Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions

Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions - ToolsHero

This article explains the Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions, developed by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden Turner, in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful communication tool.

What is are the Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions?

Organizations all over the world work are dealing with a wide variety of cultures. According to Fons Trompenaars, cultural differences will create a better understanding of reality. For an insight into the biggest differences and how organizations are affected by these differences, Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden Turner developed a cultural model, that distinguishes seven cultural dimensions. The name of this management and communication model is the Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions.

These are the seven cultural dimensions:

  1. Universalism versus Particularism
  2. Individualism versus Communitarianism
  3. Neutral versus Emotional
  4. Specific versus Diffuse
  5. Achievement versus Ascription
  6. Sequential versus Synchronous time
  7. Internal direction versus External direction

1. Universalism versus Particularism

In universalist culture ideas can be applied anywhere and there is always a definition that can be used to determine the distinction between right and wrong. Standards and values are important and can only be departed from after consultation. It is generally accepted that in similar situations people from different origins receive the same salary. In a particularistic culture, members believe that it the circumstances that determine how ideas can be applied in practice. Personal relationships and obligations play an important role when making ethical decisions. Status is important in this as a result of which for example salary is linked to reputation and origin.

2. Individualism versus Communitarianism

Individualism sees human beings as individuals, whereas communitarianism characterizes humanity as being part of a group. Fons Trompenaars says that the individualist culture is linked to the ideas of the western world, whereas the communitarian culture is linked to non-western countries. Cultures change continuously and sometimes they change more quickly than people realize. As an example, Fons Trompenaars mentions Mexico, which was predominantly communitarian at first. Influenced by the global economy, Mexico is now moving towards a more individualistic culture.

3. Neutral versus emotional

In a neutral emotions are controlled, whereas in an emotional culture emotions are expressed openly and spontaneously. Well-known examples of neutral cultures are Japan and Great Britain, where they frown upon being angry in public, laughing loudly or displaying any other emotional outbursts. In an emotional culture, however, this behaviour is allowed. Fons Trompenaars mentions countries such as the Spain and Mexico where people often laugh, talk loudly and greet each other enthusiastically. When people from a neutral culture do business with people from an emotional culture, they could be deterred  by the other person’s behaviour. A good preparation and taking someone’s culture into consideration will prevent awkward situations.

4. Specific versus diffuse

In a specific culture, individuals have a large public space, which they share easily with other people. They also have a small private space which they share with good friends and close associates. People often approach each other informally in both the public and private space. In a diffuse culture the public space and the private space tend to be interwoven. People in a diffuse culture will therefore protect their private space because this will provide easy access to the public space. People from a diffuse culture attach great value to formality.

5. Achievement versus ascription

This concerns achieved status (achievement) versus  ascribed (ascription) status. In an achievement-oriented culture, a person’s worth is determined on the basis of their performances and how well they perform their tasks. In a culture in which status is ascribed, status is based on who the person in question is. Their position is derived from for example origin, gender, age, career or a person’s career or position. When someone from an achievement-oriented culture does business with people from an ascription-oriented culture, it is advisable to deploy older, more experienced people who are familiar with formal customs and manners and who respect established titles. In the contrary situation, it is important that people from an ascription-oriented culture make use of well-informed people who know exactly what the knowledge and skills are of people from an achievement-oriented culture. Fons Trompenaars says that there is often a mix, whereby culture determines on which elements from the Achievement or Ascription cultures the emphasis is put.

6. Sequential versus synchronous time

Time can be measured and understood in different ways. We measure past, present and future using years, months, weeks, days and hours. This concrete measurement of time falls within sequential time. ” Time is money” is a typical expression that forms part of this culture, just like the eternal race against clock. Synchronous time is more abstract and focuses on being able to work on various projects at once. It does not concern itself with time zones, but is aware that the human body has its own rhythm. In a synchronous time it is about the rhythm of the group and that of nature. There is, however,  a risk to doing several things at the same time. It could result in work not being actually completed.

7. Internal direction versus outer direction

In internal-directed versus outer-directed cultures the focus is on how people experience their environment. Is the environment a threat (external) or is it sensible to move with the factors that are caused by society (internal)? The way in which people experience their environment differs from culture to culture. People in western cultures are mainly outer-directed and they want to control their environment as much as possible. In many non-western cultures it is more about living in harmony with the environment; there are forces that cannot be controlled or influenced and therefore you have to adapt yourself to these external circumstances.

Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions: Cohesion

By studying the seven dimensions of culture, there will be more respect and empathy for other cultures, their customs and habits and their rituals. This will make it easier to do business with each other and it will lead to better agreements that ensure continuity of cooperation.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Are the Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions applicable in today’s modern economy and international organisations? Do you recognize the practical explanation above of do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for a Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions study?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Trompenaars, F. & Hampden-Turner, C. (1998). Riding the waves of culture. McGraw-Hill.
  2. Smith, P. B., Dugan, S. & Trompenaars, F. (1996). National culture and the values of organizational employees a dimensional analysis across 43 nations. Journal of cross-cultural psychology, 27(2), 231-264.
  3. Smith, P. B., Trompenaars, F. & Dugan, S. (1995). The Rotter locus of control scale in 43 countries: A test of cultural relativity. International Journal of Psychology, 30(3), 377-400.

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