Media Studies 101: “Intercultural Communication”

Intercultural Communication

As mentioned in the communication and culture section, intercultural communication generally describes communication efforts among different cultural groups or subgroups. Differences among those groups, even if they speak the same language, can create problems and make understanding each other much harder. As globalisation has brought the world closer together, business among people of different cultures occurs daily. Intercultural communication skills are crucial to making things run more smoothly.

Intercultural communication research mainly focuses on national comparisons and is hooked in the background of management and organizational theories. Geert Hofstede derived a pioneering model in worldwide studies of different nations along certain characteristics.

Hofstede refers to culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others” (Hofstede, 2013). Comparing values, behaviours and organisation for different nations Hofstede developed five dimensions to classify cultural principles. Each dimension builds up between two poles who describe the idealised extremes of it.

Hofstede's original dimensions included power distance (PDI), individualism vs. collectivism (IDV), masculinity vs. femininity (MAS), and uncertainty avoidance (UAI) (Hofstede, 2001). A fifth definition, long-term vs. short-term orientation or pragmatic vs. normative, was added by Micheal Bonds research in 1991, followed by the definition of indulgence vs. restraint by Michael Minkov (Hofstede 2013). In each dimension, zero is the lowest possible score and 100 is the highest.

The following questions provide a better understanding of the six dimensions which have been broadly researched during the last couple of years:

Power Distance

  • How flat are hierarchies?
  • How does the culture deal with inequalities?
  • Is societal influence concentrated in the hands of a few or distributed throughout the population?
  • How authoritarian is a country’s organisation?
  • Are communication efforts interactive?

New Zealand Score: 12. New Zealand’s low score indicates a culture with flat hierarchies and a low power distance. Communication in organisations is interactive and rather informal.

Individualistic vs. Collectivist Culture

  • Does the interest of the group or the individual matter the most?
  • Are people only looking after themselves and their immediate family?
  • How well are individuals integrated and networked?

New Zealand Score: 86. New Zealand can be described as a rather individualistic culture with people looking after themselves and their immediate families first.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

  • Which values are aimed for?
  • How strongly does the society value material success, as compared to quality of life, interpersonal relationships, and the concern for the weak?

New Zealand Score: 59. A score of 59 signals masculinity rather than femininity. People strive to be the best they can be in work or school-related settings with the focus on winning, being proud of their achievements and success in life.

Uncertainty Avoidance vs. Taking Risks

  • Do members of a society feel threatened by unknown situations?
  • Are there attempts to control the future or do people just let it happen?
  • How high is the willingness to try something new or different?

New Zealand Score: 39. We can describe New Zealand as a pragmatic society that deals with uncertainties in a relaxed and flexible fashion. People value originality, are willing to accept new ideas, give innovative products a try, and a not averse to taking risks.

Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation (Pragmatic vs. Normative)

  • How to individuals subordinate themselves for longer term purposes?
  • How are the tendencies towards short-term spending and long-term savings, perseverance and quick results?

New Zealand Score: 28. New Zealand is a normative country with a normative way of thinking. Motivation to save for the future is rather low, therefore the focus on quick results is high.

Indulgence vs. Constraint

  • How freely are hedonist drives as gratifications toward enjoying life and having fun tolerated and allowed?
  • Is the gratification of needs restricted by strong social norms?

New Zealand Score: 75. A rather high score of 75 describes New Zealand society as indulgent. People tend to possess a positive attitude with a tendency toward optimism. People value their leisure time, the ability to spend money as one likes, and follow desires and needs to enjoy life and have fun.

Hofstede’s model is all about comparison. We can see national cultures, distinct attitudes, behaviours, and norms through boundaries to compare with others. Although Hofstede’s model is widely accepted in organisational communication and management theory, critics argue the research is not integrated with findings outside of economic and organisational values (Kirkman et al, 2006).

While values change with societal developments, globalization and the convergence of new technologies and communication structures promote a broader international consumer culture and values. Researchers tend to refer to tendencies toward a culture of networked individuals (Castells 1996; Wellman 2002). Still, Hofstede’s dimensions seem to be stable and remain over time. Because technology innovation affects many countries at the same time, their relative position amongst nations is rather stable as every nation shifts in the same direction.

Discussion

  1. What can you say about your nation’s culture?
  2. How would you classify it in terms of Hofstede’s model?
  3. How do you evaluate New Zealand’s scores? Do you agree?
  4. Have a look online to compare your estimation with your country’s scores!
  5. Compare with other countries you know.

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Last modified: Friday, March 29, 2019, 6:25 PM