In the previous post I mentioned quite a few advantages of using cultural dimensions when dealing with cultural differences and related challenges. This time I would like to talk about some counterarguments to show you a bigger picture of how they can be used.
Many people might say that today’s world is already so international, people migrate, move around the world, meet different cultures anyway that the cultural blend is already enormous and people adjust quickly. So why bother emphasizing differences between cultures?
All of the above may be true, but…
- Why then there are so many expats who need support when moving abroad?
- Why there are so many cross-cultural company mergers that fail?
- Why are there so many companies that complain that their managers who went on a project abroad don’t complete the projects due to cultural adjustment challenges?
- Why so many of them leave the company shortly after returning from an assignment abroad?
Cultural dimensions are not useless, but definitely have some limitations which we will explore in more detail below.
Beware of simplifications
Cultural dimensions concepts derive mainly from academic research projects and so mostly rely on samples of interviews and surveys. They therefore generalise and simplify quite a lot and provide an outside perspective on a culture (usually, country or specific society), an academic one, which doesn’t fully represent the nuances of actually living in that place. For the purpose of creating an applicable theory, simplifying the concepts is unfortunately inevitable, but it can be a serious limitation if not used mindfully.
They are not meant to stereotype, but some people treat them as such
When describing cultural dimensions we talk about averages – behaviours or beliefs that are most common to representatives of a given culture. We’re not talking about individuals and their preferences, personalities and experiences. This wouldn’t be possible for the purpose of an academic theory. But it may lead to stereotyping of individuals coming from a given culture, which might further cause multiple conflicts between people. As much as our brain needs to categorise information somehow and group them together to be able to process them, stereotyping is one of the categorisations that might be a bit dangerous. I believe that if we don’t hook on specific stereotypes, but rather focus on the academic cross-cultural research, it will be useful when dealing with certain cultures or managing teams – it might help predicts conflicts or manage our own expectations towards our adjustment to a new culture. It is however a word of caution to be mentioned against using cultural dimensions to talk about cultural differences.
Can’t rely on one dimension to describe a whole society
One other thing about cultural dimensions is that the dimensions themselves within one theory or across theories overlap with each other and often cannot be discussed in isolation. It’s important that we know various approaches to classifying cultural dimensions and don’t just take one theory for granted. It’s also useful to know which dimensions go hand in hand with each other to better understand a holistic view on a culture that we’re discussing.
Despite of some limitations of cross-cultural theories, learning about cultural dimensions is extremely valuable when you work across cultures. The dimensions shouldn’t be perceived as one and only truth, but rather as a conversation starter and a common language to speak about various experiences and challenges. As long as you have the basic understanding of one or two cultural dimensions concepts you will probably start to question it and notice various nuances that the dimensions theories don’t incorporate. And that’s great! That’s where the actual intercultural intelligence starts to build up, that’s where you actually begin to think outside of the box in terms of how to deal with your challenges, that’s where you come up with the ideas on how to manage yourself within a multicultural environment or manage your global teams effectively.
What are your experiences with cultural dimensions? Do you notice any other advantages or disadvantages of using them in your international career?