In the 1970s, Dr. Geert Hofstede wanted to know if we can ever truly understand cultural differences. He wanted to know if it could be learned, from either mistakes or through training. If it could be learned through training, then what are the guidelines? Were there clear classes or hierarchies involved?
What followed has since been labeled Hofstede’s Five Dimensions of Culture. Understanding these five dimensions can help you not only understand the culture of others, but also your own culture in a new eye-opening and analytical way.
Hofstede spent a decade researching a single global company and interviewing its employees. He collected cultural data from more than forty countries and found four clear cut lines establishing four dimensions. He later added the fifth. He then rated each country from 0 to 100 to establish its place in each dimension. The higher a society rated, the more that particular dimension was displayed within that society.
The first dimension, Power/Distance, accounts for the degree in difference of power between people in the society and how it is accepted as the norm. A country with a high PD score means that the society is okay with an unequal distribution of power where as a low score means power is more evenly distributed.
Individualism is the second dimension. This measures how strong the ties are between people in the society. A high IDV score means there is not a sense of community with a lack of interpersonal interactions. A low IDV score means a strong connection among members of the community with loyalty and respect for one another.
Masculinity as the third dimension evaluates how much a society sticks with traditional roles between its men and women. A high MAS score means men are more powerful, assertive and are the bread winners in the family. A low MAS score does not mean the opposite of that; it simply means that the lines are blurred and women hold positions of equal status.
The fourth dimension relates to how a society deals with change and uncertainly. Referred to as the Uncertainty/Avoidance Index, a country with a high score has rules, regulations and want a “collective truth”. A low score means the society at large enjoys novelty and changes with few rules.
Finally, the fifth dimension, Long Term Orientation, is a reference to a country’s traditions and values and how much they are adhered to or respected. A high LTO score means rather strict adherence while a lower score means more versatility. It does not necessarily mean a lower respect for traditions and values in general.
Understanding these dimensions and how countries and cultures fit into them can aid you as you move from expatriate to compatriot. It is a valuable tool in your adaptation. Knowing what a culture holds dear allows you to blend, respect and assimilate faster and in ways more acceptable to your new community members. Determining their cultural norms will make you feel more comfortable as you move along this journey.