Understanding Cultural Differences

core cultural differences - people are standing in a circle. they are smiling and raising their hands to high five everyone

Different countries have different cultures. What may be normal or usual for your country and society may be offensive in other countries. When considering going into international business, leaders need to learn and understand the culture of the country they are partnering with. Knowledge of cultural differences will also help you overcome cultural blind spots.


Here are some core cultural differences you need to know :


Individualism vs Collectivism


Individualism vs. Collectivism refers to the relationship of the individual to the group.

In Individualistic societies, members consider themselves independent from others. Autonomy and independent thoughts are valued and the interests and goals of the individual are prioritized over the group’s well-being.

In Collectivist societies, it emphasizes the needs and goals of the group as a whole over the needs and desires of each individual. Social interdependence and collective harmony are valued. The goal of the group and their welfare outweigh individual goals and needs.


Uncertainty Avoidance


Uncertainty avoidance refers to the degree to which people are uncomfortable with risk, change, and ambiguity

In high uncertainty avoidance societies, members have an emotional need for predictability and stability, thus exhibiting a high resistance to change. Members also hold strict and rigid beliefs. There are formal rules and strong intolerance for rule-breaking or unorthodox ideas or behaviors.

In low uncertainty avoidance societies, members are comfortable with ambiguous and uncertain situations, and they tolerate change well.  Members have multiple ideas and respect different viewpoints. They are contemplative, emotionally stable, and relaxed. Members also prefer fewer rules and rule-breaking is allowed.

Long-term vs Short-term Orientation


Orientation to Time refers to  how a society approaches and manages time.

Members of Short-Term Orientation societies are more focused on the present than the future. They value instant gratification. Members spend now, rather than save for the future. They live in the moment and are not too concerned with past or future anxieties. The downside of this is they may engage in risky behaviors and fail to recognize the negative long-term impact of their actions.

Members of Long-Term Orientation societies have a strong tendency and willingness to imagine future possibilities. They set long-term goals and persevere to achieve their ambitions. Members are also psychologically healthy and socially well adjusted because they feel in control of their lives. On the downside, they may neglect current social relationships and obligations, and can fail to live in the moment.


Power Distance


Power Distance refers to the extent to which a community accepts and endorses authority, power differences, and status privileges.

In low power distance societies, power is seen as a source of corruption, coercion, and dominance. People treat others as moral equals with shared basic human interests. Members care about the welfare of others and cooperate with one another.

In high Power Distance societies,  the less powerful members expect and accept inequalities. Power is perceived to provide social order and relational harmony. High Power Distance societies are divided into classes.


Diplomatic vs Direct Language


People use diplomatic language to protect people’s feelings, avoid conflict and build trust. 

On the other hand, direct language is mostly used to show a sense of urgency and seriousness. It is direct and straight to the point so the listener gets the message instantly without any confusion.  


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