Continuing our series looking at issues of cross-cultural communication we are now going to turn our attention to the ideas of individualism and collectivism.
In individualist cultures, individual uniqueness and self-determination is valued. A person is all the more admirable if they are a "self-made man" or "makes up their own mind" or show initiative or work well independently. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, expect people to identify with and work well in groups which protect them in exchange for loyalty and compliance.
Paradoxically, individualist cultures tend to believe that there are universal values that should be shared by all, while collectivist cultures tend to accept that different groups have different values.
Many of the asian cultures are collectivist, while anglo cultures tend to be individualist.
This can often have an impact on the amount of time a given task may take. For example a market research firm conducted a survey of tourist agencies around the world. The questionnaires came back from most countries in less than a month. But the agencies in the asian countries took months to do it. After many requests, it was finally done. The reason was that, for example, American tourist agencies assigned the work to one person, while the Filipinos delegated the work to the entire department, which took longer. The researchers also noticed that the replies from the Philippines always came from a different person.
In addition in collectivistic cultures a direct confrontation will always be avoided. Expressions or phrases are used which describe a disagreement or negative statement instead of saying no. Saying 'no' would be tantamount to destroyin 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's.