XIII. Individualism versus collectivism

Individualism is

„the opposite of collectivism; together they form on of the dimensions of national cultures. Individualism stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family only.“ *10


„stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong cohesive ingroups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.“ *11

Individualistic cultures like USA (highest score = 1st rank) and France (10th rank) are more self-centred and emphasize mostly on their individual goals. People from individualistic cultures tend to think only of themselves as individuals and as „I“ distinctive from other people.They make just a little different between ingroup and outgroup communication (USA). They prefer clarity in their conversations to communicate more effectively and come in general directly to the point like the Finns (17th rank) and Americans are doing. An exception here are Germans (15th rank) who indeed are an individualistic culture but their communication style is different. First details will be named and discussed and after that they will come to the point. Americans and Finns might feel annoyed because they say first what it is about and explain afterwards.

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People in individualistic cultures emphasize their success/achievements in job or private wealth and aiming up to reach more and/or a better job position. Especially in the USA the fight about jobs and trying to climb up in the hierarchy ladder is something very common there. It just counts to get there less caring who will left behind one. In business they try to improve their connections and to gain more value out of them, not for establishing a good relationship but just to be involved in a calculative way. Employees are expected to defend their interests and to promote themselves when ever possible.

Asian – collectivist cultures like China (Hong Kong 37th rank), view other companies with less collectivistic philosophy as cold and not supportive. Collectivistic cultures have a great emphasize on groups and think more in terms of „we“. Harmony and loyalty within a company is very important and should always be maintained and confrontation should be avoided. In China it is out of question to disagree with someone’s opinion in public. You will do that in a more private and personal atmosphere to protect a person from the „loss of face“. In collectivistic cultures a direct confrontation will be always avoided. Expressions or phrases are used which describe a disagreement or negative statement instead of saying no. Saying no would mean to destroy the harmony in the group. The relationship between employer and employee or business partners is based on trust and harmony and a deep understanding of moral values. The wealth of the company and the groups inside are more important than the individual one’s. David Yaou-Fai Ho, a Hong Kong social scientist defines „Loosing face as follows:

„Face is lost when the individual, either through his action or that people closely related to him, fails to meet essential requirements placed upon him by virtue of the social position he occupies.“ (Hofstede, 1976, page 867) This can be compared with „self-respect“ in individualistic cultures. There is understanding and help for employees who have poor performance. *12

„Christopher Earley, an American management researcher, gave 48 management trainees from southern China and a matched group of 48 management trainees from the USA an ‚in-basket-task‘ consisting of 40 separate items requiring between two and five minutes each (Earley, 1989). The task involved such activities as writing memos evaluating plans and rating job candidates‘ application forms. Half of the participants from each country were given an individual goal of 20 items; the other half were given a group goal of 200 items to be completed in one hour by 10 people. In addition, half of the participants from either country, both from the group and from the individual goal subsets, were asked to mark each item with their name; the other half turned them in anonymously. The Chinese, collectivist, participants performed best when operating with a group goal and anonymously. They performed worst when operating with individually and with their name marked on their work. The individualist American participants performed best when operating individually and with their work attributed to them personally, and performed very poorly when operating as a group and anonymously.“ *13

*10 „Cultures and Organizations – Intercultural Cooperation and its importance for survival“ Hofstede, Geert (1994), page 261

*11 „Cultures and Organizations – Intercultural Cooperation and its importance for survival“ Hofstede, Geert (1994) , page 260

*12 „Cultures and Organizations – Intercultural Cooperation and its importance for survival“ Hofstede, Geert (1994), page 61

*13 Box 2.3 Difference in work ethos between an individualist and a collectivist society, „Managing Cultural Differences: Strategies for Competitive Advantage“ by Lisa Hoecklin 1995, page 37