Understanding and Managing Cultural Differences

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The Seven Dimensions of Culture were identified by management consultants Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, and the model was published in their 1997 book, "Riding the Waves of Culture." Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner developed the model after spending 10 years researching the preferences and values of people in dozens of cultures around the world. As part of this, they sent questionnaires to more than 46,000 managers in 40 countries. They found that people from different cultures aren't just randomly different from one another; they differ in very specific, even predictable, ways. This is because each culture has its own way of thinking, its own values and beliefs, and different preferences placed on a variety of different factors. They concluded that what distinguishes people from one culture compared with another is where these preferences fall on each of the following seven dimensions: Universalism versus particularism.

Individualism versus communitarianism.
Specific versus diffuse.
Neutral versus emotional.
Achievement versus ascription.
Sequential time versus synchronous time.
Internal direction versus outer direction.
(We'll look at each dimension in detail below.)
You can use the model to understand people from different cultural backgrounds better, so that you can prevent misunderstandings and enjoy a better working relationship with them. This is especially useful if you do business with people from around the world, or if you manage a diverse group of people. The model also highlights that one culture is not necessarily better or worse than another; people from different cultural backgrounds simply make different choices. However, the model doesn't tell you how to measure people's preferences on each dimension. Therefore, it's best to use it as a general guide when dealing with people from different cultures.
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