From all of Professor Geert Hofstede’s dimensions I find this the most difficult one to explain in a Cultural Awareness Training. Reason being is that most people seem to associate Uncertainty Avoidance with only formal rules and nothing else.
High and Low Uncertainty Avoidance
In This Article
My experience is that Western Europeans and North Americans view mediterranean countries as quite relaxed and therefore low scoring on this dimension. Whilst the opposite is true. Italy Greece and Spain all score relatively high. The same perception holds true for Westerns judging/guessing if a country scores high or low on uncertainty avoidance, if their perception of that country is somewhat chaotic. So if the perception of someone from the West is that the “other” country is chaotic and/or not very organized, they will interpret that as being a low scoring country; it’s chaotic and unorganized, hence there must be little rules. But the opposite is often true. Countries that might look disorganized usually do have a lot of rules. They might even have so many rules that the people do not know what rules to stick to, so they pick and choose the one’s that make most sense to them at that moment.
Below is an overview of some of the characteristics of low and high uncertainty avoidance.
Low uncertainty avoidance
- Few rules, little structure: makes sense, right?
- Entrepreneurial: starting your own business is seen as very normal; the same goes for risk taking (no guts, no glory!).
- Stress-free: people experience “life” as being relatively stress free.
- Cool, calm & collected: there is a premium in society to look Cool, Calm & Collected. Think of the British stiff upper lip.
Examples of low scoring countries:
High uncertainty avoidance
- Structure, rules, expertise: makes sense too, right? But not only formal rules (like the maximum speed on the freeway, but also informal rules like how do you properly poor a glass of wine and taste it).
- Security (avoiding the unfamiliar): rather then taking risks, people prefer that what they know already.
- Hectic: “life” is being perceived as hectic and stress full. Pretty much from all angles.
- Emotions/passion: showing your emotions is seen as a way to blow off steam. Consider a minor car collision in Rome (high scoring) versus London (low scoring).
See that it says “Structure, rules, expertise” under high uncertainty avoidance cultures? The thing is that cultures that have a relative high score on this dimension do have a lot of rules and regulations. But… they don’t always stick to those rules (depending on other cultural factors).
Examples of high scoring countries
Risk or no Risk?
Low scoring cultures are generally higher risk takers than high scoring countries. Examples are the credit crisis that started in the US (a relatively low scoring country). Versus Belgium (a (very) high scoring culture where the level of risk involved in mortgages is pretty much zero.
If you want to read more on this very difficult cultural dimension and what influence it has in doing business internationally, why not get the book? It’s titled “Uncertainty Avoidance in International Business: The Hidden Cultural Dimension You Need to Understand When Doing Business Overseas“ The book covers:
- Rules and Bureaucracy
- The Countries and Their Scores
- Uncertainty Avoidance Correlations
- The Difference Between Uncertainty Avoidance, Anxiety, Fear & Risk
- Uncertainty Avoidance in and Around the House & School
- Uncertainty Avoidance, Health and Happiness
- Uncertainty Avoidance in the Workplace
- Consumer Behavior and Uncertainty Avoidance
- The Rule of Law, the Country and Uncertainty Avoidance
- And more!
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