Cultural Values

Cultural Values Definition

The term “cultural values” refers to a set of beliefs or ideas that a community or society upholds as being important – this could be on the level of an entire hemisphere (East vs. West), an ethnic group (Black vs. White) or a specific sector/sub-culture of society, which can include corporate culture (i.e., the values of a particular industry or company).

In general, the term is understood to refer to the cultural norms of a country or region of the world, most often cited in business to provide insight when attempting to conduct business with potential partners from that culture.

While it’s impossible and certainly inadvisable to try to understand everything through the lens of cultural values, they can sometimes prove useful in anticipating issues that may not be evident from a purely “numbers” perspective.

The crucial thing is to recognize the differences between an individual, his or her culture, and global forces that may have an impact on his or her decision-making, each of which must be understood on its own terms.

Cultural Values Examples

“Ask” vs. “Guess”

There are many versions of this dichotomy, most notably “Individualism” (e.g., American, Western culture, Capitalist) vs. “Collectivism” (e.g., Asian, Eastern culture, Socialist).

In this view, those on one side believe that individual freedom trumps all other considerations, and overarching external forces such as government, religion or society should not unduly hamper one’s freedom to pursue one’s goals or interests.

On the other side, one is expected to consider one’s actions in light of what may be best for the greater good of all parties involved, whether that ultimately benefits the actor or not.

In the “ask” vs. “guess” version, in the former culture, one may “ask” for a favor, with the expectation of receiving a “yes” or “no” answer equally, since he or she assumes that the other person has the exact same rights as him or herself, i.e., to accept or reject a proposition according to one’s disposition.

In the latter, the mere asking for a favor can be an imposition, since one’s acceptance or rejection of a request is understood within the greater context, e.g., power dynamics between the two players, history of favors granted vs. rejected, etc. They therefore rely on a system of informed “guessing,” whereby they will only put a request forward if they can reasonably assume that it will be granted. Nailing this probability is contingent upon a good understanding and appreciation of various factors, including the respective positions of the players, their history, and external factors beyond either of their control.

An uninformed interaction between an “asker” and a “guesser” can easily lead to misunderstanding and disgruntled feelings, as the values that each holds run counter to the other’s, and both can be left feeling disrespected or imposed upon.

Real-life Examples

Here are a couple of simple real-life examples of possible miscommunications that can and do occur between “askers” and “guessers,” in both business and personal situations:

  • A friend of a spouse visiting from out of town asks if it would be possible to stay at the host’s place for two weeks. The “asker” thinks she is asking a genuine question, the answer to which depends on the host’s disposition. The host, a “guesser,” feels a serious imposition as he understands that the asker only asked because she was certain to get a “yes” answer, which he is not prepared to give. He gives her a vague answer, which pleases neither party.
  • A supervisor asks her subordinate if it would be possible to complete the report by 4pm. Again, she is asking a genuine question, not knowing her subordinate’s schedule or workload. The subordinate, a “guesser,” understands the question to be a mandate, and now feels pressure to finish the report by 4pm, even though such a deadline was never mentioned in the original request. The supervisor in turn feels that her subordinate is being “passive-aggressive” by not being fully communicative.

Quiz

1. Cultural values are a useful framework for understanding all interactions between people of all types.

A.
B.
C.

2. The best way to mediate a potential misunderstanding between an “asker” and a “guesser” is:

A.
B.
C.

3. Which of the following is an example of an external global force acting on an interaction?

A.
B.
C.

 

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