To work with people of other cultures, it's important to understand their "world view." The Value Orientation Method (VOM) provides a way to understand core cultural differences related to five basic human concerns, or orientations. The method has been used widely in cross-cultural situations, including in higher education, health services, and conflict resolution. A 16-question oral survey is available and can be used for formal research about cultural differences or informally in training to help people become aware of and work with cultural differences at the individual and institutional levels.
Leadership Development Specialist
Office of Personnel and Organizational Development
Oregon State University Extension Service
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Changes in the demographics of the United States challenge Extension faculty and staff to work effectively across cultures. One of the fundamental problems of working effectively with people of another culture is understanding basic differences in "world view." Without this understanding, it is difficult to provide appropriate services and easy to get into unnecessary conflict. There is, however, a method to quickly help people understand cultural differences. This article introduces the Value Orientation Method (VOM), a tool that can help identify differences in core values across cultures. For those readers familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Keirsey, 1998) and how it describes type of individuals, the VOM provides a similar method for describing types of cultures. Background
The foundations for VOM were developed in the 1940s and 1950s by anthropologists with the Harvard Values Project (Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961). The project team proposed that it is possible to distinguish cultures based on how they each addressed five common human concerns. They did not propose that these were the only five concerns but that they were useful in understanding cultural differences. They also proposed from their study that cultures could respond to the problems in at least three ways and that all cultures would express each of the three responses. It was the rank order of responses that gave a culture its character. They called these responses to the five concerns "value orientations." Today we might call them "core values." Kohls (1981) provides a brief introduction to the five human problems and the three possible responses (Figure 1). Figure 1
Description of Five Common Human Concerns and Three Possible Responses (based on Kohls, 1981) Concerns/ orientations| Possible Responses|
Human Nature: What is the basic nature of people?| Evil. Most people can't be trusted. People are basically bad and need to be controlled.| Mixed. There are both evil people and good people in the world, and you have to check people out to find out which they are. People can be changed with the right guidance.| Good. Most people are basically pretty good at heart; they are born good.| Man-Nature Relationship:What is the appropriate relationship to nature| Subordinate to Nature.People really can't change nature. Life is largely determined by external forces, such as fate and genetics. What happens was meant to happen.| Harmony with Nature. Man should, in every way, live in harmony with nature.| Dominant over Nature. It the great human challenge to conquer and control nature. Everything from air conditioning to the "green revolution" has resulted from having met this challenge.| Time Sense: How should we best think about time?| Past. People should learn from history, draw the values they live by from history, and strive to continue past traditions into the future.| Present. The present moment is everything. Let's make the most of it. Don't worry about tomorrow: enjoy today.| Future. Planning and goal setting make it...