus-building, and maintaining positive relationships. Adapting in cultures that value assertiveness may require being proactive, advocating for individual goals, and engaging in healthy competition while balancing the needs of the group.
Ethical Orientation: Adapting ethically requires understanding and adhering to the ethical values and principles of a particular culture. Being adaptable in this context means aligning one's behavior and decision-making with the cultural ethical norms, demonstrating integrity, and making ethical choices that reflect the cultural expectations and standards.
It's important to note that cultural dimensions provide general tendencies, and individual and contextual factors also play significant roles in adaptability. Effective adaptability involves recognizing and respecting cultural differences, being open-minded, demonstrating empathy, and being willing to learn and adjust one's behavior and strategies in response to different cultural contexts.