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Specific vs. Diffuse A specific culture is one in which individuals have a large pub- lic space they readily let others enter and share and a small private space they guard closely and share with only close friends and associates. A diffuse culture is one in which public space and private space are similar in size and individuals guard their public space carefully because entry into public space affords entry into private space as well. As shown in Figure 4–10, Austria, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Switzerland all are specific cultures, while Venezuela, China, and Spain are diffuse cultures. In specific cultures, people often are invited into a person’s open, public space; individuals in these cultures often are open and extroverted; and there is a strong separa- tion of work and private life. In diffuse cultures, people are not quickly invited into a person’s open, public space because once they are in, there is easy entry into the private space as well. Individuals in these cultures often appear to be indirect and introverted, and work and private life often are closely linked.

An example of these specific and diffuse cultural dimensions is provided by the United States and Germany. A U.S. professor, such as Robert Smith, PhD, generally would be called “Doctor Smith” by students when at his U.S. university. When shop- ping, however, he might be referred to by the store clerk as “Bob,” and when golfing, Bob might just be one of the guys, even to a golf partner who happens to be a

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neutral culture A culture in which emotions are held in check.

emotional culture A culture in which emotions are expressed openly and naturally.

specific culture A culture in which individuals have a large public space they readily share with others and a small private space they guard closely and share with only close friends and associates.

diffuse culture A culture in which public space and private space are similar in size and individuals guard their public space carefully because entry into public space affords entry into private space as well.

 

 

Chapter 4 The Meanings and Dimensions of Culture 143

graduate student in his department. The reason for these changes in status is that, with the specific U.S. cultural values, people have large public spaces and often conduct themselves differently depending on their public role. In high-diffuse cultures, on the other hand, a person’s public life and private life often are similar. Therefore, in Germany, Herr Professor Doktor Schmidt would be referred to that way at the uni- versity, local market, and bowling alley—and even his wife might address him for- mally in public. A great deal of formality is maintained, often giving the impression that Germans are stuffy or aloof.

Trompenaars recommends that when those from specific cultures do business in diffuse cultures, they should respect a person’s title, age, and background connections, and they should not get impatient when people are being indirect or circuitous. Con- versely, when individuals from diffuse cultures do business in specific cultures, they should try to get to the point and be efficient, learn to structure meetings with the judi- cious use of agendas, and not use their titles or acknowledge achievements or skills that are irrelevant to the issues being discussed.

Achievement vs. Ascription An achievement culture is one in which people are accorded status based on how well they perform their functions. An ascription culture is one in which status is attributed based on who or what a person is. Achievement cultures give high status to high achievers, such as the company’s number-one salesper- son or the medical researcher who has found a cure for a rare form of bone cancer. Ascription cultures accord status based on age, gender, or social connections. For ex- ample, in an ascription culture, a person who has been with the company for 40 years may be listened to carefully because of the respect that others have for the individual’s age and longevity with the firm, and an individual who has friends in high places may be afforded status because of whom she knows. As shown in Figure 4–10, Austria, the United States, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom are achievement cultures, while Venezuela, Indonesia, and China are ascription cultures.

Trompenaars recommends that when individuals from achievement cultures do business in ascription cultures, they should make sure that their group has older, senior, and formal position holders who can impress the other side, and they should respect the status and influence of their counterparts in the other group. Conversely, he recommends that when individuals from ascription cultures do business in achievement cultures, they should make sure that their group has sufficient data, technical advisers, and knowledge- able people to convince the other group that they are proficient, and they should respect the knowledge and information of their counterparts on the other team.

Time Aside from the five relationship orientations, another major cultural difference is the way in which people deal with the concept of time. Trompenaars has identified two different approaches: sequential and synchronous. In cultures where sequential ap- proaches are prevalent, people tend to do only one activity at a time, keep appointments strictly, and show a strong preference for following plans as they are laid out and not deviating from them. In cultures where synchronous approaches are common, people tend to do more than one activity at a time, appointments are approximate and may be changed at a moment’s notice, and schedules generally are subordinate to relationships. People in synchronous-time cultures often will stop what they are doing to meet and greet individuals coming into their office.

A good contrast is provided by the United States, Mexico, and France. In the United States, people tend to be guided by sequential-time orientation and thus set a schedule and stick to it. Mexicans operate under more of a synchronous-time orientation and thus tend to be much more flexible, often building slack into their schedules to allow for interruptions. The French are similar to the Mexicans and, when making plans, often determine the objectives they want to accomplish but leave open the timing and other factors that are beyond their control; this way, they can adjust and modify their approach as they go along. As Trompenaars noted, “For the French and Mexicans, what was

achievement culture A culture in which people are accorded status based on how well they perform their functions.

ascription culture A culture in which status is attributed based on who or what a person is.

 

 

144 Part 2 The Role of Culture

important was that they get to the end, not the particular path or sequence by which that end was reached.”49

Another interesting time-related contrast is the degree to which cultures are past- or present-oriented as opposed to future-oriented. In countries such as the United States, Italy, and Germany, the future is more important than the past or the present. In countries such as Venezuela, Indonesia, and Spain, the present is most important. In France and Belgium, all three time periods are of approximately equal importance. Because different emphases are given to different time periods, adjusting to these cultural differences can create challenges.

Trompenaars recommends that when doing business with future-oriented cultures, effective international managers should emphasize the opportunities and limitless scope that any agreement can have, agree to specific deadlines for getting things done, and be aware of the core competence or continuity that the other party intends to carry with it into the future. When doing business with past- or present-oriented cultures, he recom- mends that managers emphasize the history and tradition of the culture, find out whether internal relationships will sanction the types of changes that need to be made, and agree to future meetings in principle but fix no deadlines for completions.

The Environment Trompenaars also examined the ways in which people deal with their environment. Specific attention should be given to whether they believe in control- ling outcomes (inner-directed) or letting things take their own course (outer-directed). One of the things he asked managers to do was choose between the following statements:

1. What happens to me is my own doing. 2. Sometimes I feel that I do not have enough control over the directions my life

is taking.

Managers who believe in controlling their own environment would opt for the first choice; those who believe that they are controlled by their environment and cannot do much about it would opt for the second.

Here is an example by country of the sample respondents who believe that what happens to them is their own doing:50

United States 89% Switzerland 84% Australia 81% Belgium 76% Indonesia 73% Hong Kong 69% Greece 63% Singapore 58% Japan 56% China 35%

In the United States, managers feel strongly that they are masters of their own fate. This helps account for their dominant attitude (sometimes bordering on aggressiveness) toward the environment and discomfort when things seem to get out of control. Many Asian cultures do not share these views. They believe that things move in waves or natural shifts and one must “go with the flow,” so a flexible attitude, characterized by a willingness to compromise and maintain harmony with nature, is important.

Trompenaars recommends that when dealing with those from cultures that believe in dominating the environment, it is important to play hardball, test the resilience of the opponent, win some objectives, and always lose from time to time. For example, repre- sentatives of the U.S. government have repeatedly urged Japanese automobile companies to purchase more component parts from U.S. suppliers to partially offset the large volume

 

 

Chapter 4 The Meanings and Dimensions of Culture 145

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