Cultural dimensions and their implications – “Femininity”

What is culture? Simply put, culture is a set of beliefs, values, social norms, attitudes and behaviors acquired and reinforced through socialization. In Geert Hofstede’s seminal book “Cultures and Organizations – Software of the Mind” there are 5 major dimensions of culture:

  • Power distance
  • Individualism vs. collectivism
  • Uncertainty avoidance index
  • Masculinity vs. femininity
  • Long-term vs. short-term orientation

Later on, the Dutch sociologist and organizational consultant added a sixth dimension to his framework, a dimension he calls “Indulgence vs. restraint”. If you’re curious how Germany (or your home country) compares with Romania on one or all of these dimensions, go to https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/. It’s quite fascinating!

But what are the implications of some of these cultural differences on communication? Today, I’d like to have a quick look at “Masculinity vs. femininity”.

Compared to both Germany and the United States, Romania is a relatively “feminine” culture. But what does this mean? How does Hofstede define “femininity” in this context? Well, in masculine cultures the dominant values are performance, efficiency and success. Goals and results are paramount. Work and careers are very important, and there is a lot of ambition, competition and analytical problem-solving going on. In feminine cultures, on the other hand, the focus is on the quality of life, on relationships and caring about people’s feelings. There is a greater willingness to adapt, to compromise on issues and principles, and problems are approached based on intuition and feeling rather than in-depth factual analysis.

This kind of emphasis on the process rather than on the outcome has important implications for negotiations. In conflict management, there is a well-known framework for negotiations called “the dual concerns model” (by Pruitt, Rubin and Kim) – which basically looks at the interplay between a negotiator’s concern about his own outcomes and his concern about his counterpart’s outcomes to identify possible negotiation strategies. For a negotiator from a feminine culture, i.e. a society or organization less concerned with results, success and quantifiable outcomes, some of the most common options on the table might very well be inaction (avoidance) or yielding.

It is notorious by now that during accession talks, the EU officials were impressed with the Romanian side’s willingness to say yes to almost every request/requirement, only to discover that the reason behind it was not always genuine agreement, nor was it necessarily based on careful analysis of the long-term consequences of the measures to be implemented! Rather, it belonged to that category of behavior the Germans would call “Anpassungs- und Kompromissbereitschaft”. In Romanian, we usually call this (derisively, of course): “We say like them us, but we do like us” (“Zicem ca ei, dar facem ca noi“) – an equivalent to “paying lip service”. This is also the difference between a committed “Yes” and a counterfeit “Yes”: the latter is expressed solely as a way of escaping pressure or “getting rid of” the dominant party’s insistence.

There are historical as well as psychosocial explanations for this. Romania developed in a very unstable environment, frequently changing course, at the beck and call of much greater powers. A famous Romanian proverb claims that “No sword cuts off a bowed head”. Obliging, therefore, is a coping and survival mechanism for people and groups who negotiate from a position of weakness, and it does not guarantee commitment.

The Power distance index can offer additional insights. In Romania, it is huge, which signals the fact that many Romanians still expect power to be distributed unequally, and therefore do not believe that a single individual can make an impact. Yet another reason to prepare for defeat and to undervalue achieving one’s goal… The levels of distrust (distrust of authority, distrust of official experts, skepticism and distrust of others in general) are also quite high in Romania, as Prof. Daniel David demonstrates in his recent book “The Psychology of the Romanian People”.

On top of all this, learned helplessness and fatalism are a real issue with older generations. A sigh followed by a rhetorical “Ce să faci?” (“What can you do?…“) usually marks the end of a lamentation. Which, in Romanian culture, is not so much a cry for help (as some might think) or a genuine search for practicable solutions, as it is a means of letting off steam, expressing something about oneself, looking for affinity and empathy (self-revelation and relationship-building in Schulz von Thun’s model of communication) – and usually ends, once more, in inaction.

Do you find these insights useful or interesting? Eager for more? Contact me for intercultural communication coaching and consulting, translation, transcreation and culturally-sensitive marketing communications. Your partner for Romania!

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