VI. Universalism versus particularism

Where people think they can discover everything what is true and good is defined as universalism. In contrast where the unique circumstances and relationships are more important than abstract rules concerning what is right.

„Universalism vs. Particularism indicates how a society applies rules of morals and ethics. In a Universal society such as the U.S., rules and contracts are developed which can apply in any situation. There is a belief that what is good or true can be discovered, defined, and applied to every situation. Because of their Universalist approach, in a business situation Americans will want to rely on a contract to communicate the terms of an agreement and to define the relationship between the parties. China is a particularisticic culture where people look at relationships and circumstances in a specific situation to decide what is right. For the Chinese, the legal contract communicates a starting point for an agreement. As circumstances change so too should the terms of the agreement. For the Chinese, the situation and the particular individuals involved are what define relationship.“ *5

Particularism is based on logic of the heart and human friendship. Many universalists are more common in protestant cultures because of the religious beliefs in good and bad (laws). Catholics think that God may understand that you were lying to your friend.

Strong universalist cultures use the court to mediate conflicts. Therefore Americans have much more lawyers per citizen than any other country. The more universal a country is, the greater is the need to protect the truth. International operating businesses think more likely in an universalistic way. When universalistic business people agree to a contract relating to a high value deal there are always lawyers involved to assure that every detail is correctly mentioned and protected by a paragraph. In case one party would break a part of the committed deal it is possible to draw the consequences and sue the counterpart. In particularisticic cultures legal contracts don’t only keep their promises something is written down on paper. More than that they trust, rely and believe in the business relationship which was build up in the time before the contract was discussed.

As already mentioned in a previous chapter Chinese business people trust very much on relationships between the partners. Strict regulations/formulations would probably offend/insult the partner because they would get the idea that they aren’t trustful and are cheater. The importance of relationships again solidity be carefully considered and taken into account especially from universalistic cultures when dealing with particularisticic cultures. Chinese try to keep the contracts vague and not too tied. It might happen that Chinese business people will still try to negotiate afterwards even the contract was already signed/closed and agreed from all sites. In negotiations Chinese will spend a lot of time in building up a relationship with their business partners so the actual negotiation will be at the end of the meeting time. While Americans dealing with Chinese, Americans often try to close deals as fast as possible. But as a result of the Chinese way to make deals the Americans might commit more advantages than first thought just to rush forward and close a deal. This can be an advantage for particularisticic cultures.

Universalist cultures focus normally more on rules than on relationships. For instance american employees compete hard for better job positions and to climb up in the hierarchy and earn more money. They do this without caring for colleagues and the relationship with them. In comparison, particularistic cultures like China focus heavily on relationships. When working with/managing particularistic, universalists should build informal networks and create private understandings as well as they should try to look for fairness in doing business by treating and looking on cases each as a specific one.

Particularistic cultures avoid rigid or standardized systems to manage across cultures. They rather prefer to leave some room for changes which might occur in the future process. Some stereotypes say that Germans are talented to build infrastructure and Americans are excellent to develop and invent new products/ideas. When markets became more individual and specific the USA came into trouble with their way of mass production and mass marketing. Especially in competition with particularistic countries like France who are orientated on individual and customized products.

In the field of global acting companies there is a big advantage and challenge for those to satisfy the complex and diverse needs of countries with different cultures. To cover world markets by a single selling/marketing strategy fails very often because of the variety of culture. Excepting some world brands like Coca-Cola – but even these enterprises have to change its marketing/selling strategy for a few markets. They can target more precisely on foreign markets with the knowledge and awareness of the cultural differences which will lead on the long run into good profits and turn-overs – the main objective of companies.

*5 Dr. Fons Trompenaars