Monday, January 28, 2008

Geert Hofestede and Intercultural Communication

Gerard Hendrik Hofstede (born 2 October 1928, Haarlem) is an influential Dutch writer on the interactions between national cultures and organizational cultures, and is an author of several books including Culture's Consequences (2nd, fully revised edition, 2001) and Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind (2nd, revised edition 2005, with his son Gert Jan Hofstede).

Hofstede's study demonstrated that there are national and regional cultural groupings that affect the behaviour of societies and organizations, and that are very persistent across time.

The Power Distance Index (PDI) is one of the five intercultural dimensions developed by Hofstede. In short this cultural dimension looks at how much a culture does or does not value hierarchical relationships and respect for authority.

Examples of cultures with high PDI scores include Arabic speaking countries, Russia, India and China. Those with low scores include Japan, Australia and Canada. See a world map of power distance index scores.

So how does this manifest in a culture or country?

In a high power distance cultures the following may be observed:

. Those in authority openly demonstrate their rank.
. Subordinates are not given important work and expect clear guidance from above.
. Subordinates are expected to take the blame for things going wrong.
. The relationship between boss and subordinate is rarely close/personal.
. Politics is prone to totalitarianism.
. Class divisions within society are accepted.

In a low power distance culture:

. Superiors treat subordinates with respect and do not pull rank.
. Subordinates are entrusted with important assignments.
. Blame is either shared or very often accepted by the superior due to it being their responsibility to manage.
. Managers may often socialise with subordinates.
. Liberal democracies are the norm.
. Societies lean more towards egalitarianism

Hofstede's four dimensions are:

Power Distance

This dimension relates to the degree of equality/inequality between people in a particular society.

A country with a high Power Distance score both accepts and perpetuates inequalities between people. An example of such a society would be one that follows a caste system and in which upward mobility is very limited.

A low Power Distance indicates that a society does not emphasise differences in people?s status, power or wealth. Equality is seen as the collective aim of society and upward mobility is common.

Read more on Power Distance or Have a look at the world map of power distance scores.


This dimension focuses on the degree to which a society reinforces individual or collective achievement and interpersonal relationships.

If a country has a high Individualism score, this indicates that individuality and individual rights are dominant. Individuals in these societies tend to form relationships with larger numbers of people, but with the relationships being weak.

A low Individualism score points to a society that is more collectivist in nature. In such countries the ties between individuals are very strong and the family is given much more weight. In such societies members lean towards collective responsibility.

Read more on Individualism or Have a look at the world map of individualism scores.

Uncertainty Avoidance

This dimension concerns the level of acceptance for uncertainty and ambiguity within a society.

A country with a high Uncertainty Avoidance score will have a low tolerance towards uncertainty and ambiguity. As a result it is usually a very rule-orientated society and follows well defined and established laws, regulations and controls.

A low Uncertainty Avoidance score points to a society that is less concerned about ambiguity and uncertainty and has more tolerance towards variety and experimentation. Such a society is less rule-orientated, readily accepts change and is willing to take risks.

Read more on Uncertainty Avoidance or Have a look at the world map of uncertainty avoidance scores.


This dimension pertains to the degree societies reinforce, or do not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control, and power.

A high Masculinity score indicates that a country experiences a higher degree of gender differentiation. In such cultures, males tend to dominate a significant portion of the society and power structure.

A low Masculinity score means a society has a lower level of differentiation and inequity between genders. In these cultures, females are treated equally to males in all aspects of the society.

Read more on Masculinity or Have a look at the world map of masculinity scores

No comments: