Read Time: 4 min

intercultural differences: our biases, challenges and opportunities

Redux Extra May 4, 2022
Reading Time: 4 minutes


To understand different cultures, different models have been introduced to analyze them based on cultural dimensions. These dimensions are used to measure the differences within cultures. Some of them include indirect communication (high-context) vs. direct communication (low communication), perception of time, how close we get to each other, the level of acceptance of power within the society, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, gender role differences, uncertainty avoidance, long term versus short-term orientation, indulgence vs. restraint, the application of rules within a society, the level of showing emotions, the appreciation of the performance, the level of attempts to control the environment, assertiveness orientation, future orientation, and humane orientation.

In 1996, the American political scientist Samuel Huntington classified cultures into the following clusters: 1) Western civilization, 2) Latin American civilization, 3) the Orthodox world, 4) the Eastern world, 5) the Muslim world, 6) the civilization of Sub Saharan Africa, 7) “lone” countries and 8) “cleft” countries. This model was used to predict different clashes between civilizations in a geostrategic sense and used especially to predict a clash between the West and other civilizations. However, this theory has been heavily criticized by a number of academics as diversity is the feature of most cultures in the world, including Western civilization. Further, cultural boundaries cannot be drawn clearly in today’s world, and if we are not careful, such models foster cultural determinism instead of openness toward other cultures.

Although these classifications seem to make life easier for companies, executives, and politicians, they can be very misleading, as people in each culture and countries in each cluster have different political, historical, economic, and social developments, and their respective systems of government and mass media shape the perceptions of the majority of their members. Classifying cultures into clusters can be very tricky and also controversial.

Culture is described as a collective phenomenon, or as the collective programming of the mind that influences the way we communicate with each other. As a universal phenomenon that is based on norms, rules, and values, culture affects our behavior, thoughts, assessments, and perceptions. Every culture has visible features, such as language, clothing, way of greeting, music, architecture, cuisine and architecture and invisible features, such as rules of collaboration, ideas about justice, methods of conflict resolution, handling of status and age, and norms and values. Each culture has a different set of symbols, heroes, heroes, and rituals. There are different approaches and theories to describe the phenomenon of culture. Cultures affect the way we interact with each other; they influence our way of thinking and also provide us with a set of values and beliefs. We all know that different cultures exist, we see differences in value systems and norms of different cultures, and we realize that there are differences. However, we also know that we are all similar to each other and share universal human values. Each society has a certain culture, and each culture has a set of rules, norms, values, and principles. This means that each culture provides us with a cultural lens that we use to look at the world around us.

In this way, culture affects our perceptions. In this way, cultures make sure that groups of people show cohesiveness that is a requirement for living together. If a certain type of behavior is in line with the accepted norms of a society, that type of behavior is supported and rewarded — and any deviation from the general norm is admonished. These sets of punishments are exercised as corrective measures to make sure these members follow the rules again. These are part of the tactics of inclusion and exclusion of each culture.

These cultural norms and values are imparted from parents to children, from teachers to students, from organizational leaders to employees, and they are even supported and strengthened by the mass media. This means that the media plays a pivotal role in shaping and manufacturing consent within a society.

This way, cultural norms, and values influence people’s perceptions and their behavior, and even their way of thinking.

However, we should be aware that competing norms and situational circumstances within a society make the behavior of individual members of society not always foreseeable. This is especially true when we consider that counter cultures exist within mainstream culture in almost every society. This way we can only talk about the concept of “collective programming” of mainstream culture. Individuals can still decide not to follow the rules and respect the norms of the mainstream culture. This is especially important regarding why we should not reduce the person to the culture they come from. At the end of the day, we are all humans. We all share the same needs and feelings. This is an important factor to take into consideration. Otherwise, any cultural model will gain a deterministic nature, and that is exactly what we would like to prevent by cultural sensitivity training.

Let us not reduce people to certain models that can become deterministic in nature if we are not careful about that.

Culture as a program of the mind influences human behavior, human values, managerial values, and behaviors of individual members. This way, culture functions as a system of integrating factors for the people committing to the culture of the society they live in. Further, each culture is shaped and influenced by current historical, ecological, economic, and sociopolitical contexts. These factors change the culture over time. These factors make studying cultures interesting not only for business purposes but for geostrategic purposes too.

In the end, let us keep an open mind and be aware that no matter how much a certain culture has influenced a person, people are individuals with their own minds and perceptions. Let us not reduce people to certain models that can become deterministic in nature if we are not careful about that. After having lived, studied, and worked in different countries, I strongly believe that the first principle of intercultural understanding is that we human beings share fundamental universal values as Immanuel Kant had already suggested a long time ago. It does not take much to be open-minded — and to be truly welcoming to other cultures.

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