Culture has a four-corner foundation.
To recap, the four main building blocks are:
These four categories, in particular, will not only aid your understanding of cross-cultural differences, but they’ll allow you to adapt your managerial methods when leading across cultures.
Below is an overview of these four building blocks.
As you can see, countries are scattered across the scale from left to right, accordingly. But one of these countries remains in place.
The United States.
The US always appears on the far left of the scale.
Because of ethnocentricity.
What is Ethnocentricity?
Ethnocentricity involves judging other cultures based on the values of your own.
Even great researchers, like Geert Hofstede, haven’t managed to design a purely objective framework in their studies on cross-cultural differences.
Their own cultural heritage inevitably appears in their research via charts like this one and through constant comparisons (and often biases) between their own culture and “the other.”
Simply put, the values and standards we find most important to our own culture are often what we deem worthy of study and comparison.
Religion, norms, language, customs, ideology – these are the attributes we compare in order to understand cultural identity. And, whether or not the intention for bias is there, those conducting the study determine their culture to be “right” and the other to be “wrong.”
Although ethnocentrism may sound wholly negative, it is psychologically innate.
The US vs. China
Let’s look at an example.
When cross-cultural research is done from an American viewpoint, individualism is often a highly valued criterion.
Moreover, the future-oriented, rule-oriented, and self-determined United States swing their bias of time valuation, personal vs. societal responsibility, and locus of control in the relative directions.
These “typically American” values force the U.S. to the far end of a spectrum of the four building blocks of culture, as these are important values to Americans and are highly considered when categorizing cross-cultural research.
If, say, China was conducting the same research, their spectrum – and where they landed on the spectrum – would undoubtedly differ.
China would evaluate other cultures according to their own valued criteria.
These criteria would likely have roots in collectivist, rather than individualist ideology. The way other cultures relate to their own values would form the subjective and ethnocentrist results that cross-cultural research often takes on.
Next week, we’ll delve more deeply into ethnocentrism and discuss how it directly manifests in cross-cultural research.