Module 2: Intercultural communication, local culture and customs

Lesson Title

Cultural parameter: Family and society



In this lesson, we will talk about the different roles people (are used to) take in their social environment, and the respective behavior they show – in families, job life, amongst friends.


Lesson time foreseen

1 hour


Lesson Content

Surely you are aware that the way societies are composed (be it small families, be it communities, cities or nation), and most importantly the roles people play in society can feel very different. But why, and how to understand the underlying principles when entering another society? In his cultural dimensions theory (see “introduction” [link to respective topic description], scientist Geert Hofstede describes two dimensions which provide hints:
On the one hand, there’s people’s perception and attitude of power i.e.  “the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” In the very extreme case, a hierarchy is clearly established and executed in society, without doubt or reason.  In the other extreme people question authority and attempt to distribute power.

In the business world, you can distinguish such different attitudes towards power from the hierarchy which is displayed to the outside world, and the importance which is given to cooperation (or not), whether there is a staff council or trade union to represent the workers’ and employees’ interests etc.
As another cultural dimension, Hofstede makes us pay attention whether a society has a more masculine or feminine conditioning:  masculinity is defined as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.” Its counterpart represents “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.” Women in the respective societies tend to display different values. In feminine societies, they share modest and caring views equally with men. In more masculine societies, women are more emphatic and competitive.

Again, you can find these attitudes not only in the private life, but also in the business and job environment, from the work attitude and the interaction between women and men.
Observing people and their behaviour in society will definitely help you get an idea what sort of culture they are part of, and how you may best interact with them. Not necessarily you need to adapt, but being able to communicate the differences you see (and why you act diffently in some situations) can prevent from irritations.
Example [partners, please add some description from your culture]:  In Germany, hierarchic levels are existant, but the strong democratic system allows citizens of any background to have a voice. For example, trade unions strongly defend the workers’ rights, there are “consumer protection” offices both from the government and by NGOs , and petitions are used widely. As for the level of masculinity and femininity, there is quite a fair balance, or even “changing sides”: from the feminist movement, women are often competitive in their careers, whilst there is a growing number of men who prioritise the family life over business e.g. taking a sabbatical as a father.
Exercise: Look at company profiles in the web and try to understand from their corporate identity which culture of power they may stand for. Similarly, when seeing adverts on TV, billboards etc. and observing people, can you get an idea of the masculinity (or femininity) in this culture?
Group exercise:  In a roleplay of two persons, imagine you are colleagues (one in a “higher” position than the other) who meet in the company kitchen during the break – act your encounter twice, with different power settings:  in a first round, your encounter is framed by a very hierarchic cultural setting, in the second it is more “low-level” and democratic. Afterwards, discuss (possibly with some observers) why you acted the way you did, and how it felt.




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