A Comparison between Eastern and Western Business Cultures

Cultural backgrounds of people play a pivotal role in the business world. This is because the behavior of people and their scheme of thought has a lot to do with their cultural background. Eastern countries are countries that are located in continental Asia together with the Middle Eastern countries while the western countries are found in North and South America and the nations that comprise continental Europe. New Zealand and Australia also make up the western bloc. An old saying suggests that the east and west are to extreme sides that cannot meet. This saying can be used as a basis for analyzing the business cultures of the north and eastern countries. Business aspects that can indicate a cultural split include levels of assertiveness, willingness to question, time management, organizational styles and management styles among others. Hofstede provided a framework for analyzing some of these aspects of culture in his model of multicultural identities. He identified some parameters of measuring cultural differences on the basis of power, ability to handle uncertainty, societal masculinity or femininity tendencies among other parameters. In essence, these parameters lead to portrayal of eastern business cultures as entailing more conservatism as opposed to the western business environment that is marked by liberalism.
Theoretical framework
The Hofstede model provides a good basis for analysis of the cultural aspects that characterize eastern and western business. The model put forward some dimensions of analysis of cultural differences starting with power distance. Under power distance a culture in analyzed in terms of the readiness to accept and handle unequal distribution of authority, seniority or power. This followed by the individualist v collectivist assumption and this one borders on the focus of people in a society, organization or country on either personal interests or the common good of all. The masculinity v femininity aspect analyzes a societies tendencies to encourage either heroism, versatility or aggressiveness or moderation and gracious traits (Hofstede, 1994). The model also presents the long-term versus short-term societies which is analysis based on how people in a society are more likely to stick to traditions, customs and conventions. Indulgence and restraint analytical item looks at how societal norms and practices are more permissive to the expression of desires and gratification of appetites and the regulations that exist in that regard. Ambiguity, lastly, focuses on how people in a society can deal with lack of clarity, situations that are grey and which are not definitive (Hofstede, 1994). Based on Hofstede’s model, it emerges that societies can differ on particular cultural dimensions which shape the emotional, mental and behavioral dispositions of the members.
Eastern versus western cultures
One of the key dimensions of analysis is the individualistic versus collectivism as a basis of analysis of the two cultural blocs. The cultural orientation of the Easterners seems to encourage more collectivism as opposed to individualism. This is inculcated through the religious practices of the people that emphasize the wellbeing of all as opposed to one. Out of this, a business cultural tendency in eastern countries is favoring consultation and communal approaches to work. This being the case, they do not struggle to out-do each other at work or to demonstrate individual talent over the others. This is not the case in western culture. People in western culture always pursue elements that reinforce individual interests (Begley & Tan, 2001). There is high competition in corporate performance which results in struggles for notice and an urge to outdo others. Consultation and inclusion of other people in procedures and process in western culture only happens as an imperative and does not happen naturally. These leads to a lot of cases of use of unscrupulous means to gain advantage of others such as tax evasion, conspiracies to undermine others and such other acts of individualism. This is not suggest that eastern countries do not have similar elements. They may be present but can largely be seen as peculiar and mostly borrowed from western societies. Eastern business settings are therefore likely to have more teamwork but as well more complacence since individuals do not strive much to distinguish themselves as is the case in the west.
On the power distance dimension, eastern and western business cultures show even wider differences. In a study in US and Saudi Arabian organizations on this dimension, the former scored 40 while the latter scored 95 (Hofstede, 1994). This was to indicate that Saudi organizations have people who are more likely to accept being under authority that is not necessarily justified. On the other hand, US organizations have people who accept hierarchy and authority over them only in as much as such authority and power is justifiable. Hierarchy in USA does is not readily acceptable. In business in US therefore, inequalities are not easily condoned. Businesses that are equal or similar or people with equal qualifications and experience will expect to receive similar treatment. It is therefore unlikely in Saudi organizations to find a lot of complaints about authority or flow of instructions. In as much as a person is in authority, the junior is ready to take instructions without questioning. Similar treatment will not be found in a US organization where people always have to understand what it is about the other person that makes them special or preferred over them (Begley & Tan, 2001). The ideal of equality for all has encouraged the culture of levelling up and standing up to even seniors to question and to only accept authority that is justified. Bureaucracy as a structure of organizational management are therefore more successful in Saudi Arabia than in USA.
The uncertainty dimension can show how much people are willing to try new ideas and to pursue discovery (Hofstede, 1994). People in western countries show more curiosity which has been encouraged by the individualistic tendencies. Innovation, creativity and critical thinking are some of the aspects that define the uncertainty cultural dimension. Eastern people seem to mostly find answers to world and life situations in religion. This means that their ability to recognize business issues and problems and view them in their correct sense is limited. However, businesses in western countries look at problems in an industry as an opportunity for new business. Employees find problems as avenues to express their creative thinking and problem solving skills. Western business cultural set up can better thrive periods of economic and political uncertainty than organizations in the east (Begley & Tan, 2001). The collectivist approach in the east discourages initiative and problem-solving and a tendency to shy away from unfamiliar situations. It is for this reason that easterners are conservative. Even in working with people who they perceive as strange, they show withdrawal and treat them with suspicion. This is as opposed to the enthusiasm of westerners that in fact can end up using another person’s abilities for their individual gain.
On the issue of relationships in business settings, western culture demonstrates isolation and limited interaction. People in the work environment are focused on their duties and behave in a way to ignore existence of others (Forsyth et al., 2008). It is common in western environments for people to get to work in the same office sitting beside each other without having greeted. Once it is time to leave, they get away without bothering to bid the other goodbye. Avoiding to cultivate close associations in business environments of the west is deliberate and this means that people are formal or even executive in their interactions. In the east, the work environment is another societal setting for cultivating bonds and associations. The socialist nature of society disposes the people to naturally recognize others and routinely to interact to personal levels (Forsyth et al., 2008). The relationships at the workplace in the east are not only business but extent outside and can often become long-term.
The fact that the people in the west are individualist, limit or avoid personal interactions and accept authority less means that they can be critical. In the West, managers and supervisors are required to understand employee rights and freedoms and to ensure they are reasonable since by these rights, they can receive criticism from employees. Criticism in the west is open and can be scathingly blatant. This has been used to establish accountability on both the employee and employer sides. Employees who fail at their duty understand the repercussions clearly. The same applies to employers who do not exercise accountability and responsibility. Criticism is a part of the business culture of the west. However, the east has a different culture. For instance Chinese culture is based on the principal of “saving face” which admonishes those who openly criticize and shame others (Moller & Syahn, 2004). Criticisms are not blatant and may require privacy in order to communicate it. Employees do not have the liberty to point fingers of criticism at either employers as this may get them fired. The result of this is that eastern organizations have lesser organizational accountability than the western organization. Unethical practices in the east are also less likely to be highlighted and hence managers in the east get away with much business malpractices.
The issue of punctuality is also a dimension of analysis for the business or economic cultures of the two cultural blocs. Western countries have capitalistic systems that are well entrenched. This means that everyone is always trying to meet goals that if they miss another one will get. It is a competitive society that is marked with urgency and discipline. As a result, punctuality happens naturally in the western nations. There are people who work on two jobs to ensure they improve their income. The businesses on the other hand are faced with stiff competition and employees are not allowed to derail business through sluggishness. In fact, lateness can be a reason for a person to be fired and be replaced with a punctual one. However, in the east, such urgency does not exist. The economy has not yet been pegged on high business discipline and hence managers may not be concerned much with an employee who is late (Moller & Syahn, 2004). The socialist culture also affects actions by assuming that a person who is late might have a justifiable reason as to why and cannot just be reprimanded.
Having so much talked about the differences, there is a similarity between the two cultures emanating from the Hofstede’s dimensions. This is on the masculinity versus femininity. On this dimension both countries score highly based on a study of the countries. In the west, individualism naturally means that elements of heroism and the feeling to want to be enviable makes people to put in a lot of effort to ensure they succeed (Begley & Tan, 2001). On the other hand, in the east, in spite of collectivism, people are still regarded based on their performance and achievement. Both cultures therefore encourage people to work hard and invest in self-improvement only that in the west, this is done in pursuit of individualistic interests. In the east, heroism is encouraged but not to the extent that renders those who are unable to achieve failures and excluded. The increase in cross-cultural interaction and presence of expatriate in the east is also encouraging the culture of performance and achievement. It is also bringing about a business culture that is pegged on goals and competition.
The east and the west therefore portray fundamental business cultural differences. The differences are mostly due to religion especially in the east. Most of the behavioral and thought characteristics are a result of religious indoctrination. However, westerners are shaped by the economic environment that is competitive. It has structured people in a way that their social and even cultural characteristics are determined by business outcomes. This is as opposed to the east where religion permeates every part of their lives including business. They are therefore more conservative as a result.