+1 (208) 254-6996 [email protected]

Universalism vs. Particularism Universalism is the belief that ideas and practices can be applied everywhere without modification. Particularism is the belief that circum- stances dictate how ideas and practices should be applied. In cultures with high univer- salism, the focus is more on formal rules than on relationships, business contracts are adhered to very closely, and people believe that “a deal is a deal.” In cultures with high

universalism The belief that ideas and practices can be applied everywhere in the world without modification.

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Universalism vs. Particularism Universalism is the belief that ideas and practices can be applied everywhere without modification.
Just from $13/Page
Order Essay

particularism The belief that circumstances dictate how ideas and practices should be applied and that something cannot be done the same everywhere.

Table 4–5 Trompenaars’s Country Abbreviations

Abbreviation Country

ARG Argentina AUS Austria BEL Belgium BRZ Brazil CHI China CIS Former Soviet Union CZH Former Czechoslovakia FRA France GER Germany (excluding former East Germany) HK Hong Kong IDO Indonesia ITA Italy JPN Japan MEX Mexico NL Netherlands SIN Singapore SPA Spain SWE Sweden SWI Switzerland THA Thailand UK United Kingdom USA United States VEN Venezuela



140 Part 2 The Role of Culture

particularism, the focus is more on relationships and trust than on formal rules. In a particularist culture, legal contracts often are modified, and as people get to know each other better, they often change the way in which deals are executed. In his early research, Trompenaars found that in countries such as the United States, Australia, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, there was high universalism, while countries such as Venezuela, the former Soviet Union, Indonesia, and China were high on particularism. Figure 4–10  shows the continuum.

In follow-up research, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner presented the respon- dents with a dilemma and asked them to make a decision. Here is one of these dilemmas along with the national scores of the respondents:47

You are riding in a car driven by a close friend. He hits a pedestrian. You know he was going at least 35 miles per hour in an area of the city where the maximum allowed speed is 20 miles per hour. There are no witnesses. His lawyer says that if you testify under oath that he was driving 20 miles per hour it may save him from serious consequences. What right has your friend to expect you to protect him?

a. My friend has a definite right as a friend to expect me to testify to the lower figure. b. He has some right as a friend to expect me to testify to the lower figure. c. He has no right as a friend to expect me to testify to the lower figure.

With a high score indicating strong universalism (choice c) and a low score indicat- ing strong particularism (choice a), here is how the different nations scored:

Figure 4–10 Trompenaars’s Relationship Orientations on Cultural Dimensions

Individualism vs. Communitarianism




ThaJpnIdoFraChiGerHK ItaVenBelSwiBrzSpa NL

Swe Aus



Achievement vs. Ascription

Achievement Ascription

Aus USA Ger Arg Tha Bel Fra Ita Brz


Spa Jpn Czh Sin CIS Chi Ido VenSwi UK

Swe Mex

Specific vs. Di�use

Specific Di�use

Aus UK USA Swi

Fra NL Bel Brz Czh Ido Spa Chi VenHK Sin



Arg Jpn Mex

Ita Ger

Neutral vs. Emotional

Neutral Emotional

Jpn UK Sin Aus Ido HK Tha Bel Ger

Swe Arg USA

Czh Fra

Spa Ita Ven

CIS Brz Chi Swi NL Mex


Universalism vs. Particularism


USA Aus Ger Swi

Swe UK NL Czh Ita Bel Brz Fra Jap Sin

Arg Mex Tha HK Chi Ido CIS Ven

Source: Adapted from information found in Fons Trompenaars, Riding the Waves of Culture  (New York: Irwin, 1994); Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars, “A World Turned Upside Down: Doing Business in Asia,” in  Managing Across Cultures: Issues and Perspectives, ed. Pat Joynt and Malcolm Warner (London: International Thomson Business Press, 1996), pp. 275–305.



Chapter 4 The Meanings and Dimensions of Culture 141

Universalism (no right)

Canada 96 United States 95 Germany 90 United Kingdom 90 Netherlands 88 France 68 Japan 67 Singapore 67 Thailand 63 Hong Kong 56 Particularism (some or definite right)

China 48 South Korea 26

As noted earlier, respondents from universalist cultures (e.g., North America and Western Europe) felt that the rules applied regardless of the situation, while respondents from particularist cultures were much more willing to bend the rules and help their friend.

Based on these types of findings, Trompenaars recommends that when individuals from particularist cultures do business in a universalistic culture, they should be prepared for rational, professional arguments and a “let’s get down to business” attitude. Con- versely, when individuals from universalist cultures do business in a particularist environ- ment, they should be prepared for personal meandering or irrelevancies that seem to go nowhere and should not regard personal, get-to-know-you attitudes as mere small talk.

Individualism vs. Communitarianism Individualism and communitarianism are key dimensions in Hofstede’s earlier research. Although Trompenaars derived these two relationships differently than Hofstede does, they still have the same basic meaning, although in his more recent work Trompenaars has used the word communitarianism rather than collectivism. For him, individualism refers to people regarding themselves as individuals, while communitarianism refers to people regarding themselves as part of a group, similar to the political groupings discussed in Chapter 2. As shown in Figure 4–10, the United States, former Czechoslovakia, Argentina, the former Soviet Union (CIS), and Mexico have high individualism.

In his most recent research, Trompenaars posed the following situation. If you were to be promoted, which of the two following issues would you emphasize most: (a) the new group of people with whom you will be working or (b) the greater responsibility of the work you are undertaking and the higher income you will be earning? The following reports the scores associated with the individualism of option b—greater responsibility and more money.48

communitarianism Refers to people regarding themselves as part of a group.

Individualism (emphasis on larger responsibili- ties and more income)

Canada 77 Thailand 71 United Kingdom 69 United States 67 Netherlands 64 France 61 Japan 61 China 54 Singapore 50 Hong Kong 47 Communitarianism (emphasis on the new group of people)

Malaysia 38 Korea 32



142 Part 2 The Role of Culture

These findings are somewhat different from those presented in Figure 4–10  and show that cultural changes may be occurring more rapidly than many people realize. For example, findings show Thailand very high on individualism (possibly indicating an increasing entrepreneurial spirit/cultural value), whereas the Thais were found to be low on individualism a few years before, as shown in Figure 4–10. At the same time, it is important to remember that there are major differences between people in high- individualism societies and those in high-communitarianism societies. The former stress personal and individual matters; the latter value group-related issues. Negotiations in cultures with high individualism typically are made on the spot by a representative, peo- ple ideally achieve things alone, and they assume a great deal of personal responsibility. In cultures with high communitarianism, decisions typically are referred to committees, people ideally achieve things in groups, and they jointly assume responsibility.

Trompenaars recommends that when people from cultures with high individualism deal with those from communitarianistic cultures, they should have patience for the time taken to consent and to consult, and they should aim to build lasting relationships. When people from cultures with high communitarianism deal with those from individualistic cultures, they should be prepared to make quick decisions and commit their organization to these decisions. Also, communitarianists dealing with individualists should realize that the reason they are dealing with only one negotiator (as opposed to a group) is that this person is respected by his or her organization and has its authority and esteem.

Neutral vs. Emotional A neutral culture is one in which emotions are held in check. As seen in Figure 4–10, both Japan and the United Kingdom are high-neutral cultures. People in these countries try not to show their feelings; they act stoically and maintain their composure. An emotional culture is one in which emotions are openly and natu- rally expressed. People in emotional cultures often smile a great deal, talk loudly when they are excited, and greet each other with a great deal of enthusiasm. Mexico, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are examples of high emotional cultures.

Trompenaars recommends that when individuals from emotional cultures do busi- ness in neutral cultures, they should put as much as they can on paper and submit it to the other side. They should realize that lack of emotion does not mean a lack of inter- est or boredom, but rather that people from neutral cultures do not like to show their hand. Conversely, when those from neutral cultures do business in emotional cultures, they should not be put off stride when the other side creates scenes or grows animated and boisterous, and they should try to respond warmly to the emotional affections of the other group.

Order your essay today and save 10% with the discount code ESSAYHELP