Thursday, 4 February 2010

Global PR and cultural dimensions

"Culture hides more than it reveals and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from it’s own participants. Years of study have convinced me that the real job is not to understand foreign culture but to understand our own" - Edward T. Hall

Our class discussion today about global/ international PR led us to Edward Hall's concepts of high and low context cultures from his 1976 'Beyond culture' and to Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions.


Going through them was meant to make us understand why sometimes we *don't understand* each other all that well. And by 'we' I mean everyone from PR professionals working in multinationals to the incredibly culturally diverse group that is our class.

It got me thinking about some of the issues that came up in the group work that we've done the past semester. It was strange, at the time, seeing how dissimilar we all approached the same assignment and how differently we interacted with each other. But putting everything through Hall's and Hofstede's perspective, things started to make sense.

So in the interest of getting people to understand me better and getting myself to understand the outside world better in future similar situations, I started mapping out some of my cultural dimensions, according to Hofstede's research and the way this study attributes them to the Romanian culture.

According to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and estimations, Romania tends to be a culture that has a low uncertainty avoidance ranking, which indicates that “the society accepts more rapidly change and takes more and greater risks”, and is less rule-oriented. It also has a short-term orientation, as long-term traditions and commitments are not impediments to changes. Other indicators are: high power distance index reflecting presence of inequality of power and health within society and deference to authority figures, low individualism which expresses the collectivistic nature of society with close tights between individuals, and high masculinity pointing out a high degree of gender differentiation. (Source)

Summing up this study's findings (study developed by 3 Romanian researchers in the field of cross-cultural communication), Romanian culture has:

- A high Power Distance Index, corresponding to an efficient mechanism for preservation and distinguishing status differences; the index is mainly characterized through arbitrary leadership and an inclination towards indiscipline.

- A very low Individualism Index => it's a culture characterized by collectivism, which means that, within it, it's normal to expect help from the community. There also is a certain lack of initiative, a contra productive view of private property and group interests always take precedence.

- Medium Masculinity, with a slight tendency towards femininity. There is, however, a lack of homogeneity within this dimension: the Romanian culture has both extremely masculine tendencies (such as acute differences between male and female behaviours) and pronounced feminine ones (like egalitarianism, a negative view of wealthy people, attraction towards convenience etc.)

- An above average Uncertainty Avoidance Index, dimension characterized by the presence of opposed tendencies: on the one hand there are strong avoidance elements - related to the social impact of religion or the authorities' need for control - and on the other hand, uncertainty acceptance elements, such as casualness, indifference or lack of strictness , are not uncommon.

- Medium values for long term orientation, a consequence of the existing traditionalism and of the ease of change at the superficial level.

The results of the study vary in certain areas from those estimated by Hofstede.

Taking a look at Edward Hall's theory on low and high context cultures, I would immediately classify Romanian as the latter.   

In a high context culture, such as mine, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture itself explain them. Words and word choice become very important in higher context communication: a few words can communicate a complex message very effectively to an in-group. But, at the same time, they do it much less effectively outside that group. This differs from lower context cultures, such as German, American or Scandinavian ones, the communicator needs to be much more explicit and the value of a single word is less important.

Knowing and being aware of your cultural dimensions is the first step of practicing PR in a global environment. After assimilating this, the next step is becoming aware and understanding the dimensions that apply to the people you work with and for. If you are able to successfully and open-mindedly go through these steps, your work as an international PR practitioner has just been way simplified.

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1 comment:

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