CQ – How are we different? Part Two – An Introduction to Cultural Dimensions

In earlier blogs, I have introduced the idea of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and what culture is. To move toward the goal of being culturally intelligent communities, I now want to start focusing on understanding some of the cultural differences we run into in everyday life. When we talk about cultural differences, we often use the words “values” or “dimensions.” Geert Hofstede started doing some research back in the 60s already about how the different cultures approach different aspects of life and started listing different cultural dimensions. (See Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 3rd edition.)

Cultural questions come up every day. For example, “how do we relate to the boss?” or “how should I give negative feedback?” or “should I speak directly or indirectly?” These all are strongly affected by the culture we grew up with. As I discussed in the last blog, we can have cultural differences that everyone can see (the tip of the iceberg). But we also have that which is deeper, values that are less obvious, influenced by our religious and/or family background, ethnicity, etc.

When looking at cultural differences, there are many values or dimensions on which we could focus. Over the next weeks, we will look at a variety of those differences. It will be like looking at a finely cut diamond. You can look at the stone from a variety of angles and see different lights and aspects of the diamond. But it is still the same diamond.

So, too, people are still people. We are all human beings deserving dignity and respect. And yet, we are diverse in many ways.  We face racial, ethnic, generational, national, gender, and religious differences, to name some. Understanding our differences can help us develop empathy and the ability to see things from a different point of view, thus enabling us to use our diversity for strength rather than polarization. In my very first blog, I mentioned that Culturally Intelligent Community is one where the people have the capability to relate to one another effectively, no matter how diverse it is.

An important thing to keep mind as we delve into this topic is that the descriptors of a culture in terms of dimensions or values will only give an idea. Be careful never to put people in a box, nor to assume everyone from a particular culture will be “just so.” There will indeed be personality differences, as well as the impact of life experiences.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most common cultural dimensions. Over the next few weeks, we will define and look at the impact on culture of:

  • Individualism versus Collectivism
  • Power Distance
  • Uncertainty Avoidance
  • Cooperative versus Competitive
  • Short-term and Long-term Time Orientation
  • Low and High Context
  • Being versus Doing

After we finish these, we may look at a few others, such as honor/shame. Then I plan to start looking at how these values impact what is going on in the classroom, church, and other possible places where cultural differences can cause tension.

As I discuss some of the different dimensions or values, you can think of situations which might fit that dimension. If you have ideas or questions about a particular issue, or have an example of a culture clash you wonder about, please write me at lesliepjohnson@lesliepjohnson.com and I will try to address that issue at some point in this blog.

Last word: as we go forward, for the sake of simplicity, I will use the word dimensions rather than values.