How powerful are bosses in different cultures?

Have you ever wondered why people from different cultures have different ways of acting with their bosses?

Power distance is a way to explain the differences between groups in a system. It reflects a culture’s attitude in human inequality.

Low Power Distance

People in a low power distance cultures seem to have an egalitarian relationship with one another. They expect and accept power relations that are more democratic. Supervisors/leaders and subordinates/citizens have almost equal levels of power regardless of their social status. For example, bosses are much closer to their employees. Also, instructions can be challenged; subordinates can criticize and give opinion about a supervisor’s works.

High Power Distance

In contrast with low power distance, people in high power distance cultures seem to have a hierarchical relationship with others. For instance, subordinates would let their bosses make decision and decide who is responsible for what. Also, ordinary citizens would let the leaders make decisions and orders are often unquestioned.

It seems that in Thai culture, people tend to accept a higher degree of unequally distributed power than people in American culture. Basically, every relationship among Thai people has a different status. In Thai culture, subordinates will comply with their supervisor rather than challenge him or her. They will not try to come up with their own solutions in dealing with conflict. They will be assigned to do a job and hardly question or criticize their managers.

Power Distance Index

Geert Hofstede, Dutch sociologist , proposed the Power Distance Index to measure the distribution of power and wealth between people in a nation, business or culture. Clearly Cultural blog says that “Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”. Hierarchical societies tend to accept more power distance than egalitarian societies.

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Power Distance Index (PDI)

Some high power index countries are:

Malaysia: 104

Philippines: 94

Indonesia: 78

Thailand: 64

Some low power index countries are:

United States: 40

United Kingdom: 35

New Zealand: 22

Austria: 11

Related content:

Power Distance

The Hofstede Center

Read about Hofstede’s other intercultural dimensions:

Individualism

Masculinity

Uncertainty Avoidance 

Thai Culture vs American Culture!

Understanding Thai culture and American culture

Individualism VS Collectivism

Individualism-Collectivism is a major measurement of cultural variability used to explain cultural differences in communication across cultures. People in individualistic society are more self-centered and emphasize personal achievement rather than the group harmony. They tend to put rights and privacy first. On the other hand, collectivist cultures require people to fit into a group; they value their relationship and group harmony over individual’s goals. They view themselves as a member of a group (family, tribe, work unit). People in collectivist cultures are more willing to cooperate and they tend to avoid conflict. Furthermore, collectivist cultures value social obligation, which make them avoid conflict to maintain a positive social relationship.

Hierarchical vs Egalitarian societies

Hierarchical refers to societies that have a formality. It is organized into various successive layers depending on several factors such as status and power. People’s social status is determined by social power; some people have more power than others and it is widely acceptable from people in the society. People will give more respect to others who are a senior by age and by social status. Conversely, egalitarian society is a community where everyone is treated the same way regardless of their social status. It holds the belief that all people are equal and should have the same rights and opportunities.

Thailand, in particular, is an example of a hierarchical culture. Social relationships are defined in terms of one person’s superiority to another.  Teachers are superior to their students, bosses to their subordinates, parents to their children and elders to the younger generation. Even in language, we use different kinds of words with people depending on their social status. For instance, we use different words when talking to a friend, parent, boss, teacher, or monk or when we speak to the Royal family or have a conversation that refers to them. We even use different names for ourselves depending on whom we have a conversation with.

How Thai and American see the boss!

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Concept of Self between Thai and American

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graphics copyright of Yang Liu

Tightness vs Looseness

In a ‘tight’ society, such as China, Japan or Thailand, parents and teachers emphasis rule abidance. They monitor children’s behavior; a good child or a good student is the one who abides the rules. In Thai culture, people have been taught to follow the rules and the patterns of behavior that their ancestors have passed down to their children. It is something that people have been doing for generations.

On the other hand, parents and teachers in a ‘loose’ society, such as America, tend to encourage children to explore the world more. Parents and teachers in a loose society are more permissive than those in tight society.

 

Thai Culture American Culture
Social system Collectivism  Individualism
Social relationship Hierarchical Egalitarian
Nature of culture Tightness Looseness
Conflict style Indirect/ avoidance Direct/ confrontation
Social status Characteristics such as age, gender, and family determines social status People’s status is based mainly on their own achievements, including education obtained and level of success realized in their line of work.
Emotional expression Emotional control Emotion is openly expressed
Communication Indirect Direct

 

Related content:

Cultural Tightness-Loosness

Negotiating Globally by Jeanne M. Brett

The Journal of Values Based Leadership