As you have been reading my blog posts about cultural dimensions, or values, over the last several months, I often encouraged you to put yourself on a line continuum between the two ends of each dimension. Your cultural value ratings of yourself show your general orientation to life, work, and relationships. They describe how you prefer to get things done.

Thinking about this may help you understand conflicts you have experienced with others who have different cultural orientations. In addition, this awareness may help you understand why you (and most other people) subconsciously prefer interacting with conflict-3069179_1280people who have cultural value orientations that are similar to your own. For example, it probably contributes to children sitting with others from a similar culture at lunch.

Your Cultural Value markings do NOT evaluate whether you can effectively work with others who have a different orientation from you. If you mark yourself at one extreme of a cultural value, it doesn’t mean you can’t work effectively with people from the other extreme. And those who are in the middle are not necessarily more adaptable than those on the extremes. Scoring in the middle shows that you prefer a more moderate approach – somewhere between the two poles.

If we aren’t careful, talking about different cultures in light of these cultural values can result in stereotyping (putting people in boxes because of their cultural background). But without looking at overall patterns like these, it’s difficult to know how to work and relate effectively across cultures.

Generally speaking, too, there is no right or proper end to any of the cultural dimension continua, no correct way of thinking of cultural values. In a real sense, cultural dimensions are relative.[1]

I know, I know. I am walking on thin ice here. Be sure to know, I am not saying there is no right or wrong in life. We all know, it is wrong to murder someone. Human trafficking is wrong. Child and sexual abuse are abhorrent. And so on. So please do not get me wrong. I am not saying there is NO right or wrong. All cultures have things that are right AND wrong in light of the absolute dignity of human beings.

However, we can tend to be judgmental and think OUR values, our way of experiencing cultures is the only right way to see it. For example, many Americans think individualism is the ONLY way to be and look down on cultures which are collectivist. However, there are times where working toward the greater good for our community is necessary. And there are times when thinking and acting for myself is a good thing. Balance, insight, and wisdom are necessary.

So then, we should not be judgmental of others; we should not be overly proud of our own cultural values. We should always be willing to humbly step back and see what is 

picture3

good and what is not so good in our own cultures.

 And. Always, always, ALWAYS avoid negative stereotypes.

As you meet or enter a new culture, look up what are some of the cultural dimensions of that culture. Then treat those cultural norms from that culture as your best first guess. Be open to changing your assumptions, biases, and expectations. 

There are some great books to help you sort these out. David A. Livermore’s Expand Your Borders: Discover Ten Cultural Clusters is a great place to start. Reading Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business is another one.

A reminder of what CQ or Cultural Intelligence is: The capability to function effectively across various cultural contexts (national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc.)

The awareness and insights that come from understanding our personal orientation vs. cultural norms is very helpful in improving our capability to function effectively in various cultural contexts. It is possible to use the Cultural Value ratings from a Cultural Intelligence Center assessment report or other tools like Hofstede’s GPS, GlobeSmart, or Cultural Navigator. It can help develop this kind of awareness as a starting point.

As Meyer says in The Culture Map, “When interacting with someone from another culture, try to watch more, listen more, and speak less. Listen before you speak and learn before you act.”[2] From my experience, I would say those are very wise words.


[1] Meyer, E. (2014). The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, pp.21-27. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

[2] Meyer, E. (2014). The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, p.27. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

I hope you have had a good holiday season. Did you indulge yourselves and/or your children? Or did you practice and/or teach restraint? Or some of both? Did you think about the future and practice some long-term time orientation while thinking of the new year and beyond? Or did you just think about bowl games and parades and immediate results as a short-term oriented culture? Are you plunging into the new year of 2020 with high uncertainty avoidance or low uncertainly avoidance? Understanding your own cultural tendencies will help you have more awareness with people who may be a bit different from you.

This week we will talk about communication. As you probably already know, communication can be challenging. When you add the cultural dimension of context, it becomes more so.

Context is the extent to which communication is indirect and the degree to which the context is used to provide meaning. An individual with a Low Context Orientation values direct communication and believes people should “say what they mean and mean what they say”.

A person with a High Context Orientation pays attention to what isn’t said as much as what is said and a great deal of attention is put on where people are seated, how people are dressed, and reading in between the lines.

In The Culture Map, Erin Meyer’s entire first chapter is on communication, specifically context. (I highly recommend the entire book for understanding cross-cultural issues.) Giving an example of how dramatic the cultural difference in this area can be, Ms. Meyer says:

“In the United States and other Anglo-Saxon cultures, people are trained (mostly subconsciously) to communicate as literally and explicitly as possible. Good communication is all about clarity and explicitness, and accountability for accurate transmission of the message is placed firmly on the communicator. ‘If you don’t understand, it’s my fault.’

“By contrast, in many Asian cultures, including India, China, Japan, and Indonesia, messages are often conveyed implicitly, requiring the listener to read between the lines. Good communication is subtle, layered, and may depend on copious subtext, with responsibility for transmission of the message shared between the one sending the message and the one receiving it.”[1]

Those of us who have learned to communicate in low context cultures struggle with understanding high context. We don’t know what we don’t know; we do not know what to ask or look for and we often have a high expectation of others to speak clearly. In the US, we have a saying: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Because of those expectations, this is one of the cultural differences that creates some of the largest points of conflict for many teams.

Look at this chart comparing lower context versus higher context communication. [2] Any surprises?

How do you fall on the chart below with low context versus high context communication? Do you have any conflicts with people that might be explained by this different cultural dimension?

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|______________|_______________|________________|______________|

Low Context                          Communication                                High Context

History can help us understand the different communication styles. Compare the US and Japan. Until WWII, there had been little international input to Japan’s culture and language. So over time, they developed a way to communicate between the lines. On the other hand, the US is a melting pot of cultures. People had to learn to be more specific in their use of words to communicate.

Two things to note: 1) On the chart above, it’s all relative to others. Though Central Europe is more direct than Asia, notice how it compares to the US. When an American is talking with someone from Central Europe, it might feel like the Central European  is far more subtle. But if the Central European is talking with someone from Korea or Japan, the European will sound far more direct.

And 2), there are different kinds of communication which can be more nuanced, with more distinctions. For example, Americans are low context in general except when giving feedback. The Brits and Dutch generally tend to be opposite; they will “tell it like it is” in their feedback.

Here are some tips:

With Low Context Communicators

  • Be direct and explicit
  • Focus on getting your message across clearly

With High Context Communicators

  • Recognize the importance of silence/reflection
  • Pay careful attention to what is not said

In closing, I will again highly recommend Erin Meyer’s book. You can find it on Amazon here. The hard copy version has a different subtitle, but I think it’s the same content.

Happy communicating!


[1] Meyer, E. (2015). The Culture Map: Decoding how people think, lead, and get things done across cultures, p. 31. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

[2] https://media.risechina.org/uploads/2019/03/low-high-context.jpg  Retrieved January 6, 2020.

Just a reminder that I get a lot of my information from training materials from the Cultural Intelligence Centre.

Indulgence is the extent to which a culture will be quick to satisfy the wants of its people/children versus being willing to teach restraint.

Dictionary.com describes indulgence as the gratification of desire, allowance, tolerance, the state of being indulgent. Indulgent is being benignly lenient or permissive. The US and the Netherlands are both highly indulgent cultures.

Conversely, restraint is described by Dictionary.com as a “restraining action or influence;” “the act of restraining, holding back, controlling, or checking;” “deprivation of liberty, confinement.”

These two ideas of indulgence and restraint are found at the heart of parenting and working with children. What is your culture like? Do parents give children whatever they want, no matter what? Or do they teach the kids how to wait, to hold back?

When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, restraint was much more popular in the US than it is now. I remember being taught that anything good is worth waiting for. Now in the US, I have been a bit saddened by the indulgence parents give their kids. It seems that parents might even be afraid of saying “no” to their children.

French parents are known for their ability to teach restraint. Rather than fearing to say “no” to their children, they expect their “no” to be firm and accepted, not up for any debate.[1]

Pamela Druckerman is “an American mom who chronicled her experience raising children in France in her book Bringing Up Bébé and the follow-up Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting. … Druckerman explains how she watched the young daughter of a friend take an offered treat and then put it away for later instead of immediately diving in. She’d learned this because her French mother insisted on only eating treats with a meal and not allowing perpetual snacking.”[2] That French mom had been teaching restraint.

How do you fit in with indulgence versus restraint? Do you have any conflicts with people that might be explained by this different cultural dimension?

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|______________|_______________|________________|______________|

Restraint                                                                                            Indulgent

Look at the graphs here. The lower the number, the more restraint a culture shows. China’s number (blue) is 24, Hungary’s (purple) is 31, and the US (green) is 68. Quite a difference.

As I observe the celebration of the Christmas season in American culture this year, I am struck by the indulgence not only to our children and their every wish, but to ourselves. Have you noticed the advertisements where people are gifting themselves? It is lauded to get yourself a big, expensive gift. Maybe our indulgent culture is going a bit too far? What happened to the idea that it is better to give than receive? Just a thought for your week ahead.

If you have ideas or questions or stories about cultures of indulgence or restraint, or have an example of a culture clash you wonder about, please write me at lesliepjohnson@lesliepjohnson.com and I will try to address that issue at some point in this blog.

Have a Merry Christmas!


[1]  https://www.rd.com/advice/parenting/french-parenting/

[2] https://www.rd.com/advice/parenting/french-parenting/

One time, I was giving a very short explanation of cultural dimensions and CQ to teens at an international Christian school as a chapel talk. A few days earlier, I had heard an American teen who was on the activities committee complain that the Korean kids never did any of the fun activities; they couldn’t build community with those kids because they were always doing homework.

Why do you think the Korean kids would not participate in fun activities with their classmates?

One of the reasons is today’s topic, a cultural dimension about time orientation.

Short-Term versus Long-Term Time Orientation is the extent to which there’s a willingness to wait for success and results. An individual or organization with a Short-Term Time Orientation may see the future as unpredictable and values immediate outcome more than long-term benefits.

An individual or organization with a Long-Term Time Orientation is much more focused upon long-term planning and is content to sacrifice short-term outcomes for long-term benefits.

Many cultures, including east Asian cultures, have a long-term time orientation. Students with a long-term time orientation will be focused on where they want to be in 10 or 20 years. They will forgo any short-term pleasures such as fun school events to do their homework and/or study for upcoming tests. They want to do well in their studies so they can get into good universities so they can get good jobs in the future. No time for fun.

Western cultures tend to be more short-term time oriented, expecting satisfaction more immediately. For example, I think the voters in western countries such as the USA and UK are so focused on the quick fix and immediate results, that the political parties are focused on today’s and tomorrow’s results, NOT what might be good for our countries in the long term.

How do you fit in with time orientation?

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|______________|_______________|________________|______________|

Short-term                             Time Orientation                      Long-term

Don’t forget – there is nothing better or worse about where you scored. And understanding your preference as compared to your colleagues or students or neighbors can be very helpful.

Look at the comparison of these countries in Short-term and Long-term time orientation. The blue bar represents China; the purple is Hungary; and the green is the US. Here the higher the number, the more long-term the orientation: China’s number is 87, Hungary’s is 58, and the USA’s is 26. What a difference between China and the US!

When I showed a similar slide as these in the chapel talk using their host country plus US and South Korea, there was a collective “aha!” It was a clear revelation to all sides that there were cultural orientations affecting their relationships.

Add to the time orientation that many of these cultures are often also collectivist and have a high power distance and you will see ideas that parents know best for the family and are thinking of the future for their children. Students then will honor their parents by working hard and focusing on the future.

When working with students and work colleagues with a Short-Term Time Orientation:

  • Prioritize “quick wins” to keep motivation up
  • Focus on the present implications

When working with students and work colleagues with a Long-Term Time Orientation:

  • Focus on the investment now for future gain
  • Emphasize the long-term implications of the current work

Understanding the idea of short- and long-term time orientation will go a long way in building community and bridges with the people you work with, whether at work, school, or in your neighborhoods.

In the past few weeks, we have looked at what is culture and what cultural dimensions are. We also looked at different cultural dimensions: individualism versus collectivism, power distance, and cooperative versus competitive cultures. Today, we will discuss how uncertainty avoidance can be an interesting dimension of culture.

Uncertainty Avoidance is the extent to which risk is reduced or avoided through planning and guidelines. A person with Low Uncertainty Avoidance typically acts first and then gets the information. People with this orientation are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and prefer to figure things out as they go.

In contrast, a person with High Uncertainty Avoidance appreciates explicit instructions, relies on formal procedures and policies, and is uncomfortable with ambiguity. People with a high uncertainty avoidance orientation will try to eliminate any uncertainty by planning or tradition.

This one can be personality, right? We all know people within our own cultures who may be higher risk takers or want everything clear before they start out. Another way you can see this kind of difference will be in jobs and expectations. “People working in legal and accounting will typically score more toward the High Uncertainty Avoidance side of the graph while individuals in a function like sales or recruitment will often score more toward the Low Uncertainty Avoidance side.” [1]

When you are struggling with a conflict with someone, it’s worth looking at the issue closely and try to discern if it’s culture. Think about the situation in which you are struggling. Might it be an issue of someone being flexible and tolerant of ambiguity versus someone who prefers more planning and certainty? With colleagues, how does this influence your team dynamics?

How about you? Where do you fall on the continuum? Don’t forget – there is nothing better or worse about where you scored. And understanding your preference as compared to your colleagues or students or neighbors can be very helpful.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|______________|_______________|________________|______________|

Low                                         Uncertainty Avoidance                        High

Look at the comparison of the countries of China, Hungary, and the US, in Uncertainty Avoidance.[2] Does this surprise you? It surprises me! Here, the higher the number, the more the person will want to avoid uncertainty. China’s number is 30, Hungary’s 82, and the US has 46.

Some tips:

With people who have Low Uncertainty Avoidance:

  • Avoid dogmatic statements
  • Invite them to explore solutions

With people who have High Uncertainty Avoidance:

  • Give explicit instructions
  • Rely on formalized procedures and policies

Keep in mind. These are suggestion. If you are working with students, you may want to help them change one direction or another. For example, you may not want them to be dependent on receiving explicit instructions forever. So, you may want to think about ways to move them to have a lower uncertainty avoidance.

If you have ideas or questions or stories about cultures with either low or high uncertainty avoidance, or have an example of a culture clash you wonder about, please write me at lesliepjohnson@lesliepjohnson.com and I will try to address that issue at some point in this blog.


[1] Developing CQ Workshop: Facilitator Manual. (2019)Holt, MI: Cultural Intelligence Center.

[2] Taken from https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/ where you can put in up to three countries to compare cultural dimensions.

In the past few weeks, we have looked at what is culture and what cultural dimensions are. We also looked at two different cultural dimensions: individualism versus collectivism, and power distance. Today, we will look at the dimension that compares cooperative cultures and competitive cultures.

Cooperative-Competitive (also known as feminine/masculine cultures) refers to how you prefer to accomplish results. Someone from a cooperative culture believes the best way to accomplish results is by getting people to work together. Someone who is cooperative builds trust by focusing more on relationships. People from this culture are often nurturing, compassionate, and empathetic.[1]

However, someone who is from a competitive culture believes people will be most motivated to accomplish results when there’s competition involved. This person builds trust based on achievement, putting tasks first, and tends to be more independent and assertive.[2],[3]

Notice that you can be both collectivist and competitive. It’s just that if you are collectivist and competitive, you want your team/group to win. And you can be cooperative while also being individualistic.

Also, there can be a lot of misunderstanding. “Both orientations are concerned about results and both care about relationships. But there’s a different priority in how to most effectively get things done.[4]

Look at the comparison of these three countries in Cooperative and Competitive dimensions. (Please note: in Hofstede’s discussion of this dimension, he uses “feminine” instead of cooperative and “masculine” instead of competitive.) Here the higher the number, the more competitive the culture.[5] China is blue; Hungary is in the middle with purple; and the US is on the right with green. Their numbers out of 100 are 66, 88, and 62. I am always a bit surprised that the US is closer to the middle than I would expect. And I am also surprised how high Hungary is in the competitive culture.


In these helpful tips, notice the difference here: relationship vs task.

When working with people from a cooperative culture,

  • Establish relationship before task, taking time to get to know your colleagues and staff before jumping into what “needs to be done.”
  • Communicate with your colleagues to build rapport before, during, and after the task at hand.

When working with people from a competitive culture,

  • Focus on the task first.
  • Communicate to report information.

Here is a line continuum. Where do you fall?

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|______________|_______________|________________|______________|

Cooperative                                                                     Competitive

Please remember, there is no right or proper way here. One end or the other is not more or less correct.

If you have ideas or questions or stories about competitive or cooperative cultures, or have an example of a culture clash you wonder about, please write me at lesliepjohnson@lesliepjohnson.com and I will try to address that issue at some point in this blog.


[1] Livermore, D.A. & Slagter, J. (2015). CQ Ministry Kit. Holt, MI: Cultural Intelligence Center, LLC.

[2] Livermore, D.A. & Slagter, J. (2015). CQ Ministry Kit. Holt, MI: Cultural Intelligence Center, LLC.

[3] Cultural Intelligence Center. (2019). Developing CQ Workshop: Facilitator Manual. Holt, MI: Cultural Intelligence Center, LLC.

[4] Cultural Intelligence Center. (2019). Developing CQ Workshop: Facilitator Manual. Holt, MI: Cultural Intelligence Center, LLC.

[5] Taken from https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/ where you can put in up to three countries to compare cultural dimensions.

As we continue this series on cultural dimensions, today we are going to look at power distance. This is an aspect of culture that can cause a lot of trouble if not understood well. So let’s just jump in.

Power Distance is the extent to which differences in power and status are expected and accepted. A person with Low Power Distance prefers to forego formalities, titles aren’t important, and he/she may find appropriate ways to challenge authority, in general, more egalitarian. A person with High Power Distance prefers to follow the chain of command and is less likely to question authority; usually this culture is more hierarchical.

When coming from an egalitarian/low power distance culture, often a leader will act as part of the team. In some cultures, the boss or professor might even expect first names to be used and no titles. However, this can really confuse people from hierarchical/high power distance cultures. Titles and the chain of command are very important.

In businesses, this can mean a person from a Western egalitarian culture will have some leadership challenges if transferred to work in an office set in a hierarchical culture. It just won’t work to be a “part of the team.” The “team” will expect more input and clear chain of command to be used.

In education, children coming from hierarchical cultures will have been taught NOT to disagree with a teacher, not to ask questions. If the teacher comes from an egalitarian culture and is taught to “learn with the student,” she may not be prepared to help a student who doesn’t ask questions or speak up in class. It helps to understand where the students are coming from.

Consider this chart taken from a book I highly recommend, The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.[1]

General traits of egalitarian cultures: General traits of hierarchical cultures:
It’s okay to disagree with the boss openly even in front of others. An effort is made to defer to the boss’s opinion especially in public.
People are more likely to move to action without getting the boss’s okay. People are more likely to get the boss’s approval before moving to action.
If meeting with a client or supplier, there is less focus on matching hierarchical levels. If you send your boss, they will send their boss. If your boss cancels. Their boss also may not come.
It’s okay to email or call people several levels below or above you. Communication follows the hierarchical chain.
With clients or partners you will be seated and spoken to in no specific order. With clients or partners, you may be seated and spoken to in order of position.

(Meyer’s chapter on “How Much Respect Do You Want?” discusses the different perspectives on power and leadership and includes some historical background and advice.)

Look at the comparison of these countries in Low and High Power Distance. The higher the bar, the more authoritarian the culture. The blue represents China; the purple represents Hungary; and the green shows the US.[2]

Here are some helpful tips in relationships from high and low power distance cultures:

With Low Power Distance people:

  • De-emphasize formalities;
  • Question or challenge authority.

With High Power Distance people:

  • Follow the chain of command carefully;
  • Do not question authority—particularly in public;

Please remember, there is right or proper way here. One end or the other is not more or less correct. For Christians, Jesus is LORD and our authority, but he is also our Friend who works with and beside us all the time. It works both ways and we must be prepared to adjust and adapt according to our situation. If you have ideas or questions about egalitarian/low power distance or hierarchical/high power distance cultures, or have an example of a culture clash you wonder about, please write me at lesliepjohnson@lesliepjohnson.com and I will try to address that issue at some point in this blog.


[1] Meyer, E. (2015). The Culture Map: Decoding how people think, lead, and get things done across cultures (p. 131).New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

[2] Taken from https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/ where you can put in up to three countries to compare cultural dimensions.

In the last blog, we talked about cultural dimensions. We can also use the word values and some say cultural value dimensions. However, for simplicity, I am planning to only use the words “cultural dimensions.” A cultural dimension is referring to an aspect of a culture that can be put on a line graph or continuum.

An important reminder from last week’s blog: keep in mind as we delve into this topic that the descriptors of a culture in terms of dimensions will only give an idea. Be careful never to put people in a box, nor to assume everyone from a specific culture will be “just so.” There will indeed be personality differences, as well as the impact of life experiences.

This week we will look at Individualism versus Collectivism, which is the extent to which your personal identity is defined in terms of individual or group characteristics. An individualist is motivated with personal incentives and goals and is more comfortable with autonomy versus working on a team. A collectivist is motivated by group goals; long-term relationships and who knows whom is very important. The U.S. is often described as the most individualist culture in the world and China as the most collectivist culture.

Looking at these photos, how might these children look at personal space or independence differently, based on their upbringing?

How might their upbringing influence the way they will approach a conflict?

Possible indicators of an individualist include desiring personal accountability and saying things like, “I’ll take care of this.” When you are working with an individualist, allow for autonomy and recognize the important or rapid decision making.

On the other end of the continuum will be collectivism. The possible indicators for a collectivist would be the person’s first consideration being the impact on the in-group. That “in-group” could be the family, the village, the society, the class, the team, etc. The collectivist also might say, “Let me check with our team” before a decision is made. When working with someone who is more collectivist, be sure to create time for consultation and consensus-building. Also recognize the importance of building lasting relationships.

If it helps to visualize each dimension, think of a line graph showing a continuum between the two different extremes of that dimension. For example, here is today’s dimension:

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|______________|_______________|________________|______________|

Individualism                                                                             Collectivism

When you think about the definition of these two ends of the spectrum, where do you land? Keep in mind there is no right or wrong way to be. One end or the other is not more correct.

If you are interested, you can also look at a handy website where you can put in up to three different countries for a comparison. In the spectrum between individualism and collectivism, the higher the number of the graph, the more individualistic the culture.

Thought for the day: Having lived in cultures that are much more collectivist than the US, I have realized that perhaps Americans have some things to learn. There is value to caring about the group goals, not just focusing on MY needs, MY wants, MY plans. Sometimes we should think about the greater good.

Think about it. When you have tension with someone, how much of that is because of your individualistic perspective? And how can others learn to be generous and helpful if we are always insistent on being independent and refusing to ask for or accept offered help?

Of course, the other side of that question will be, how will someone be able to think for themselves if we are always focused on what the group thinks?

Balance. We always need balance.

If you have ideas or questions about individualism or collectivism, or have an example of a culture clash you wonder about, please write me at lesliepjohnson@lesliepjohnson.com and I will try to address that issue at some point in this blog.

In earlier blogs, I have introduced the idea of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and what culture is. To move toward the goal of being culturally intelligent communities, I now want to start focusing on understanding some of the cultural differences we run into in everyday life. When we talk about cultural differences, we often use the words “values” or “dimensions.” Geert Hofstede started doing some research back in the 60s already about how the different cultures approach different aspects of life and started listing different cultural dimensions. (See Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 3rd edition.)

Cultural questions come up every day. For example, “how do we relate to the boss?” or “how should I give negative feedback?” or “should I speak directly or indirectly?” These all are strongly affected by the culture we grew up with. As I discussed in the last blog, we can have cultural differences that everyone can see (the tip of the iceberg). But we also have that which is deeper, values that are less obvious, influenced by our religious and/or family background, ethnicity, etc.

When looking at cultural differences, there are many values or dimensions on which we could focus. Over the next weeks, we will look at a variety of those differences. It will be like looking at a finely cut diamond. You can look at the stone from a variety of angles and see different lights and aspects of the diamond. But it is still the same diamond.

So, too, people are still people. We are all human beings deserving dignity and respect. And yet, we are diverse in many ways.  We face racial, ethnic, generational, national, gender, and religious differences, to name some. Understanding our differences can help us develop empathy and the ability to see things from a different point of view, thus enabling us to use our diversity for strength rather than polarization. In my very first blog, I mentioned that Culturally Intelligent Community is one where the people have the capability to relate to one another effectively, no matter how diverse it is.

An important thing to keep mind as we delve into this topic is that the descriptors of a culture in terms of dimensions or values will only give an idea. Be careful never to put people in a box, nor to assume everyone from a particular culture will be “just so.” There will indeed be personality differences, as well as the impact of life experiences.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most common cultural dimensions. Over the next few weeks, we will define and look at the impact on culture of:

  • Individualism versus Collectivism
  • Power Distance
  • Uncertainty Avoidance
  • Cooperative versus Competitive
  • Short-term and Long-term Time Orientation
  • Low and High Context
  • Being versus Doing

After we finish these, we may look at a few others, such as honor/shame. Then I plan to start looking at how these values impact what is going on in the classroom, church, and other possible places where cultural differences can cause tension.

As I discuss some of the different dimensions or values, you can think of situations which might fit that dimension. If you have ideas or questions about a particular issue, or have an example of a culture clash you wonder about, please write me at lesliepjohnson@lesliepjohnson.com and I will try to address that issue at some point in this blog.

Last word: as we go forward, for the sake of simplicity, I will use the word dimensions rather than values.

Up to this point, I have talked about what Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is, why we need it, and how to start developing it in ourselves. Once again, CQ is the capability to function effectively across various cultural contexts(national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc.)

In my last blog, I talked about cultural humility and the need to “focus on the otherthe other person from another culture is the expert and has the answers. I am here to learn from that person, to focus on that person. I ask questions instead providing answers. It’s a lifelong process and attitude of growing instead of focus on an end product. Cultural humility encourages us to look at our own biases, to self-reflect regularly on our attitudes toward the other. I come to the other person with modesty and with a courteous respect for that person and culture.”

But where do our biases come from? Why do we have to think about the others in our life? Aren’t we all just the same? I don’t know about you, but I disagree with people. I even disagree with my husband sometimes! (GASP!) And where do those disagreements come from? I could go in to a lot of detail about that. However, I won’t today nor in the immediate future.

Instead, I want to take the time to start a series about cultural dimensions. These are areas where cultures differ. One isn’t right and the other wrong. They are just different. Before we understand cultural dimensions, though, we need to understand what culture means.

Here is a definition of culture: the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

What kinds of things are a part of your culture? Nitza Hidalgo mentions three different levels of culture:

Concrete: surface level, food, festivals, clothes, music

Behavioral: language, gender roles, family structure, politics (how you view leadership, communication (specific or not), etc.

Symbolic: values and beliefs, religion, worldview

The iceberg is a metaphor often used to explain culture. You have probably seen this before or something similar. When we look at an iceberg related to culture, at the top of the iceberg is what we see and experience with our senses, the concrete culture. The food, clothes, music, etc. Much of the behavior we experience comes from what we cannot see, what which is just below the surface, the Behavioral Culture, what this picture calls cultural values and assumptions. Down deep, though, is the Symbolic Culture. I would add to the “individual personality” things such as our cultural rules about relationships, virtue and vice, worldview, and religious beliefs, which do indeed affect our culture. It’s the ideas, beliefs, mannerisms in our culture that “go without saying.”

As we teach our young children, there are things that we just automatically teach without realizing it is a part of our culture. We teach our 2-year-old grandson about not standing while eating and chewing with his mouth closed and other such “manners.” Those ideas become what “goes without saying” in our culture.

To understand what makes things different from us is to learn about the other person, with an attitude of cultural humility, where she or he comes from, and how those pieces of culture that are different are things we can learn from. Not judge. Learn from. And to learn from the other person, it is helpful to understand the different cultural dimensions. Next week we will start in and take one set of ideas per week.