"Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster." - Dr. Geert Hofstede
After working for six years as a clinical psychologist at IBM, both collecting and analyzing data from over 100,000 individuals from forty different counties, Hofstede became interested in the sociology of communication between people of different cultures. An expert, Hofstede's influential wisdom on the interactions between national cultures and organization cultures begot a model identifying five dimensions to differentiate cultures; these dimensions, particularly as they relate to strategy, team communications, influence tactics, and conflict management, are integral in analyzing the cultural communications of such vastly different states as the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Spain.
In his work, Gert Hofstede demonstrated that there are national and regional cultural groupings that affect the different dynamics of behavior in organizations, both corporate and civic. Hofstede acknowledged power relations in what he deemed a power distance ratio; this is the degree to society allows an understood hierarchy of power. He scored power distance in such a way that a high score signified an expectation of expectation indicative of a higher level of wielded power for one person than for others; in a national environment, this is characterized by a high rate of political violence, as the people try to subvert the governmental system and assert their individual power.
A low score suggests a more equalized world of power and wealthy, as is epitomized by theoretical foundations of a communist society.
This indexed value, or PDI, is an important part of analyzing the basis of communications for a group of people or an individual from that organization. Likewise, so is the degree of individualism. Contrasted by collectivism, individualism encapsulates the extent to which members of an organization are expected to stand up for themselves, prove their own agency, and exercise a strength on their own; a low individualism ranking is typical of societies in which the collective nature promotes a clan society in which everyone leans on another in the quotidian. A low individualist society, one in which cultural mores reinforce family ties, is marked by a sense of communal responsibility not shared in an organization with a high IDV.
Gender is also a dividing point in cultural communications. For example, the power structure between men and women typified by the United Arab Emirates it not emulated in Spain by any means, where women have not only equal power to men, but have frequented the throne of the country, always at the helm. Hofstede typifies valued gender characteristics in his work, associating competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and accumulation of wealth with the masculine culture, in which men should be in control of the purse strings and power, and a woman should not work as a standard, with some exceptions allowed for her desire to do so. A feminine culture, on the other hand, women have a high incidence in male career fields, like engineering; Sweden embodies this societal anomaly.
Until he added long-Term orientation, or the devotedness of a society towards its traditional values, the last aspect of his analysis to cultural communications is typified by the Uncertainty Avoidance Index, or UAI. This category reflects the extent to which a society allows for risk and uncertainty to be a part of the daily life and power structure. Cultures ranking high in the UAI are less apt to take business risks than their low-ranking counterparts. Ironically, the countries with the high UAI appear, he notes, to be more apt to be accident prone.
While these rule-oriented societies focus on laws, regulations, and control to deflect uncertainty, it is not always a measure of success, as shown by Spain. Hofstede's analysis of the aspects of communication are integral to assessing the cross-cultural communicative lives of the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Spain.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a Gulf region country, neighboring Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar. Its analysis by Hofstede parallels that of other Arab countries In the region, with large power distance and high levels of uncertainty avoidance. There is a high rate of IDV, and leaders are expected to take responsibility for specific directives, instead of shifting or sharing blame.
Strategically, interactions inside the UAE are not only based on national heritage standards, but also the prevailing mores of the dominant Islamic culture. As such, the relations in the UAE are extraordinarily gender-sensitive in comparison to the international community. While all visitors are expected to abide by the local standards of conservative dress, slacks and buttoned collared shirts for men, for example, women are expected to be ultra modest. Women are expected to wear high necklines, low hemlines, and long sleeves. While it is important to cover up, particularly embracing the look of "baggy concealment," a woman cannot disassociate herself from the gender standards; to an American, this image harkens ideas of the Amish in Ohio and Pennsylvania and the strict Orthodoxy of the conservative Jewish subculture.
Behavior is also parallel to that image of male superiority, starkly contrasting the accepted modern hype for female sexuality relative to powerful "first world" nations. The UAE, a highly competitive Gulf state, reveals its expectation of women as silent agents in society, responsible for the domestic and not the corporate, with societal expectation of men to be powerful, assertive, and self-reliant. This is reflected as well in the standards of the Muslim religion, avoiding the use of alcohol, something frequently integrated into American corporate culture but at odds with the expectations for blank power assertion in the UAE.
Reflective of the emphasis of power-oriented self-individuation for men, sports is deemed an appropriate topic for casual conversation while the subject of women is never addressed. Thought and foresight are integrated clearly in the culture of communication, indicative of allowing men the space and time to make the decisions for which they will be held ultimately accountable. This reveals itself in slow channels of speech, including pauses and silence.
In order to communicate through cross-cultural standards with the UAE society, it is critical to not demean their view of women, despite its incompatibility with other countries, namely the feminist-empowered nations of the U.S.A. And the UK, and represented in their spheres of influence, extending to Mexico and Spain. The societal rules of the Muslim culture are seamlessly integrated into business deals, and the nuances of these power structures are reflected in communication. Accordingly, it is wise to acknowledge that, despite international advancement for the place of women in all societies, it is not part of this culture, and challenging it is a predestined failure for communication. Likewise, the acknowledgement of familial importance is key, since friends, family, and the like will generally interrupt a meeting with phone calls or visits. Finally, because a man is supposed to be a thoughtful agent of power, being silent and understanding that "yes" means "possibly,"
the meetings should be marked with pensive coordination and the vestiges of respect.
The communication systems of Mexico vary starkly to those of the UAE, according to both Hofstede's analysis and principled thought. Upon quick examination, it is easy to see that they would be extraordinarily different, since the culture of the UAE is so ingrained by its Muslim supports, something not dominant in Mexican culture. The vast amount of Mexicans are of a Mestizo ethnic composition, partially Indian and European in roots. The second largest group of Mexicans are Amerindian, and play a much quieter role in Mexican politics and business than do their Mestizo counterparts.
Mexico, frequently in trade with the United States, has an advanced labor system, despite its frequent overflow into the United States. The nation is known for its ethics of work culture, and the land, fertile but requiring constant care, has long supported the ideology of hard work.
Hofstede places Mexico with a high Uncertainty Avoidance, reflective of the unstable and unsecure socio-political environment that results in mass-exodus of the country for work.
It is important to remember, however, that Mexico, like its regional neighbors, is a political sphere of influence for American big business; like Cuba exhorts the role of the United Fruit Company on his island, Mexico has been an important source of land, labor, and resource for American business that, although not reflected in the fledgling democracy, is embodied in the cultural standards.
Despite the emphasis on hard work, a casual culture remains at the heart of Mexican communications. The culture, which ranks high on power distance and masculinity, marks a dominant male authority, but one in which the collectivist ties of the society knit the nuanced fabrics together; for a person to do business in Mexico, he must know his affiliate, and the best way to accomplish this is through congenial interaction with the family, including female relatives. The male-female distance is heightened in rural areas, but less critical to cross-cultural communications because the more Americanized urban centers are most involved in the outside world.