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Power Distance & Other Traits: Tools to Understand What Drives People from Different Cultures

Updated on September 28, 2017

Cultural Dimension, an Ultimate Challenge to Managerial Success in a Multinational Environment

A US businessman might feel intimidated with an Arab one standing so close to him in a conversation. After waiting for 30 minutes an annoyed German can even make a call or think otherwise about a scheduled meeting with a Mexican businessman to whom arriving at the just time is rather unusual. Again, a Canadian project leader, after outlining the parameters of a project may ask for any suggestion to his Indian project team, just to show his respect, but the members from the high power distance culture are likely to get surprised doubting on the leadership of the Canadian. These are all just the simple examples of how the ignorance of cultural dimension can lead to misinterpretation of a certain circumstance and thus propel a business prospect into a failure in a multicultural environment. So, the managerial success in this global village under diverse cultural traits can hardly escape to be on route to apprehend cultural dimensions.

As far as cultural dimension is concerned, the model provided by Geert Hofstede is probably the best known illustration of how cultures differ in determining the behaviorism of an individual. As Hofstede comes out with his exploration, cultures differ from each other on the dimensions of individualism versus collectivism, achievement versus quality of life orientations, uncertainty avoidance and power distance.

Power Distance Shaping the Behaviorism

Power distance refers to the way in which power is distributed and to the degree to which people accept large differences between the most and least powerful members of society in terms of privileges, wealth and well-being. In a high power distance culture, people readily accept a higher degree of unequally distributed power. In a low power distance society like that of Australia or Canada, the relationship between the bosses and subordinates is one of interdependence while in a high one social hierarchy are deeply embedded in people so much as to give leaders the inherent privilege in their position to give orders and to get the subordinates comfortable with solely depending on the decisions or directions given by their bosses. Management-by-objectives (MBO) system or other forms of participative goal setting is hardly seen or expected in a high power distance culture and the employees don not even think of arriving at their own solutions in dealing with a conflict, but in a low power distance culture, there is always a preference for consultation.

Cultural Traits Influencing the Drives

Sigmund Freud, one of the greatest psychoanalysts of all time, was probably the first one to show the clear-most orchestration of our mind, vivisecting it into three layers: unconscious level, subconscious level and the conscious level. As he points out, all our drives we aware or unaware of, derives out of the id in our unconscious layer. Our desires or drives than move up to the subconscious level and it is where the culture comes as a component to shape the safety bulb that determines which drive to pass into the conscious level or which one to be pushed back to the unconscious level. This is how all the drives undergo a censoring in the subconscious level and it is only then we come across knowing them from our conscious mind. So unconsciously we have our drives shaped by the cultural traits or norms we are exposed to and unconsciously every individual falls into separate cultural dimensions we need to apprehend for building a better relationship or forcing the best to spark off in a multicultural environment.



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