Why should people in one part of the globe have developed collectivist cultures, while others went individualist? The key is how culture is shaped by the way people traditionally made a living, which in turn is shaped by ecology. In East Asia it' s all about rice. Rice requires massive amounts of communal work. Not just backbreaking planting and harvesting, which are done in rotation because the entire village is needed to harvest each family ' s rice.

- Robert M. Sapolsky -

One typical trait of high-context, polychronic societies is a collectivist orientation, while low-context, monochronic societies tend to be individualistic.

 

In collectivist societies, that include most Latin-American, Southern European, Asian and African countries, tribal communities around the world:

 

- the group takes care of individuals, individuals are loyal to the group (family, extended family, tribe, organization, etc.). “WE” is prioritized over “I”: the well-being of group is more important than individual pursuits;

 

- people strive to preserve harmony and to respect hierarchy within the community;

 

- everyone is likely to practice self-control, since they are fully aware of the impact their words and actions have on others;

 

- self-concepts are based on social roles rather that personal traits ("I am a good son" vs "I am kind");

 

- selflessness and conformity are highly valued, individual achievements are often portrayed as a result of external circumstances rather than personal merit;

 

- non-verbal communication is often aimed at preventing "loss of face" (public humiliation) from happening;

 

 

In individualistic societies, that include Scandinavian countries, most English and German speaking countries:

 

- focus is on personal priorities and self-realization: people value freedom and individual achievements (individualistic cultures are usually “doing” cultures: they’re structured, they prioritize task outcomes over relationships, they stress the importance of getting things done and being productive);

 

- self-concepts are based on personal traits rather than social roles ("I am kind" vs "I am a good son" typical of collectivist societies);

 

- independence and self-reliance are important. People are expected to take care of themselves and a few loved ones, and to take responsibility for their own achievements and failures (individualistic societies are generally guilt-based);

 

- confrontation is accepted, people are encouraged to express their opinions and to be assertive;

 

- work is often seen as a key factor to happiness in terms of pleasant feelings, satisfying judgements, self-validation;

 

- happiness is reserved for those who are successful or perceive themselves as such.

 

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Examples of individualistic cultures are those based in the Anglo-, in the Germanic Europe-, and in the Nordic Cluster, while examples of collectivist cultures can be found in the Eastern Europe-, in the Latin America-, in the Southern Asia-, and in the Confucian Asia cluster.

 

Articles exploring the topics of guilt and shame, and the meaning of collectivism and individualism with regard to workplace dynamics, are available at the following links:

 

- Social Connections, Harmony, Consensus: Confucian Beliefs and Business Culture in China, Japan and Korea.

 

- I/II: "Why Do We Work So Hard?” Motivation and Reward Across Different Cultures

 

- I/II: “Why Do We Work So Hard?” Introduction to Guilt and Shame Cultures

 

- Giving and Losing "face": Honour, Social Reputation and Networking in Asian Countries

 

- National Culture, International Business Strategy, and Common Misunderstandings Between the East and The West

 

 

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