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 people 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.
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
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.” From my experience, I would say those are very wise words.
 Meyer, E. (2014). The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, pp.21-27. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.
 Meyer, E. (2014). The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, p.27. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.
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.
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.” 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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to address that issue at some point in this blog.
Have a Merry Christmas!
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.
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 other: the 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.