Four Cultural Dimensions and Their Implications for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution*

B. Kim Barnes

The following model is based on the research done by Geert Hofstede, Ph.D., as described in his book, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work—Related Values (Sage, London and Beverly Hills, 1980).

Introduction

Following are a few indicators for estimating where a group (national culture, organization, subgroup) lies on each of the four dimensions and some implications of each for negotiation and conflict resolution. These are suggestions only and must be modified to fit the group you are considering. It is important to note that neither position is intended to be presented as “good” or “bad.” Any such implication is a result of the author’s cultural limitations. I am grateful for the work done by Dr. Hofstede in identifying the four factors discussed in this paper. There are many other cultural factors to consider, of course, including, but not limited to, attitudes toward time and the deep structure of a national or professional language that orients its speakers toward certain concepts and makes others difficult to grasp.

On the following pages, compare your own preferences on Dr. Hofstede’s dimensions with the preferences that characterize an organization you are part of or with which you work closely. Add your own observations to the “implications for negotiation and conflict resolution” of each of those dimensions. Note any difference in preference between you and the party with whom you are negotiating. Then, adjust your approach, taking into account those differences.


Four Dimensions of Culture

Power Distance
The degree of fixed inequality of power between
the more and less powerful members of a group



Uncertainty Avoidance
The degree to which members of a group
prefer to avoid uncertainty or ambiguity



Individualism
The degree to which members of a group prefer
to operate and make decisions independently
as opposed to collectively.


Competitiveness
The degree to which members of a group are
motivated by achievement and competition as
opposed to service and cooperation.



Power Distance

Low

High

  • Agreement is reached after consultation
  • Inequality is seen as bad. Hierarchy exists for convenience.
  • Those in lower status roles may disagree with those in authority and express it.
  • Trust among peers is high. Those in authority are often mistrusted.
  • Personal power is emphasized. Expert power is accepted.
  • Change occurs by redistributing power.
  • Agreement is reached by authority.

  • Everyone has a rightful place. Hierarchy represent reality.
  • Those in lower-status roles are reluctant to disagree with those in authority.
  • Trust among peers is low. Those in authority are often trusted.
  • Positional power is emphasized. Referent power is important.
  • Change occurs by dethroning those in power.

Implications of Power Distance for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

In high power-distance cultures, defer to and protect the positions of those in power. Use or borrow authority to press for a solution. Make proposals that protect existing control of currencies while bringing a better balance to the situation. Expect authority to be an issue. Provide formal methods for the redress of grievances. In low power distance cultures, the negotiators should specify groundrules that equalize power during the negotiation. Expert power will be accepted, “pulling rank” may make agreements difficult. Proposals that involve redistribution of existing currencies may be considered. Negotiators are more likely to be able to make agreements without gaining approval from superiors.


Uncertainty Avoidance

Low

High

  • Less resistance to change, more flexible agreements.
  • Preference for broad guidelines, few rules.
  • Appreciation for generalists “common sense.“
  • Conflict is seen as natural, dissent is accepted.
  • Willing to come to agreement on less evidence.
  • Informality prevails.
  • More resistance to change, less flexible agreements.
  • Preference for clear requirements, specific regulations.
  • Appreciation for specialists, expertise.

  • Conflict is seen as undesirable, consensus is sought.
  • Require more evidence to come to agreement.
  • Ritual tradition and formality prevail.

Implications of Uncertainty Avoidance for Negotiation and
Conflict Resolution:

Where uncertainty avoidance is low, negotiators can make broader, more flexible agreements. Informal agreements may be acceptable. Innovative ideas for exchange will be considered. In situations where uncertainty avoidance is high, use more structure and emphasize your expertise. Make agreements specific and enforceable. Stress past history of success with similar agreements. Extremely careful planning and being prepared with back-up options to deal with every possible contingency will yield great payoffs.


Individualism

Low

High

  • Dependence on and identification with the group valued.
  • Group decisions are considered superior.
  • Security, conformity, and duty valued.
  • Emphasis is on belonging, “we” consciousness.
  • Opinions and values are considered to be predetermined by one’s reference group.
  • Self reliance and independence valued.
  • Individual decisions are considered superior.
  • Autonomy, variety, and freedom valued.
  • Emphasis is on individual initiative.

  • Opinions and values are considered to be personal and individual.

Implications of Individualism for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution:

Where individualism is low, negotiators should stress common interests and the interests of the larger community when making proposals. Emphasize organizational needs and traditional solutions. Where individualism is high, a thorough exploration of differences will be acceptable. Encourage individual initiative in finding creative solutions. Identify and respond to individual needs.


Competitiveness

Low

High

  • Relationships, service, social atmosphere more valued.
  • Preference for cooperation and interdependence.
  • Intuition, feelings trusted.
  • Sex roles more fluid and more equally valued by group.
  • Conflict may be avoided or win-win solutions sought.
  • Achievement, recognition, advancement more valued.
  • Preference for autonomy.

  • Analysis, data trusted.
  • Sex roles more defined, men dominated.
  • Confrontation is common; win-lose situations are accepted.

Implications of Competitiveness for Negotiation and
Conflict Resolution:

Where competitiveness is low, the need for harmony in relationships is probably high. Your tactical orientation should reflect this. Cooperation is valued; attentive listening will be appreciated. In more competitive cultures, achievement is highly valued. Anything that a negotiator can do to maintain the opponent’s “face” will be helpful in achieving agreement. Benefits should be tangible and clear. Time limits should be respected. “Toughness” is respected as long as you are perceived as being fair.


 

*Adapted from Constructive Negotiation: Building Agreements that Work,
Barnes & Conti Associates