Geert Hofstede on Culture – the Science of Relationships

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Culture – Geert Hofstede’s Model

Geert Hofstede�s Model

(based on his 1991 book: Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. New York, NYM McGraw-Hill.)

Hofstede defines culture as the “software of the mind” that guides us in our daily interactions. Here are some paragraphs from the introduction to his book:

Every person carries within him or herself patterns of thinking; feeling; and potential acting which were learned throughout their lifetime. Much of it has been acquired in early childhood, because at that time a person is most susceptible to learning and assimilating. As soon as certain patterns of thinking; feeling and acting have established themselves within a person�s mind; (s)he must unlearn these before being able to learn something different; and unlearning is more difficult than learning for the first time.

Using the analogy of the way in which computers are programmed; this book will call such patterns of thinking; feeling; and acting mental programs; or; as the sub-title goes: “software of the mind”. This does not mean; of course; that people are programmed the way computers are. A person�s behavior is only partially predetermined by her or his mental programs: (s)he has a basic ability to deviate from them, and to react in was which are new, creative, destructive, unexpected.

Culture is always a collective phenomenon, because it is at least partly shared with people who live or lived within the same social environment, which is where it was learned. It is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.

Hostede, Geert (1991) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Based on his IBM study in 72 different countries, Hofstede identifies five of these differences in mental programming, which he calls five dimensions: 1. Power distance

Power distance measures how subordinates respond to power and authority. In high-power distance countries (Latin America, France, Spain, most Asian and African countries), subordinates tend to be afraid of their bosses, and bosses tend to be paternalistic and autocratic. In low-power distance countries (the US, Britain, most of the rest of Europe), subordinates are more likely to challenge bosses and bosses tend to use a consultative management style.

2. Collectivism versus Individualism

In individualistic countries (France, Germany, South Africa, Canada, etc.), people are expected to look out for themselves. Solidarity is organic (all contribute to a common goal, but with little mutual pressure) rather than mechanical. Typical values are personal time, freedom, and challenge.

In collectivist cultures (Japan, Mexico, Korea, Greece) individuals are bounded through strong personal and protective ties based on loyalty to the group during one�s lifetime and often beyond (mirrored on family ties). Values include training, physical condition, the use of skills. See Appendix 2 for comments on differences between American and Chinese society on this dimension.

Note: In their book, An Introduction to Intercultural Communication, Condon and Yousef make a distinction between individualism, prevalent in the United States, and individuality, which is different and prevalent in many other parts of the world:

What makes individualism in the United States is not so much the peculiar characteristics of each person but the sense each person has of having a separate but equal place in society…. This fusion of individualism and equality is so valued and so basic that many Americans find it most difficult to relate to contrasting values in other cultures where interdependence, complementary relationships, and valued differences in age and sex greatly determine a person’s sense of self.

Individuality is different and appears to be much more the norm in the world than United States-style individualism is. Individuality refers to the person’s freedom to act differently within the limits set by the social structure. Compared to the United States, many other cultures appear to be much more tolerant of “eccentrics” and “local characters.” This confusion of one kind of individualism with individuality at first appears paradoxical: We might suppose that a society which promises apparently great personal freedoms would produce the greatest number of obviously unique, even peculiar people, and yet for more than a century visitors to the United States have been struck by a kind of “sameness” or standardization. As one writer interpreted it, U.S. freedom allows everybody to be like everybody else…. While the individual (glorified as “the rugged individualist”) is praised, historically individuals in the United States have made their achievements in loose groupings. What is different here is that the independent U.S. self must never feel bound to a particular group; he must always be free to change his alliances or, if necessary, to move on…. Cultures better characterized by values of individuality are likely to lack this kind of independence from the group, as well as individual mobility. Thus it may be that such cultures allow for greater diversity in personal behavior in order to give balance to the individual vis-à-vis the group, whereas the United States, characterized by loose groupings and high mobility, does not.

3. Femininity versus Masculinity

Hofstede�s study suggested that men�s goals were significantly different from women�s goals and could therefore be expressed on a masculine and a feminine pole.

Where feminine values are more important (Sweden; France, Israel, Denmark, Indonesia), people tend to value a good working relationship with their supervisors; working with people who cooperate well with one another, living in an area desirable to themselves and to their families, and having the security that they will be able to work for their company as long as they want.

Where the masculine index is high (US, Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong, Italy, Great Britain), people tend to value having a high opportunity for earnings, getting the recognition they deserve when doing a good job, having an opportunity for advancement to a higher-level job, and having challenging work to do to derive a sense of accomplishment.

(adapted from Hoft, Nancy (1995) International Technical Communication. New York: John Wiley and Sons)

4. Uncertainty avoidance

When uncertainty avoidance is strong, a culture tends to perceive unknown situations as threatening so that people tend to avoid them. Examples include South Korea, Japan, and Latin America.
In countries where uncertainty avoidance is weak (the US; the Netherlands; Singapore; Hong Kong, Britain) people feel less threatened by unknown situations. Therefore, they tend to be more open to innovations, risk, etc.

5. Long-term versus Short-term orientation

A long term orientation is characterized by persistence and perseverance, a respect for a hierarchy of the status of relationships, thrift, and a sense of shame. Countries include China; Hong Kong; Taiwan, Japan and India
A short-term orientation is marked by a sense of security and stability, a protection of one�s reputation, a respect for tradition, and a reciprocation of greetings; favors and gifts. Countries include: Britain, Canada, the Philippines; Germany, Australia

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