Category Archives: Cross-Cultural Communication

Cross-Cultural Communication

The word culture can mean many things from fine art and folklore to everything we humans do that distinguishes us from animals. In this presentation culture is defined as “ the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category from another”(Geert Hofstede, Cultures and Organizations)

Culture is learned, not inherited and comes from the social environment that one is brought up in. It has to be distinguished from behavior that is common to all human beings on the one hand and each individual’s personality on the other hand. In fact the personality differences within a culture are always larger than the differences between cultures.


When we talk of culture in this respect we refer to all the influences that a group of people have experienced in the past. The dominant religion and the historical status of the group influence the self-confidence that people have with regard to other groups. For example China has a very long history of distinction in science, literature and philosophy which still has an influence on people who are brought up in China today. Swedes have the historical experience of being a very small group in a cold climate with many powerful neighbors, which has influenced the IKEA culture.

Talking of culture in this social-anthropological way is to generalize greatly. This is necessary to create awareness of the differences of behavior that we often don’t see in ourselves but experience as odd when we see it in others. The fish are not aware of what water is because they spend their whole life in it.

Taking all this into consideration we are going to look at an attempt to classify some basic differences in cultures around the world. (Being preoccupied with classification is in itself a cultural habit of the Europeans influenced by the Greek philosophers who were the contemporaries of Kung fu-ze in China)

We will look at five different aspects: the relationship to power and inequality; which comes first, the individual or the group; which roles men an women play; whether it is more important what you believe in or what you actually do and lastly the interest in long-term or short term gratification of needs.

Power and Inequality

  • Indistinct show of power. Small wage differences; The manager often consults with employees; Display of power and wealth is not well seen
  • Distinct show of power. The manager gives orders and the employee obeys; Power is displayed proudly; Everybody knows their place in the hierarchy

Individuals or Groups

  • Individual orientation. Children are brought up to fend for themselves; It is important to have self respect – guilt; Tasks are more important than relationships
  • Group orientation. Identity is based on the social network; It is important not to lose face – shame; Relationships are more important than tasks

Men’s and Women’s roles in society

  • Masculine cultures. Money and objects are important; Large differences between men´s and women´s worlds; Conflicts are best resolved by fighting them out
  • Feminine cultures. Sympathy for the weak; Equality between the sexes; Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiations

To have the right faith or to do the right thing

  • What is true is important. Logic important “ if A is right and B is the opposite of A then B must be wrong”; The search for structure and laws in nature
  • What you do is important. Paradoxes important “both A and B can be right”; You can create something new by mixing from different sources

Long-term or short-term gratification of needs

  • Long-term orientation. Being sparing with resources – saving for future gains; Adaptation of traditions for modern use; Willingness to wait until your time comes
  • Short-term orientation. Quick gains important – low saving quote; Important to show your status even if you can´t afford it; “Tomorrow never comes”