Cultural Awareness Training: 4 Dimensions of Values October 09 2014, 2 Comments

by Erich Toll

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Anyone who doubts the impact of culture needs look no further than current news headlines, which center around the Middle East. And perhaps the primary cause of ongoing conflict in the region is Muslims wish to retain their culture.

Indeed, in his keynote speech at last week's annual conference of the Muslim World League (MWL) in Makkah, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called upon Muslims to be modern while respecting their cultural heritage.

Culture affects more than just politics. Its impact on business is serious, from botched market entries by multinational multinationals, to global teams that are dysfunctional, to expatriates called home after failed assignments.

When seeking to understand people from other cultures, it's essential to identify what's important to them. Here are four essential variables to understanding cultural differences, as explored in this best-selling video, Cross-Cultural Understanding.

1. Cultures Change Slowly - Values change slowly and are often based on religion, so be familiar with the basic principles. In societies that have existed for hundreds or thousands of years, these priorities change slowly, as businesses often learn when working with other cultures .

Indeed, many people base their lives on practices that are thousands of years old. Values often have their roots in religions, so it's a good idea to be familiar with the basic concepts of different spiritual beliefs.

2. Accomplish Vs. Life Quality - Values also differ in the balance between accomplishment and quality of life. Whereas some people live to work, others work to live.

Whereas Western cultures place strong emphasis on accomplishment, others focus more on quality of life and family. In the Philippines, for example, an employee might miss work to help a family member run errands.

Indeed, in most cultures family is the supreme value, as explored in this cross-cultural video scenario. This can lead to cultural friction and complaints about work ethic. But some people place greater emphasis on career and achievement.

3. Productivity Vs. Harmony - Another important criteria is the contrast between people who cherish harmony and collaboration, and those who value efficiency and competition.

In the West, for example, people are motivated by competition. In contrast, Asians place greater emphasis on being cooperative and collaborative. Thus, many Asian cultures emphasize social harmony. It can be considered more important to avoid conflict than to get things done.

This difference often causes challenges with cross cultural communication at work.

4. Doing Vs. Being - Another determiner is the difference between doing and being. Western cultures tend to be more doing-oriented, emphasizing accomplishment. In contrast, being-focused societies prize family background and status. What's more important: your accomplishments and what you've done, or your family background and who you are?

In the United States, for example, a self-made person is widely admired. But in Latin America, that person might be looked down upon. Your class or social level is more important. Nepotism is seen favorably, and you are who you are because of your family.

In a being-based society, family, connections and status take first rank. But in a doing-oriented culture, people highlight goals and measurable accomplishments, and are motivated by promotions and bonuses.

Conclusion: different people have different values, and these differences can be magnified by culture. To work effectively with people from other cultures, you must understand their values.

What did I miss? Please leave your comments or additional tips below.