Thursday, May 13, 2010

Different Cultural Mindsets

I have been studying cross cultural ministry over the last few months and one of the obvious issues is the misunderstandings that develop because people come from very different cultural mindsets. Research has been conducted to understand these differences, for example Geert Hofstede in studying over 50 countries, examined 5 five cultural dimensions (see here also).

Hofstede's 5 cultural dimensions include:

  1. Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.
  2. Individualism (IDV) this refers to the strength of the ties people have to others within the community.
  3. Masculinity (MAS) this refers to how much a society sticks with, and values, traditional male and female roles.
  4. Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's search for Truth.
  5. Long Term Orientation (LTO) this refers to how much society values long-standing - as opposed to short term - traditions and values.
Hofstede concludes about Australia:

"The Geert Hofstede analysis for Australia reflects the high level of individuality Australian's hold dear. The Individualism (IDV) index for Australia is 90, the second highest score of any country in Hofstede’s survey, behind the United States' ranking of 91.

This individuality is reinforced in Australian’s daily lives and must be considered when traveling and doing business in their Country. Privacy is considered the cultural norm and attempts at personal ingratiating may meet with rebuff.

Power Distance (PDI) is relatively low, with an index of 36, compared to the world average of 55. This is indicative of a greater equality between societal levels, including government, organizations, and even within families. This orientation reinforces a cooperative interaction across power levels and creates a more stable cultural environment."

Compare that to Hofstede's conclusions about South Korea.
"South Korea's highest Hofstede Dimension is Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) at 85, indicating the society’s low level of tolerance for uncertainty. In an effort to minimize or reduce this level of uncertainty, strict rules, laws, policies, and regulations are adopted and implemented. The ultimate goal of this population is to control everything in order to eliminate or avoid the unexpected. As a result of this high Uncertainty Avoidance characteristic, the society does not readily accept change and is very risk adverse.

South Korea has a low Individualism (IDV) rank of 18. The score on this Dimension indicates the society is Collectivist as compared to Individualist. This is manifest in a close long-term commitment to the member 'group', be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group."

This research has produced some generalisations about different cultures which I think are a helpful starting points in understanding each other. Just wondering what you think?