Cross cultural awareness

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Cross Cultural Awareness For The International Manager

Successful Cross Cultural Management And The Anticipated Characteristics Of France And Brazil


It has been commented that to minimise or resolve conflicts between different cultures they should first be grouped or categorized to measure their differences (Trompenaar, 2006).

The UK scores fairly low in the uncertainty avoidance index, suggesting that people in these cultures are less risk averse and feel relatively secure (French, 2008). In terms of the workplace, this can be reflected in a high employee turnover and managers encouraging risk taking and to expect change (Overby, 2005).

When taking Trompenaar's dimensions of universal or particular (the extent to which rules are followed regardless of the situation and people involved) into consideration, it may help to explain further where this behaviour or reasoning comes from.

Products and services are being offered on a global scale, posing a serious problem when a universalist culture engages in business with a particularist society, where the importance of relationship is ignored. Trans-cultural effectiveness is not only measured by the way one culture values another but also by the ability to reconcile the dilemmas, resolving them promptly, and the extent to which both values are synergised as one (Hemple, 2001).

Hemple emphasises upon the importance of such an understanding in the current globalisation era. At present, when companies become global, there is predominantly an inevitable move towards the universalist view (Hemple, 2001).

In order to go about such a task, Trompenaar's dimension of universal v particular is a helpful tool to signify the importance placed upon relationships and people compared to individual needs (Trompenaars F. H.-T., 1998).

Trompenaar's Neutral V Affective

Trompenaar's dimension of neutral v affective describes the extent to which a culture displays emotion, either openly (affective) or in a restrained manner (neutral) (Gooderham, 2003).

A cross cultural venture will involve communication between a variety of groups and people. The way in which people communicate is diverse and consequently the manner in which behaviours and actions are inter-operated also differs, leaving room for miscommunication. For example, people from a neutral culture may perceive displays of emotion in the workplace as unprofessional behaviour whilst the lack of emotions displayed by those from a neutral culture may be perceived as deceitful behaviour from the affective cultures' point of view (Snodgrass, 2002).

With the display of emotions in affective cultures, it maybe that communication is not just seen as a verbal exchange, rather, value is placed upon gestures. Although, minimal or indirect speech is made; facial expressions, actions, and body language may prove to be more influential than words. Without the knowledge of such cultures and their practices, there is a possibility of miscommunication. People from a neutral culture may interpret the lack of verbal communication to be impolite, rather than picking up on the meaning behind gestures such as body language.

Hall's description of high and low context cultures is reminiscent of neutral v affective, but primarily focuses on the communication styles of such cultures, specifically, on how they communicate (French, 2008).

Trompenaar's Specific V Diffuse

This aspect is useful in providing an insight into how employees perceive their position in the workplace. Those from the diffuse culture value their work and do not separate their responsibility in the workplace from their personal life. In fact, both facets of their life are integrated and are an essential element of who they are. Whereas, those from the specific culture clearly separate their work life from their personal life. They deem their work to be a means of acquiring a valuable objective, such as earning an income in order to achieve a better quality of life.

The insights obtained from this dimension may explain any variations in commitment over time amongst employees. Although, neither culture is inaccurate in their thinking, it may still present differences that lead to conflict. For example, those of the diffuse culture may feel obligated to stay behind outside their contractual working hours or work during their lunch break in order to complete a task, as opposed to those of the specific culture who may take their full lunch break and sign off at the end of the day upon completion of their contractual working hours. In turn, those of the diffuse culture may feel unappreciated as they might consider themselves to be earnest whilst viewing their colleagues as insincere. As well as giving an insight into employee behaviour, the specific v diffuse dimension can also elaborate on how employees work and how their interaction with colleagues translates into their personal life (Binder, 2007).


France scores highly on Hofstede's uncertainty avoidance index which is reflected in the emphasis placed upon rules in the workplace with managers endorsing rules, regulations and control of employees. Employees in return seek job security and significant benefits such as health insurance and extended holidays (Overby, 2005). This has an impact on the internal work culture in that managers closely supervise and guide their employees and as a result employees often have little autonomy in their job role.

This brings about the issue of HRM practices in a cross cultural venture; whereas performance related pay, individual appraisals etc. are common practice in UK organisations they may not be as successful in French organisations where guidance and control are valued as being a sense of security due to low uncertainty avoidance.

French employees' value team work and to stand out or receive individual recognition from the rest of the team may be seen to demean or show up others in contrast to being seen as individual achievement.

This is also related to the customers' perception of an organization when buying products/services; they would prefer to build up relationships carefully and to maintain them as opposed to a quick sale (Trompenaars F. H.-T., 1998).

However, similarities are apparent between the UK and France in the use of goal setting (in a HRM context) but with an emphasis on joint goal setting as opposed to individual.

This demonstrates the indirect effects of uncertainty avoidance, initially it may be thought of as a resistance to change and enhanced caution towards new people and new procedures. However, the way in which work is organised needs to be adjusted in order to get the most out of employees in a mutual context. For example, (Trompenaars F. W., 2001) research highlights an example of the French nature when change is to be implemented into an organisation:

“…..The French, in turn, were so much worried about the unions and how to keep their people motivated…..When I came back some three months later to check how the implementation was going, I noticed in France and Germany nothing had started yet (Trompenaars F. W., 2001).”

This should therefore be something to consider when UK managers communicate, organise and develop people and organisations from different cultures. Not only for a smooth transition but also for the impact it can have on achieving corporate objectives.

Inter-Relational Dimensions



Universalism: rules

Middle - Universalism / Particularism: rules, relationships

Individualism: focus on individual

Collectivism: focus on group

Neutral: reserved with emotions

Affective: demonstrative with emotions

Specific: distance in relationships

Specific: distance in relationships

Achievement: doing/merit

Middle - Ascription / Achievement: being/status, doing/merit

(Parsons, 1951)

Trompenaar's Neutral V Affective

Research shows that France has an implicit culture in which communication is often indirect as opposed to being concise and clear as of the explicit culture and communication methods of the UK. The French manner of communication and importance resulting from an affective culture can impact their approach to analysis. It is often the case that these implicit societies will “think more diffusively or holistically, making decisions more on intuition than on facts and figures. They can often seem indirect and ambiguous (Overby, 2005).”

Therefore in the workplace it may be apparent that a high concern is given to the needs of people in and around the organisation and ensuring those needs are being met as a priority over getting the job done and spending time discussing factual impersonal information (Overby, 2005).

As a result when UK and French employees and managers are together it will be important to address the issue of emotions; taking into consideration the French's attitude towards uncertainty as well. Suspicion, doubts and caution maybe demonstrated in a highly effective way rather than the culture often found in western organizations such as the UK, where suspicion, doubts and a sense of unease is often only apparent amongst small groups as opposed to sharing these feelings or making them known in a more outward manner.

Trompenaar's Specific V Diffuse

For those in specific cultures such as the UK, clear differences and separation is given in terms of their status and persona portrayed between work and social lives. In contrast diffuse cultures like France withhold the same persona in work and outside of work and believe that their work status plays a significant role in their perceived status in society. This can bring differences in how colleagues interact with each other (if at all) without the confinement of the workplace.

Workplace social events or gatherings are commonly viewed in the UK as being an opportunity to really get to know and speak to the real person without the confinements of position, status or duties to influence a person's behaviour or actions. However, in a diffuse culture such an occasion may not be perceived in the same way; such people may find it difficult to speak with or associate with others without giving respect to the status or position they have in the workplace. In this instance diffuse cultures look to the status or position of an individual as a way of dictating who the individual is and thus how others should interact with them.

This dimension closely relates to the significance and importance given to status across cultures. As mentioned previously, the UK can distinguish between work and social life and thus a manager in the workplace regardless of achievements, experience and qualifications will not necessarily be given the same respect and admiration outside the workplace. In contrast France (diffuse culture) maintains the same respect and status of that person which can often bring privileges and favours outside the workplace purely from the respect given to their status. For example, those who have graduated from Grande Ecoles (the French elite of universities) go on to hold top positions within organizations and government (Earley, 2002). However, the respect and status awarded to them holds the expectation amongst society that they will ensure the well-being of the community within the organization.


Brazil scores quite high on the uncertainty avoidance index which is indicative of its culture where structural order is sought to reduce uncertainty (Hofstede, 2009). Strict procedures are implemented in order to reduce ambiguity and avoid conflict (Hofstede, 2009). Alternatively, the culture in U.K embraces ambiguity and thrives on conflict. There are flexible structures in place and risks are endorsed without fear of failure. For the British, failure is another step in the way towards success whereas the Brazilian, perceive it negatively. Both perceptions are a reflection of their respective flexible and structured hierarchical societies. Therefore, it is important in Brazil, to avoid confronting one about an issue concerning others and putting them on the spot about an opinion (Trompenaars F. W., 2001). The Brazilian tendency to avoid risk may affect how business is conducted with U.K as both differ severely in this regard and it will be important to consider this as it might affect future joint business ventures or trade partnerships.

Inter-Relational Dimensions



Universalism: rules

Particularism: relationships

Individualism: focus on individual

Collectivism: focus on group

Neutral: reserved with emotions

Affective: demonstrative with emotions

Specific: distance in relationships

Diffuse: involvement in relationships

Achievement: doing/merit

Ascription: being/status

(Parsons, 1951)

Trompenaar's Neutral V Affective

People from affective cultures like Brazil tend to show their emotions, whereas someone from a neutral one like the U.K will appear more reserved and refrain from demonstrating emotions (Trompenaars F. H.-T., 1998). The style of interrelating is different in Brazil as compared to the UK as eye contact, touching, and personal spaces are important to them. Therefore, it is important to consider these interpersonal elements of interaction when engaging in business with the Brazilian since they can build or deter trust, understanding, and likeability of clients. Awareness of these subtle differences can help in avoiding embarrassing situations or offending someone. The Brazilian, have transparency and expressiveness in release of tensions and may seem dramatic in delivery of statements as emotions flow vehemently and without inhibition (Earley, 2002). It's different from the British culture where emotions are concealed and there is a lack of physical contact, gestures, or strong facial expressions along with a monotone style of oral delivery.

Trompenaar's Specific V Diffuse

In a diffuse society like Brazil, closeness and confidence between those working together will be more important than a fancy sales presentation of a product or service as might be the case in the U.K. The final decision of signing a deal will reflect the relationship building that has taken place during the negotiation process. This concept of diffuse is exemplified in the treatment of clients arriving in Brazil. According to the video series “Doing Business in Brazil” (Boulder, 1977), visiting business people are usually picked up in person by a driver or some representative from the company for all appointments and are invited to meals and social events. In the case of the specific relational category reflected in the U.K., clients basically must fend for themselves by taxi and relationships are kept strictly to business. The main point in this video is that in Brazil, the key to doing business is building personal relationships and integrating oneself into the local network. The idea of private versus public space also correlates with the diffuse versus specific context. Trompenaar (Trompenaars F. H.-T., 1998) cites the example of a situation where if a manager or director were to encounter a subordinate in a social context completely separate from work. In a specific-oriented culture like the U.K., the two individuals would be on equal ground, the levels of professional hierarchy less significant. However, in a diffuse- oriented society like Brazil, the hierarchical space and the superiority of the higher rank would permeate more noticeably into every situation, work-related or not (Trompenaar, 2006). Therefore, even in an encounter outside of work, the subordinate must still defer to the authority. Caution must be taken to heed the local system of hierarchy in Brazil when dealing with the social levels and status even though it is less egalitarian than the U.K. It could be offensive to a Brazilian to not respect the social distance between oneself and an inferior.


Power Distance Index (PDI) that is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that 'all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others'.

Individualism (IDV) on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word 'collectivism' in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one, regarding all societies in the world.

Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women's values differ less among societies than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called 'masculine' and the modest, caring pole 'feminine'. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, and different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; 'there can only be one Truth and we have it'. People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO) versus short-term orientation: this fifth dimension was found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars It can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one's 'face'. Both the positively and the negatively rated values of this dimension are found in the teachings of Confucius, the most influential Chinese philosopher who lived around 500 B.C.; however, the dimension also applies to countries without a Confucian heritage.


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