Seven Dimensions of Culture

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In 1998, management consultants Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner published their “Seven Dimensions of Culture” model to help explain national cultural differences in organisations and to show how managing these differences in a heterogeneous business environment is a major challenge for international managers.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner gathered data over ten years using a method that relied on giving respondents dilemmas or contrasting tendencies. Each dilemma consisted of two alternatives that were interpreted as indicators for basic attitudes and values. The questionnaire was sent to over 15,000 managers in 28 countries. At least 500 usable responses per country were received, enabling the two authors to make substantiated distinctions between national cultures.

The two consultants distinguished seven connected processes formulated as dilemmas. A culture distinguishes itself from others by ‘preferring’ one side of a dilemma’s continuum. The seven, universal dimensions of cultures are:

“What is more important – rules or relationships?”
The degree of importance a culture assigns to either the law or to personal relationships. In a universalistic culture, people share the belief that general rules, codes, values and standards take precedence over the needs and claims of friends and other relationships. In a pluralistic culture, people see culture in terms of human friendship and intimate relationships. While rules do exist in a pluralistic culture, they merely codify how people relate to one another.

“Do we function as a group or as individuals?”
The degree to which people see themselves function more as a community or more as individuals. In a principally individualistic culture, people place the individual before the community. This means that individual happiness, fulfilment and welfare prevails and people take their own initiative and take care of themselves. In a principally communitarian culture, people place the community before the individual. Thus, it is the responsibility of the individual to act in ways which serve society. In doing so, individual needs are automatically attended.

“How far to we get involved?”
The degree to which responsibility is specifically assigned or is diffusely accepted. In a specific culture, people first analyse the elements individually and then put them together, the whole is the sum of its parts. People’s lives are divided accordingly and, only a single component can be entered at a time. Interactions between people are very well-defined. Specific individuals concentrate on hard facts, standards and contracts. A diffusely oriented culture starts with the whole and sees individual elements from the perspective of the total. All elements are related to one another. Relationships between elements are more important than individual elements.

“Do we display our emotions?”
The degree to which individuals display their emotions. In an affective culture, people display their emotions and it is not deemed necessary to hide feelings. However, in a neutral culture, people are taught not to display their feelings overtly. The degree to which feelings become manifested is therefore minimal. While emotions are felt, they are controlled.

“Do we control our environment or work with it?”
The degree to which individuals believe the environment can be controlled versus believing that the environment controls them. In an inner-directed culture, people have a mechanistic view of nature; nature is complex but can be controlled with the right expertise. People believe that humans can dominate nature, if they make the effort. In an outer-directed culture, people have an organic view of nature. Mankind is viewed as one of nature’s forces and should therefore live in harmony with the environment. People...
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