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Updated 01.31.1999


What is culture?  A useful way of thinking about where culture comes from is the following: Culture is the way in which a group of people (a nation, a company, or a research team) solves problems and reconciles dilemmas.  It is also important to understand that culture is a shared system of meanings.  And since every culture distinguishes itself from others by the specific solutions it chooses to certain problems which reveal themselves as dilemmas, it is a mistake to say that the one best way of organizing people exists. 

The above understanding is equally important to everyone, because we are living in a world that is becoming more and more globalized every day.  For example, it is crucial for those in management positions to keep in mind that people of different cultural background attribute different meanings to things like rewards or promotion.  Therefore, a rewarding system that you rely on to encourage higher productivity may be effective to Americans, but does not stimulate Asian people at all.  Sometimes different approaches must be taken at an individual level, if your organization/team is really international.

But most likely you are just a student of a research group or an employee supervised by foreigners.  Expecting differences between you and your co-workers is equally important to you.  A direct application of this concept is that, before judging or criticizing your colleagues' behaviors, keep in mind that we are doing so from OUR value system, which has a lot to do with OUR cultural origin.   Having this idea in mind will help to avoid many otherwise unnecessary conflicts in your work space. 

In terms of relationships with people, research shows that there are five fundamental dimensions that distinguish one culture from another.  They are:

Universalism vs. Particularism,
Individualism vs. Communitarianism,
Neural vs. Emotional,
Specific vs. Diffuse,
Achievement vs. Ascription.