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Kakei 1

Geert Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions and Conflict Management


By: Saed Kakei, Ph.D. Student NSUs DCAR PhD Program September 25, 2011 To become involved in a conflict management effort, it is important to apply methods that are acceptable to parties of the conflict and compatible with the interests of the public. Cultural and cross-cultural indifferences have long been among the most pressing causes of present time conflicts. Therefore, one might ask: What is culture? Why should we understand its dimensions and impacts on conflict management and resolution? This brief paper will answer these questions by highlighting the value dimensions credited to Geert Hofstede as one of the pioneers of cultural studies of our time. Hofstede (1991) considered culture as the essential combination of cognitive encoding that distinguishes the members of one society from the other. It is a way of life comprised of socio-cultural factors characterizing the social activities and practices of any given organized society. These activities and practices, then, are regulated and shaped by systemic ideals known as a system of values. Values conceptualize the end results of human experience and culturally graded as positives and negatives or as acceptable and unacceptable. Therefore, it is the system of values that fundamentally causes the underlying differences between any two or more societies. In his masterpiece of Cultures Consequences, Hofstede (1984) examined the differences in value systems between multiple cultures. Applying the theory of culture as the key variable, Hofstede was able to show that applying the value system with cultural dimensions has foreseeable consequences for human thinking and his regulated experience. At first, Hofstede (1984) suggested applying four relevant cultural dimensions: Individualism versus Collectivism, Power Distance, Masculinity versus Femininity, and Uncertainty Avoidance. Later, he added the fifth dimension known as the Long-Term Orientation versus the Short-Term Orientation (Hofstede, 1991). Hofstedes first dimension, individualism versus collectivism, refers to the degree to which individuals integrated into groups or societies (1984). In the individualist societies, the ties between individuals are loose and each individual is expected to look after his or her personal affairs and that of his or her immediate family. In contrast, the collectivist societies characterized as those that integrate their members into strong, cohesive, and often extended in-groups that care and protect their members in exchange for unquestionable in-group loyalty. Hofstedes second dimension, power distance, measures the extent to which less powerful ingroups accept and expect the unequal distribution of power to be normal. Different societies solve the question of human inequality according to their system value. For instance, institutional superiors in the individualist societies are lawful and accessible, whereas in the collectivist societies are inaccessible and their legitimacy is irrelevant. Individualists believe that all humans should have equal rights, whereas collectivists believe power-holders are entitled to privileges. Also, individualists tend to blame their system for any inequalities, whereas, collectivists often blame the underdogs for their inequalities. Therefore, the power distance in the individualist societies is small and in the collectivist societies is large (Hofstede, 1991). Hofstedes third dimension, masculinity versus femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the opposite genders. It reflects the different ways in which cultures deal with the biological dichotomy of the opposite sexes. Biological differences in masculine cultures equal different social roles for the sexes. Men in such societies expected to be assertive, ambitious, and competitive, to strive for material success and respect whatever is big, strong and fast. As for women in masculine cultures, they are expected to nurture, care for quality of life and the weak. In contrast, roles for the sexes in feminine cultures are relatively overlapping. According to Hofstede, particular men in feminine societies need not

Kakei 2 be ambitious or competitive. Yet, they may put the quality of life over material success and may value whatever is small, weak and slow (Hofstede 1984). Hofstedes fourth dimension, uncertainty avoidance, is the extent to which people are made nervous by situations which considered unstructured, unclear or unpredictable. People express uncertainty avoidance by adopting strict codes of behavior and belief in absolute truth to reflect their need for predictable rules (Hofstede 1984, 1991). Also, Hofstede found that while weak uncertainty avoidance cultures accept conflict and relatively tolerant of ambiguity, their members are unemotional and less aggressive. At the other end of this dimension, members from the strong uncertainty avoidance cultures are active, emotional, intolerant and aggressive. The fifth and the last dimension, long-term orientation versus the short-term orientation (also known as the Confucian dynamism), was developed by Hofstede and Michael Harris Bond in 1988. According to Hofstede, this dimension can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth (2011). Values related to Long-Term Orientation are prudence and persistence. As for values related to ShortTerm Orientation, they include respect for tradition, satisfying social duties, and defending self-face. It is worth mentioning that since this dimension lacks empirical research; it is, therefore, not widely included in scholarly examinations. As provided, cultural differences in value systems with their dimensions may provide a critical understanding on how people interact with one another in conflict. Rahim (1994) argued that our value systems have significant consequences for the positive management of intercultural conflict. Hofstedes (1984, 1991) description of differences in value systems provides a context for exploring the role of culture in conflict management. Finally, although the growing body of literature on cross-cultural indifferences tries to go beyond Hofstedes four dimensions, the impact of understanding cultural dimensions on conflict studies is momentous.

References: Hofstede, G. (1984). Cultures consequences: International differences in work-related values. Abridged ed. Beverly Hills, Ca: Sage Publications. Hofstede, G. (1991). Culture and organizations: Software of the mind. London: Mcgraw-Hill Book Company. Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensions of national cultures [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.geerthofstede.com/culture/dimensions-of-national-cultures.aspx Rahim, M. A., & Blum, A. A. (1994). Global perspectives on organizational conflict (Eds). Westport: Praeger Publishers.