Contrasting cultural differences across cultures

Contrasting cultural differences across cultures


The purpose of this report is to present the contrasting cultural differences across cultures, which make individual attributes and personalities different as a result of the various perspectives of the world and to see how managers can understand, analyse, appreciate and take advantage of the deep rooted, culturally imposed differences in a multi-cultural team, within a work environment.

Hofstede (1980) gives us an insight that there are reasons people from other cultural backgrounds act differently and argues against the common misconception that deep within, every individual behaves in the same way. Hofstede (1980,2001) disproves this belief by showing us the varying cultural dimensions with the individualist, power distance, masculine, uncertainty awareness being the most popular dimensions mentioned and emphasized in this report.

The behavioural attributes of individuals is explained from Hofstedes dimensions and this report will try to link and show how each cultural attributes, when analysed with case studies and social experiments carried out, could affect not only every day communication on a social level, but the interactions between managers and subordinates undertaking daily operations in a multi cultural organisation and how best managers can recognize these attributes, using them to achieve a high level of productivity and profit for the benefit of the organisation.


This report gives an insight to the reasons people from other cultural backgrounds act differently as Hofstede (1980,2001) shows us the cultural dimensions mainly consisting of the individualist, power distance, masculine and uncertainty awareness as the primary reason for the contrasting cultural differences across the globe, which make each individual attributes and perceptions of the world as a whole to be different and unique. The report also tries to show how managers, facing a cross cultural office situation, can have an idea of how best to recognize the behavioural differences of workers within a multi-cultural work environment.

Hofstede (1980) shows through data collected in a social experiment with IBM workers, a huge difference in individual's behaviours and perceptions to work when closely examined. An example by Brislin (1993) helps show the positive and negative side effects of managing across cultures and how it can easily cause un-intended conflicts in the office between staff and employers from contrasting cultures. This report aims to show, how these cultural contrasts can be recognized, appreciated and used to the advantage of the manager.

The behavioural attributes of individuals is explained from Hofstedes dimensions and this report will try to link and show how each cultural attributes, when analysed with case studies and social experiments carried out, affects the interactions between managers and subordinates undertaking daily operations in a multi cultural organisation and how best managers can increase employee efficiency and productivity at work.


The perception of the world as a direct result of the usual everyday experiences that are shared mutually by a community is known as culture. Culture is held with high regards as it has to do with people's values, beliefs and common livelihood applied to various aspects of life which affects ones daily behaviour and interaction on a social, academic and business level. In these times of advanced technology and global communication, it is general knowledge that a successful corporate organization should in the midst of competitors still be able to acquire more customers, make more profit and be able to recognise, recruit and lead a team of staff for the growth and benefit of the organization under the leadership of a manager.

This automatically raises the question whether this form of managerial success can easily be achieved once a manager is placed in a different geographical location far from home, inhabited by different people who behave, think, act and perceive the world in a totally different way from the way one is used to largely due to their different cultural upbringing.

Hofstede (1980, 2001) proposes that there is a belief deep within every individual regardless of where they come from, all behave alike. This is in fact a very common misconception, the fact is they do not behave the same way and if decisions are made based purely on this wrong misconception in a new cultural environment, a lot of problems could arise especially when we view this from a business vantage point.

The Cultural Dimensions

It would be quite tasking and even frustrating for a manager to perform and operate efficiently in a work environment placed amongst a totally different multi-cultural people and environment. The manager would find that sub-ordinates attitudes to work, authority, level of performance and general personality would contrast heavily with what one is used to from their home land.

Smart (2010) in a lecture, helps to explain that something as simple as a Nigerian junior staff or client averting the gaze of an elderly American executive in the office could cause suspicion from the American whereas the original intention of the Nigerian was to show a sign of respect; to an American entry level staff calling an elderly Nigerian senior executive by his first name, unknowingly showing a strong disrespect to the Nigerian executive. This is the tip of the iceberg of numerous problems that could arise from misinterpreting a simple action, statement or gesture.

Hofstede's (1980) four dimensions of national cultures better illustrate this and consist of the power distance, individualism-collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity-femininity. A look into these dimensions are relevant to provide an idea of the varying cultural differences and provides an insight to why we all think and act differently across cultures globally.

i. Power distance dimension

A strong recognition of the gaps and influence of power/status within an organizational settling lies present here determining the level of equality and how power is shared amongst individuals in the family, social circle and business. There is no room for questioning and decision making is one sided. The junior staff and middle management would be expected to follow orders of top executives because respect for authority figures is culturally considered as vital.

ii. Individualism/ Collectivism

Hofstede highlights individuals here exhibit a high independence and possess a socially embedded upbringing to take care of one's self and immediate family without need for a group/team. Collectivism is the inverse where within the same dimension, individuals here would prefer to move in a group and are closely bound, also have a tendency to feel a responsibility to look after extended family expecting unquestionable loyalty in return.

iii.Uncertainty avoidance

Describes how comfortable a society can handle the “un-known” and their various coping mechanisms for ambiguous circumstances and situations. Cultures rated high here are those with a strong desire for social order and have a dislike for uncertainty while low uncertainty dimension countries have a non-structured society where social norms and formal rules are lacking.

iv. Masculinity-Feminity

Aggressiveness in achieving goals “Masculinity”. In contrast with the softness and caring nature of a people from a culture exhibiting “feminity”.

Cultural Dimensions and their effects in the workplace

Hofstede (1980) suggests in a “culture specific” argument that cultural factors buried within the consciousness of a manager will still affect and determine the way a manager approaches quality, change and general running of his business regardless of the different society the manager finds himself in. We try to see from examples how one can explain and take advantage of these dimensions in the business sense for organizational benefit.

Individualism/Collectivism: The Individualist versus the Collectivist

Brislin (1993) gives us a relevant work scenario involving an individual from the United States of America named Peter, a software developer working in one of Japans top manufacturing companies. Peter was a very hard working person and displayed a high level of productivity but despite his hard working attitude he failed to mix socially with his fellow co-workers, totally avoiding groups because his style of working was very private and solitary. Peter would go alone into the company library to trouble shoot software, problem solving without other co-workers.

Various hints were dropped by Peters' Japanese supervisor stating his total input into the organization was not at an acceptable level but he downplayed these hints because after all, Peter was in his own perception, a hard worker.

Peter eventually decides to leave his job in Japan for somewhere else out of frustration as he feels all the effort he put into the company by his own style of work always goes unappreciated. This is a classic example of cultural miscommunication between a culturally individualist American employee and his culturally Collectivist Japanese employer.

Due to peter's cultural upbringing he considers himself to be productive because of his independent approach to solving problems and completing tasks, which in his own opinion makes him a successful employee and he believes that if there is an issue or problem that needs to be addressed, his employer should be able to tell him directly.

We have a contrasting vantage point from the Japanese employer, were Peter's lack of contribution to group work and efforts and failure to be pleasant with co-workers displays a great selfishness in Peters character as the Japanese believe that if a person has special skills, talent or knowledge, it should be shared so that everyone which in this case refers to the co-workers and organization as a whole, would learn and gain something instead of keeping all that knowledge to ones-self as Peter did.

Snell and Hui (2000, pp. 150-75.) explains members of individualist countries are highly autonomous, exhibiting a high self confident attitude working independently as they rely on their own ideas, while members of collectivist countries would rather rely on information provided by others in formulating their own opinions an solving problems that arise.

This shows that reward schemes and bonuses for employees would work differently as perception of hard work with or without groups differs the manager therefore should have better understanding of how to handle this, especially when deciding to reward staff with bonuses or incentives based on individual effort or team work.

Power distance: RecognizingAuthority

A discovery by smith, Peterson and leung (1995) in a study to observe how disputes where handled within groups in 23 nations. It was found that in high power distance nations there was order and an application of formal rules was preferred and accepted but in low power distance nations, there was a heavy reliance on colleagues, subordinates in task delegation and training. Since subordinates are used to order and structure assigned by management, it is important to note that subordinates from a high power distance might consider relaxed methods of a manager from a low power distance to be weak, causing a lack of respect among subordinates for the manager. J.b.p Sinha (1973) gives an example of such a similar case in India.

Uncertainty avoidance: Risk Taking vs. Playing safe

Gudykunst (1995, pp.8-57) believes that the way strangers would interact in high uncertainty avoidance cultures may involve a lot of politeness or excessive rituals. These rituals provide clear scripts for interaction and allow individuals to attune behaviours with strangers. If people from high uncertainty avoidance cultures interact with strangers in a situation devoid of clear rules, strangers may be ignored entirely like they are non-existent. Hofstede (1980) already shows us that people with cultures low in UA can handle the “un-known” better than those which are higher in UA. Here, knowledge of this would in a sense help the managers identify the risk takers and innovators from those who prefer to play safe.

Musculinity- Feminity: Measuring drive andwork commitment

Hofstede (1980) in a data collection survey which was retrieved from a total of forty countries in a comparison of work related values from thousands of employees of IBM's subsidiaries one can observe from Hofstede's factor analysis, the importance of the values of material objects and rewards, assertiveness prevailing in a society than the values of caring, quality of life and people. This result was referred to as Masculinity due to the fact that results shown here were gotten from more men as opposed to women.

Based on his data as the masculinity index was calculated with countries like Japan, Austria, Venezuela, Italy and Switzerland where high in Masculinity while others like Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark and Finland displayed lower Masculinity. Countries higher in Masculinity would display a high aggressive drive for achievement with a strong motivation to excel regardless of high stress of work.

Therefore, these observations could make one to conclude that in such countries with high Masculinity, work takes a high precedence over nurturance/family where staff with a high masculinity could probably prefer longer work hours regardless of family as his culturally embedded hunger to achieve and get rewards at work override nurturance.

Cross-cultural training for Managers and Employees

Looking at Form's (1979, pp.1-25) “Convergence” hypothesis one could gather that In order to be effective in achieving quality management, the only way managers from different cultures can adopt similar management methods would be by learning. Managers who resisted convergence would easily have their businesses eliminated by competition.

From the examples mentioned one can see it is important to understand the various types of cultural differences across nations for managers to achieve a high level of performance, increased quality and profit from an organization. For a manager to lead a multi-cultural staff he must endeavour to understand where they are coming from. In a more recent argument by Hofsteade (2001) where he states that national culture is very difficult to change. This could indicate that organizations need to adapt quality practices to the local national culture, applicable by an Implementation of cross cultural training programs with the aim of creating awareness of multi - cultural differences in cultures amongst multi- cultural staff and managers by global firms and companies. Trainings such as these would achieve a number of benefits to managers.

  • It would help a great deal in learning how to recognise, deal and cope with the numerous culturally embedded characteristics and behaviours exhibited from the four cultural dimensions amongst a multi-cultural staff.
  • Problems like conflict, confusion, misinterpretation and miscommunication in the work environment could be prevented.
  • The manager's ability to build a team of multi-cultural middle management and operations staff by recognizing the key characteristic traits from each cultural dimension by using the traits to his advantage for company improvement.

In the case of branch or company expansion, these programs would greatly increase chances of success in the company by understanding the lifestyle, trends and behaviours of the local culture. This would give managers a competitive advantage over others.


It is vital that managers understand how various cultural attributes and values of multi cultural staff from different geographic locations would determine operational decisions in the work place and this understanding will result in the highly efficient management and global supply chain as result of preparation of global firms to this effect.

The ability to effectively recognize and manage staff from various cultural backgrounds is directly proportional to the output and productivity due to their ability to work together as a team despite contrast in cultures in performing duties and delegated tasks handed down by management and in general overall interaction amongst each other within the company's working environment. If a manager can use these attributes and cross-cultural differences to his advantage

Thus due to the cultural dimensions mentioned by Hofstede (1980,2001), this report relays the importance of understanding the varying attributes of each dimension and using this knowledge effectively to maximise production, enhance performance and grow the company. This understanding is best achieved by form of cross cultural training which should normally be organised by firms and organizations for both management and staff where the attitudes, behaviours, personalities, characters of culturally different individuals and their different approaches in performing duties in the work place is analyzed, studied and understood to achieve success in business operations on a Global scale.

If a manager can use these attributes and cross-cultural differences to his advantage by undergoing cross-cultural training, the manager would be successful and succeed in the organization. It therefore would be highly disastrous if these cross-cultural differences of staff are ignored by management and could mark the success or down-fall of an organization.

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