Organisational transformation Singapore

Negotiating Across Cultures

Brief Background

From Gert Hofstede, a leading researcher in the relationship between work and culture, we have four categories where people from a variety of cultures differ in their work ethics. These are namely power-distance, individualism versus collectivism, uncertainty-avoidance and masculine versus feminine.

So how exactly do we measure power-distance? In countries with high power-distance, the younger and less experienced generation are considered the subordinates. A rigid social hierarchy is set in place in high power-distance countries where seniority is greatly respected. This effectively means the older you are, the more power and influence you have in decision-making. Latin America, South Asia and certain Arab cultures practice high-power distance as compared to low-power distance in countries such as New Zealand, United States, Australia and Germany. In Singapore, we are considered to be high-power distance in the workplace relative to Westerners, but when compared to Malaysia, we would be considered low-power distance.

In individualism versus collectivism, cultures that are more inclined to group work are collectivists. Individualistic cultures, practiced by those in the United States, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Nordic countries, are focused on tasks, seeking individual rewards and appraisal. This is in contrast to Latin America and Asian countries where people prioritize the interests of the group.

Low uncertainty-avoidance countries, Singapore included, are risk-takers. High uncertainty-avoidance countries are the opposite. The latter favour bureaucratic rules and predictability in rituals, and decisions are often made slowly. The former find deliberation tardy and prefer a more ‘gut-feeling’ approach to decisions.

Lastly, masculine cultures, prevalent in Mexico and Japan, adopt a more competitive work style with heavy stereotyping of gender roles in the workplace. Feminine cultures include Nordic countries — Sweden, Denmark, Finland to name a few — and are more receptive to a female presence in the working-business arena.