2.1.2. Culture dimension according to Edward T. Hall
Edward T. Hall (1963, 1976, 1983, 1990) researched on intercultural nonverbal communication. He identifies four dimensions explaining differences in behaviors across cultures:
- Space, and relationships within space (proxemics). Intimate distance, personal distance, social distance and public distance vary across cultures. Notions of territoriality are also relevant here. Japanese people are said to need less personal space than Americans, for instance, and will stand close to one another without discomfort.
- Context. Cultures can be characterized as high-context or low-context cultures. The dimension refers to the tendency to use messages with less or more details specific to the context. Japan has a high context culture, where rules and contextual elements are generally clear to communication partners and do not need to be expressed by language. Many elements of the message are implicit. People who do not know these implicit rules will not understand the message. In coaching, this may lead the client to short answers, avoiding what is taken by the culture for granted. Asking some inappropriate questions that are culturally implicit may unmask the coach as provoking, thus harming the trust-based relationship.
- Time. While some cultures are monochronic, others are polychronic. In cultures valuing a monochronic time system, people tend to do things one at a time; time is segmented into precise, small units, scheduled, arranged and managed. In contrast, in polychronic cultures, people tend to do several things at once, scheduling is not strict, human interaction is valued over time and material things. Japan has a monochronic culture. People are very conscious of time and timing, what may influence coaching sessions.
- Speed of information flow. Information processing may happen more or less quick. Cultures favoring fast messages will favor short and succinct information. Cultures where people prefer slow messages will favor detailed and more significant information. Japan has a slow message culture, where personal relationships take a long time to strengthen. Relationship building is of course also critical to coaching effectiveness.
2.1.3. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory
Geert Hofstede developed over decades (2001, 2010) a framework to describe the influence of national culture on values and behavior. Based on his research with employees from IBM worldwide, he could identify six dimensions of cultural significance. The results for Japan are compared to the USA in Graph 1.
- Power Distance. The degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. In cultures with high Power Distance, people accept a hierarchical order. In cultures with low Power Distance, hierarchies tend to be smaller and people demand justification for inequalities of power. In Japan, Power Distance is moderate. Japanese are conscious of hierarchies in any social setting and act accordingly, but decision is not made at the top and advancement is generally based on merit.
- Individualism vs Collectivism. In individualist cultures, individuals are expected to take care of themselves. In collectivist cultures, individuals can expect their relatives or in-group members to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The Japanese culture shows many of the characteristics of collectivism: group harmony is more important than the expression of individual opinions and people have a strong sense of shame for losing face. The society is paternalistic, but families are not understood as a large network of supporting relationships. Loyalty to the in-group is strong, but the in-group changes with situation. Japanese people value privacy and tend to be reserved.
- Masculinity vs Femininity. In a masculine culture, values like achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success are highlighted, competitiveness is highly respected. In a feminine culture, values like cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life are more important, looking for consensus is positive. Japan has a very masculine culture. However, competition is not occurring between individuals so much, but rather between groups. Japanese tend to look for excellence and perfection and do not care to work long hours. There is of strong role division between men and women in society and women do not have easy access to advancement in companies.
- Uncertainty Avoidance. The degree to which people feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. It is also about controlling the future or just letting it happen. Cultures with high levels of Uncertainty Avoidance know strong principles and codes of belief and behaviour and not tolerant for nonconforming behavior and ideas. The Japanese culture is very well trained on avoiding uncertainty and tend to get very well prepared for any situation. When taking decisions, people generally ask high level of details. Etiquette is also critical. Surprises and spontaneity are not much welcome.
- Long Term vs Short Term Orientation. Short Term Oriented cultures (low scores) tend to maintain traditions and see change with suspicion, constancy is important. Long Term Oriented cultures (high scores), are more pragmatic and tend to encourage adaptations and problem-solving to prepare for the future. The Japanese culture values long-term thinking. People believe in virtuous lives and being a good example because they see themselves as part of a long history. They are welcoming the future and technology as long as durability is guaranteed for the generations to come.
- Indulgence vs Restraint. Indulgent cultures allow people to fulfill their needs and to enjoy life. Restraining cultures prohibit the satisfaction of needs with strict social norms. Japan has a culture of Restraint, people do not much emphasis on leisure time. The satisfaction of their own needs and desires is not a priority. Social norms and the feeling that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong completes the picture.
As we can see, this framework offers great insights for coaching to understand better Japanese clients and offer them the best coaching experience possible.
2.1.4. The GLOBE Project: Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness Research
The GLOBE project (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness Research) took Hofstede’s research findings aimed at exploring the differences of organizational and leadership cultures around the world. Part of their findings, they came up with nine cultural dimensions, names cultural competencies (2004, 2008):
- Performance orientation. The extent to which an organization or society encourages and rewards group members for performance improvement and excellence.
- Assertiveness orientation. The degree to which individuals in organizations or societies are assertive, confrontational, and aggressive in social relationships.
- Future orientation. The degree to which individuals in organizations or societies engage in future-oriented behaviors such as planning, investing in the future, and delaying gratification.
- Humane orientation. The degree to which individuals in organizations or societies encourage and reward individuals for being fair, altruistic, friendly, generous, caring, and kind to others.
- Collectivism I: Institutional collectivism. The degree to which organizational and societal institutional practices encourage and reward collective distribution of resources and collective action.
- Collectivism II: In-group collectivism. The degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty and cohesiveness in their organizations or families.
- Gender egalitarianism. The extent to which an organization or a society minimizes gender role differences and gender discrimination.
- Power distance. The degree to which members of an organization or society expect and agree that power should be unequally shared.
- Uncertainty avoidance: The extent to which members of an organization or society strive to avoid uncertainty by reliance on social norms, rituals, and bureaucratic practices to alleviate the unpredictability of future events.
The following graph compares the results of the GLOBE dimensions for Japan and the USA (House et al. 2004, Chhokar et al. 2008). The results differ somewhat to Hofstede’s findings, part of it is due to the methodology employed. We will not get deeper here. What is interesting from a coaching point of view is the addition of a few dimensions to assess and understand better the Japanese culture (especially the moderate level assertiveness and the differentiation of collectivism).
2.1.5. Trompenaars’ model of national culture differences
Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner (1997) developed an additional framework for cross-cultural communication applied to general business and management. This model of national culture differences has seven dimensions. Five of them cover the ways in which human beings deal with each other, one deals with time, and one with the environment. They enable some additional input for coaching in Japan.
- Universalism vs Particularism. Universalism is the belief that ideas, practices and general rules can be applied everywhere without modification. Particularism is the belief that circumstances dictate how ideas and practices should be applied, exceptions are the rule. Japan has a culture based on particularism, giving greater attention to the obligations of relationships and unique situations.
- Individualism vs Communitarianism. Individualism refers to people regarding themselves as individuals, free to contribute to the collective as and if they wish, free to take their own decisions and make mistakes. Communitarianism refers to people regarding themselves as part of a group, emphasizing on shared benefits. Individuals are judged by what they contribute to the group. The group takes responsibility for individual failure. A loss of face in relation to the group must be avoided at all costs. Japan has such a communitarist culture.
- Neutral vs Emotional. A neutral culture is a culture in which emotions are not relevant for society. An emotional culture is a culture in which emotions are expressed openly and naturally. The Japanese culture is in that sense a neutral culture, where business relationships are instrumental and focused on objectives.
- Specific vs Diffuse. A specific culture is one in which individuals have a large public space they share with others and a small private space only shared with few close friends. Contractual concerns prevail over personal ones, relationships are not a prerequisite of success. A diffuse culture is one in which public space and private space are similar in size. People tend to spend as much time on relationship building as on the concrete business matters. Personal and the Functional matter overlap. Japan has such a diffuse culture, where people spend time outside working hours with their colleagues and business contacts.
- Achievement vs Ascription. In achievement cultures, people are accorded status based on their merit, how well they perform their functions recently. In ascription cultures, status is based on who or what a person is, according to birth, kinship, gender, age, connections, or school. Japan has an ascription culture, where seniority, gender and maybe the right school are important in getting status.
- Sequential vs Synchronic. In sequential cultures, people tend to do things one at a time. In Synchronic cultures, people tend to do several things at once. Japan has a sequential culture, where people are always punctual and keep deadlines. • Internal vs External locus of control. In cultures with an internal locus of control, people believe that they can control their environment to achieve goals. In cultures with an external locus of control, people believe that nature or their environment controls them, they must work with their environment to achieve goals. Japan has a culture with an external locus of control, where actions are focused on relationships and keeping harmony.
2.1.6. Rosinski’s Cultural Orientations Framework
The last framework presented here has been proposed by Philippe Rosinski (2003). His Cultural Orientations Framework aims at focusing on more relevant and salient aspects of national cultures to enable an exchange and some understanding of cultural characteristics. The Framework knows seven categories associated with several dimensions, as shown below:
- Sense of power and responsibility. Dimensions: Control, Harmony, Humility.
- Time management approaches. Dimensions: Scarce vs Plentiful, Monochronic vs Polychronic, Past vs Present vs Future.
- Definitions of identity and purpose. Dimensions: Being vs Doing, Individualistic vs Collectivistic.
- Organizational arrangements. Dimensions: Hierarchy vs. Equality, Universalist vs Particularist, Stability vs Change, Competitive vs Collaborative.
- Notions of territory and boundaries. Dimension: Protective vs Sharing.
- Communication patterns. Dimensions: High Context vs Low Context, Direct vs Indirect, Affective vs Neutral, Formal vs Informal.
- Modes of thinking. Dimensions: Deductive vs Inductive, Analytical vs Systemic.
We will not get further into details here, since most dimensions have already been addressed as well as their relevant for coaching in Japan. It is interesting here that Rosinski brings the results of established frameworks and integrates them into a new synthesis framework. In addition, Rosinski’s framework is especially intended for the coaching practice and aims at generating discussion and creating awareness. By leveraging differences, it should open new conversations, possibilities and choices and might be a way to work with Japanese clients eager to get to know themselves and there culture more systematically.