The dimension that matters most in Cultural Differences is often claimed to be Power Distance.
Even up to 80% of all cultural friction is attributed to Power Distance! There are 3 dimensions of culture more, but let’s first focus on this one.
Let us start with a definition, so we are all on the same page:
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” George Orwell
Or to put it in a more official way, Power Distance is the: “Level of acceptance of people, whom have no power, of the unequal spread of power in their society.”
The interesting aspect of phrasing the Power Distance definition is that it is written from the perspective of people whom have no power.
The definition loses all or most of its “value” if you leave that part out. In other words, if one already has the power, it does not matter much if people, whom have no power, accept this or not.
Much like having wealth or money: if you have wealth or lots of money, it does not matter much if other people don’t have as much.
There are countries whereby people Do accept that there is power unequality. These countries will score high on Power Distance. Countries whereby people Do Not accept that there is power unequality will score low (all on Professor Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions).
We need to nuance the above interpretation: All cultures/countries in the world have some level of power un-equality. In the low(er) scoring countries, people accept the fact that there are people whom have more power in order to avoid a state of chaos or anarchy. In other words, in the low(er) scoring countries people will accept that the police is able and/or allowed to ask them for their ID or pull them over in a traffic violation.
Below are the difference between Low and High Power Distance. Two notes in the margin: This list is not complete, below are just a couple of illustrations; Second, there are no cultures that have all of the low characteristics and none of the high characteristics. When scoring low, they will have more of the low characteristics and fewer of the high characteristics. Culture is not black and white, there are numerous gray shades!
- Independence; People are (relatively) independent of the Power Holder (parents, teacher, boss, etc).
- Good reason for hierarchy; When there are, so called, hierarchical layers, there must be a good reason for this. Putting a management layer, or manager in place just like that, will not easily be accepted.
- What goes for you goes for me; Or equality: if you are allowed to do this, then I’m allowed to do the same as well.
- Open door policy; This could literally mean that the door of the manager is open, or that the management of a company is not automatically on the top floor of the building.
- Dependence; People are (relatively) dependant on the Power Holder. This could result in subordinates not taking own initiative, but rather wait for the boss to give instructions. There is also relatively little real empowerment.
- Hierarchy is just there; In other words it is existential. It’s there, and that’s good and normal.
- Special treatment; Typically there are privileges for the people in power. Like the parking place in front of the office, etc.
- Gate keepers; Gate keepers are those people who keep the power holder away from the people whom have no power. Often the Power Holder derives a certain level of status from not being approachable.
Examples of countries scoring low are:
- The Netherlands
- The UK & USA
- Germany (yes!)
- Nordic countries
Examples of countries scoring high are:
- The Arab World
Watch the video below: If you take a close look, you will see there is a difference between the “Master” and the “Servant” in Power Distance.
However, if you listen closely to the conversation, you will hear that in actual fact the “relationship” they have is more of a functional one, then hierarchical.
Please tell me what you think?
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