Cookies are used for the best experience on my website.

Accept Cookie Policy

No internet detected

Check your connection and try again.

Logo Image

No match found

Buy a coffee

I launched this blog in 1995. Since then, we have published 1603 articles. It's all free and means a lot of work in my spare time. I enjoy sharing knowledge and experiences with you.

Your support

Have you learned something new by reading, listening, or watching my content? With your help, I can spend enough time to keep publishing great content in the future.

Or, select an option below:

A small slice of my data processing time each month

It's ongoing work running this site and what's really great is ongoing support. Here's a sense of what goes into this site: research topics for discussion. Manage the Tech stuff: website, SEO, graphics, email, back-end servers, DNS routing, edge servers. Create advertisements and load the campaigns in Google Ads. Manage the social media forums (Facebook, Reddit, Twitter). Write updates to the blog. Keep GitHub up-to-date.

$4.50 — A large cappuccino at my local

Things just work better with coffee! I like to take the kids to school then grab a cappuccino from my local on the way home before beginning the things that take mental energy.

$8.99 — A month of Netflix for some quiet nights in

A lot of the work on this happens after hours when I should be relaxing on the couch. Help me make it so and I promise to keep off the devices for a bit!

$11.50 — Fund a month of email delivery

This site sends out thousands of emails every month. For that volume and to ensure deliverability, I need to pay MailChimp.

$20 — Pay for one month of AWS storage fees

Websites are not free. The storage alone takes some cash. If you are willing to lighten the burden, we can keep this site up online.

$30 — One hour's pay for a graphics artist

Art doesn't create itself without a hand to guide it. I can't draw, so I need to pay others to help.

$45 — Pay a full-stack web developer for one hour

Much of the work on this site happens on weekends which means giving up time with the kids. Help me pay the developers so I can give my kids more time.

Seven Dimensions of Culture

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner's Seven Dimensions of ⋯


Richie Bartlett, Jr.

  • 3428

  • 20392

  • 2

  • 0

  • 0

Why is culture so important? 🔗

Do we need to bother about culture? Every person has her or his unique personality, history, and interest. At the same time, we share our human nature. We are social creatures. We use language and empathy, and practice collaboration and inter-group competition. The unwritten rules of how we do these things differ from one human group to another. “Culture” is how we call these unwritten rules about how to be a good member of the group.

Understanding and Managing Cultural Differences 🔗

Many of us work routinely with people from other cultures and backgrounds. Often this goes well, and the cultural differences are interesting and enriching. However, sometimes things go wrong, for reasons that we may not understand. This is where it’s important to understand the differences between cultures, so that we can work with people more effectively, and prevent misunderstandings.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s Seven Dimensions of Culture help us do this. We’ll look at the seven dimensions in this article, and we’ll explore how you can apply the model in your own situation.

About the Model 🔗

What distinguishes one culture from another?

The Seven Dimensions of Culture were identified by management consultants Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, and the model was published in their 1997 book, “Riding the Waves of Culture.”

The book won’t help you to learn cultural etiquette. If that is what you’re looking for then you need a different book. The real advantage of this book and the model is that it allows you to step outside of your own biases and stereotypes. In doing so you can see how another culture might approach a problem. This can then prompt you with ideas to resolve any misunderstanding.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner developed the model after spending 10 years researching the preferences and values of people in dozens of cultures around the world. As part of this, they sent questionnaires to more than 46,000 managers in 40 countries.

They found that people from different cultures aren’t just randomly different from one another; they differ in very specific, even predictable, ways. This is because each culture has its own way of thinking, its own values and beliefs, and different preferences placed on a variety of different factors.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner concluded that what distinguishes people from one culture compared with another is where these preferences fall in one of the following seven dimensions[1] .

We’ll look at each dimension in detail below.

You can use the model to understand people from different cultural backgrounds better, so that you can prevent misunderstandings and enjoy a better working relationship with them. This is especially useful if you do business with people from around the world, or if you manage a diverse group of people.

The model also highlights that one culture is not necessarily better or worse than another; people from different cultural backgrounds simply make different choices.

However, the model doesn’t tell you how to measure people’s preferences on each dimension. Therefore, it’s best to use it as a general guide when dealing with people from different cultures.

Applying the Model 🔗

Let’s look at each of the dimensions in detail, and explore some of the strategies that you can use with people who fit the characteristics highlighted in each dimension.

Note 1:
For each dimension, we’ve included some of the national cultures that Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner identified as having a preference at each extreme of that particular dimension. You can use this as a general guide, but remember to treat people as individuals, and to avoid stereotyping.Note 2:
The cultural dimensions don’t take into account people’s personal experiences or differences between sub-cultures within the country, so bear this in mind when you’re applying the model. This is especially relevant in today’s global environment, where people can be influenced by many different cultures.Note 3:
Be sensible in how you apply these strategies. In practice, there will be many other factors that will have a bearing on how you manage people and communicate with them.

Universalism versus Particularism 🔗

(Rules versus Relationships)

This dimension can be summarized by asking what matters more: rules or relationships?

Cultures based on universalism try to treat all cases the same, even if they involve friends or loved ones. The focus is more on the rules than the relationship.

Cultures based on particularism will find relationships more important than rules. You can bend the rules for family members, close friends, or important people. Each case has to be examined in light of its special merits.

Dimension Characteristics Strategies Tips for this characteristic
Universalism People place a high importance on laws, rules, values, and obligations. They try to deal fairly with people based on these rules, but rules come before relationships. ⚪ Help people understand how their work ties into their values and beliefs.
⚪ Provide clear instructions, processes, and procedures.
⚪ Keep promises and be consistent.
⚪ Give people time to make decisions.
⚪ Use an objective process to make decisions yourself, and explain your decisions if others are involved.
» Keep your promises.
» Be consistent.
» Explain the logic behind why you have made a certain decision.
Particularism People believe that each circumstance, and each relationship, dictates the rules that they live by. Their response to a situation may change, based on what’s happening in the moment, and who’s involved. ⚪ Give people autonomy to make their own decisions.
⚪ Respect others’ needs when you make decisions.
⚪ Be flexible in how you make decisions.
⚪ Take time to build relationships and get to know people so that you can better understand their needs.
⚪ Highlight important rules and policies that need to be followed.
» Invest in building relationships so you can understand the particular needs of others.
» Respect these needs as much as possible in your decision-making.
» Call out specific important rules that must be followed.

Typical universalist cultures include the U.S. 🇺🇸, Canada 🇨🇦, the U.K. 🇬🇧, the Netherlands 🇳🇱, Germany 🇩🇪, Scandinavia 🇸🇪🇩🇰🇫🇮🇳🇴🇮🇸, New Zealand 🇳🇿, Australia 🇦🇺, and Switzerland 🇨🇭.

Typical particularistic cultures include Russia 🇷🇺, Latin-America[2], and China 🇨🇳.

Individualism versus Communitarianism 🔗

(The Individual versus The Group)

This dimension can be summarized by asking do we work as a team or as individuals? Do people desire recognition for their individual achievements, or do they want to be part of a group?

Individualistic cultures believe that your outcomes in life are the result of your choices. In these cultures, decision-makers make decisions and they don’t need to consult to do so. Thus, decision-makers can make decisions at speed. It is your responsibility to look after your happiness and fulfillment.

Cultures based on communitarianism believe your quality of life is better when we help each other. Thus, these cultures organize themselves around groups. There is a strong sense of loyalty within the group. As a result of this group tendency, decision-making is slower as everyone gives input. Job turnover will be lower due to high group loyalty. The group gets rewarded for high performance, not the individual.

Dimension Characteristics Strategies Tips for this characteristic
Individualism People believe in personal freedom and achievement. They believe that you make your own decisions, and that you must take care of yourself. ⚪ Praise and reward individual performance.
⚪ Give people autonomy to make their own decisions and to use their initiative.
⚪ Link people’s needs with those of the group or organization.
⚪ Allow people to be creative and to learn from their mistakes.
» Reward and issue praise based on a person’s individual performance.
» Encourage people to use their own initiative.
» Align the individual’s needs with those of the organization.
Communitarianism People believe that the group is more important than the individual. The group provides help and safety, in exchange for loyalty. The group always comes before the individual. ⚪ Praise and reward group performance.
⚪ Don’t praise individuals publically.
⚪ Allow people to involve others in decision making.
⚪ Avoid showing favoritism.
» Reward the group for high performance.
» Praise the group in public, but praise individuals for their contribution in private.
» Include the whole team in decision-making.

Typical individualist cultures include the U.S. 🇺🇸, Canada 🇨🇦, the U.K. 🇬🇧, Scandinavia 🇸🇪🇩🇰🇫🇮🇳🇴🇮🇸, New Zealand 🇳🇿, Australia 🇦🇺, and Switzerland 🇨🇭.

Typical communitarian cultures include countries in Latin-America[2:1], much of Africa[3], China 🇨🇳, and Japan 🇯🇵.

Specific versus Diffuse 🔗

(How Far People Get Involved)

This dimension of Trompenaars’ Cultural Dimensions Model can be summarized by asking how separate is our personal and professional life?

In a specific culture, people tend to keep their personal and work life separate. These cultures don’t see an overlap between the two spheres. These cultures tend to be schedule focussed and direct and to the point in their communications. They focus more on the goal than the relationship.

In a diffusive culture, people tend to see their personal and work lives as interconnected. These cultures believe that objectives can be better achieved when relationships are strong. As such, in these cultures work colleagues socialize with each other outside of work more. These cultures are courteous and respect age, status, and background more.

Dimension Characteristics Strategies Tips for this characteristic
Specific People keep work and personal lives separate. As a result, they believe that relationships don’t have much of an impact on work objectives, and, although good relationships are important, they believe that people can work together without having a good relationship. ⚪ Be direct and to the point.
⚪ Focus on people’s objectives before you focus on strengthening relationships.
⚪ Provide clear instructions, processes, and procedures.
⚪ Allow people to keep their work and home lives separate.
» Organize agendas for your meetings.
» Stick to your agenda as best you can.
» Focus first on setting objectives for people. Your relationship comes later.
Diffuse People see an overlap between their work and personal life. They believe that good relationships are vital to meeting business objectives, and that their relationships with others will be the same, whether they are at work or meeting socially. People spend time outside work hours with colleagues and clients. ⚪ Focus on building a good relationship before you focus on business objectives.
⚪ Find out as much as you can about the people that you work with and the organizations that you do business with.
⚪ Be prepared to discuss business on social occasions, and to have personal discussions at work.
⚪ Try to avoid turning down invitations to social functions.
» Build your relationship before you start setting objectives.
» Expect invitations to more social occasions from colleagues. Commit to attending them.
» Expect to discuss business in social situations and personal matters in the workplace.

Typical specific cultures include the U.S. 🇺🇸, the U.K. 🇬🇧, Switzerland 🇨🇭, Germany 🇩🇪, Scandinavia 🇸🇪🇩🇰🇫🇮🇳🇴🇮🇸, and the Netherlands 🇳🇱.

Typical diffuse cultures include Argentina 🇦🇷, Spain 🇪🇸, Russia 🇷🇺, India 🇮🇳, and China 🇨🇳.

Neutral versus Emotional 🔗

(How People Express Emotions)

This dimension can be summarized by asking do we show our emotions?

In a neutral culture, people tend not to share their emotions. Emotions are of course felt by the individual, but they are kept in check and controlled. Observing these people you would consider them cool and rational.

In an affective culture, people tend to share their emotions, even in the workplace. In an affective culture, it is considered normal that people share their emotions.

Dimension Characteristics Strategies Tips for this characteristic
Neutral People make a great effort to control their emotions. Reason influences their actions far more than their feelings. People don’t reveal what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling. ⚪ Manage your emotions effectively.
⚪ Watch that your body language doesn’t convey negative emotions.
⚪ “Stick to the point” in meetings and interactions.
⚪ Watch people’s reactions carefully, as they may be reluctant to show their true emotions.
» Keep your emotions, both what you say and what your face says, in check.
» Remember that people are less likely to express their true emotions. So try to read between the lines of what people are telling you.
» After initial chit-chat, stay on topic in meetings.
Emotional People want to find ways to express their emotions, even spontaneously, at work. In these cultures, it’s welcome and accepted to show emotion. ⚪ Open up to people to build trust and rapport.
⚪ Use emotion to communicate your objectives.
⚪ Learn to manage conflict effectively, before it becomes personal.
⚪ Use positive body language.
⚪ Have a positive attitude.
» Use emotion to communicate what you want and your goals.
» Share how you feel to strengthen your workplace relationships.
» Learn some techniques to diffuse situations where emotions run high.

Typical neutral cultures include the U.K. 🇬🇧, Sweden 🇸🇪, the Netherlands 🇳🇱, Finland 🇫🇮, and Germany 🇩🇪.

Typical emotional cultures include Italy 🇮🇹, France 🇫🇷, Spain 🇪🇸, and countries in Latin-America[2:2] .

Achievement versus Ascription 🔗

(How People View Status)

This dimension of Trompenaars’ Cultural Dimensions Model can be summarized by asking do we prove ourselves to get status or is it given to us?

In an achievement culture, you earn status through knowledge or skill. Job titles are earned and reflect this knowledge and skill. Anyone can challenge a decision if they have a logical argument.

In an ascription culture, you are given status based on who you are. This could be because of your social status, your education, or your age. You earn respect in these cultures because of your commitment to the organization, not your abilities. A decision will only be challenged by someone with higher authority.

Dimension Characteristics Strategies Tips for this characteristic
Achievement People believe that you are what you do, and they base your worth accordingly. These cultures value performance, no matter who you are. ⚪ Reward and recognize good performance appropriately.
⚪ Use titles only when relevant.
⚪ Be a good role model.
» Issue praise to an individual in front of their peers.
» Avoid using titles.
» Reward individual performance.
Ascription People believe that you should be valued for who you are. Power, title, and position matter in these cultures, and these roles define behavior. ⚪ Use titles, especially when these clarify people’s status in an organization.
⚪ Show respect to people in authority, especially when challenging decisions.
⚪ Don’t “show up” people in authority.
⚪ Don’t let your authority prevent you from performing well in your role.

» Use titles to refer to peers. If you wish to challenge the decision of a superior, handle this delicately.
» Pay extra care to show respect to your superiors.

Typical achievement cultures include the U.S. 🇺🇸, the U.K. 🇬🇧, Canada 🇨🇦, Australia 🇦🇺, and Scandinavia 🇸🇪🇩🇰🇫🇮🇳🇴🇮🇸.

Typical ascription cultures include France 🇫🇷, Italy 🇮🇹, Japan 🇯🇵, and Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦.

Sequential Time versus Synchronous Time 🔗

(How People Manage Time)

This dimension can be summarized by asking, do things get done one at a time or do many things get done at once?

In a sequential time culture, time is very important. People like projects to be completed in stages. Time is money, and so it is important that each stage is finished on time. It is rude to be late for meetings in these cultures.

In a synchronous time culture, people see the past, present, and future as interwoven. Because of this people do several things at once, as time is interchangeable. This results in plans and deadlines being flexible. It also explains why punctuality is less important.

Dimension Characteristics Strategies Tips for this characteristic
Sequential Time People like events to happen in order. They place a high value on punctuality, planning (and sticking to your plans), and staying on schedule. In this culture, “time is money,” and people don’t appreciate it when their schedule is thrown off. ⚪ Focus on one activity or project at a time.
⚪ Be punctual.
⚪ Set clear deadlines.
⚪ Keep to deadlines.
» Keep to deadlines and commitments.
» Try not to deviate from the set schedule.
» Show up on time.
Synchronous Time People see the past, present, and future as interwoven periods. They often work on several projects at once, and view plans and commitments as flexible. ⚪ Be flexible in how you approach work.
⚪ Allow people to be flexible on tasks and projects, where possible.
⚪ Highlight the importance of punctuality and deadlines if these are key to meeting objectives.
» Use titles to refer to peers. If you wish to challenge the decision of a superior, handle this delicately.
» Pay extra care to show respect to your superiors.

Typical sequential-time cultures include Germany 🇩🇪, the U.K. 🇬🇧, and the U.S. 🇺🇸

Typical synchronous-time cultures include Japan 🇯🇵, India 🇮🇳, Argentina 🇦🇷, and Mexico 🇲🇽.

Internal Direction versus Outer Direction 🔗

(How People Relate to Their Environment)

This dimension of Trompenaars’ Cultural Dimensions Model can be summarized by asking do we control our environment or are we controlled by it?

In an internal direction culture, people believe that they can control their environment to achieve their goals. The focus is selfish (one’s self, one’s team, and one’s organization). Winning is important in these cultures and aggressive personalities are thus prevalent.

In an external direction culture, people believe that they must work with their environment to achieve their goals. In these cultures winning isn’t as important as maintaining a strong relationship. They focus on environmental factors e.g. relationships to achieve their goals.

Dimension Characteristics Strategies Tips for this characteristic
Internal Direction
(aka internal locus of control)
People believe that they can control nature or their environment to achieve goals. This includes how they work with teams and within organizations. ⚪ Allow people to develop their skills and take control of their learning.
⚪ Set clear objectives that people agree with.
⚪ Be open about conflict and disagreement, and allow people to engage in constructive conflict.
» Allow people to set their own (within reason) learning development plans.
» Allow a degree of constructive criticism.
» Set clear goals and objectives.
Outer Direction
(aka external locus of control)
People believe that nature, or their environment, controls them; they must work with their environment to achieve goals. At work or in relationships, they focus their actions on others, and they avoid conflict where possible. People often need reassurance that they’re doing a good job. ⚪ Provide people with the right resources to do their jobs effectively.
⚪ Give people direction and regular feedback , so that they know how their actions are affecting their environment.
⚪ Reassure people that they’re doing a good job.
⚪ Manage conflict quickly and quietly.
⚪ Do whatever you can to boost people’s confidence.
⚪ Balance negative and positive feedback.
⚪ Encourage people to take responsibility for their work.
» Rather than set goals, give feedback so as people can correct their course en route.
» Allow people autonomy to use their relationships to achieve results.

Typical internal-direction cultures include Israel 🇮🇱, the U.S. 🇺🇸, Australia 🇦🇺, New Zealand 🇳🇿, and the U.K. 🇬🇧

Typical outer-direction cultures include China 🇨🇳, Russia 🇷🇺, and Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions is another model that can help you to understand different cultures. The advantage of Hofstede’s model is that his research included only employees from one organization – IBM – so his findings are unlikely to be affected by differences in company culture. The disadvantage is that the culture of this company may skew more general results.

How to Use The Model 🔗

Unfortunately, Trompenaars’ Cultural Dimensions Model has no clear and consistent way to use it. But here is a very simple process you can employ to start using the model:

  • First, self-evaluate that any misunderstanding is, at root, caused by cultural differences.
  • Second, score the person (not the country they are from) against each of the 7 dimensions.
  • Third, examine those dimensions with the biggest score. Select from the tips provided for that dimension to attempt to resolve the problem.

Note that there is a reason we score the person and not the country they are from. This is because within individual countries there are cultural differences from one region to the next. So we score the individual to avoid overgeneralizing.

References 🔗

  1. From Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business, by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner. Copyright © 1997, Intercultural Management Publishers NV, Nicholas Brealey Publishing and Mc-Graw Hill Education. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton and McGraw-Hill Education. ↩︎

  2. Latin-American countries: Argentina 🇦🇷, Bolivia 🇧🇴, Brazil 🇧🇷, Chile 🇨🇱, Colombia 🇨🇴, Costa Rica 🇨🇷, Cuba 🇨🇺, the Dominican Republic 🇩🇴, Ecuador 🇪🇨, El Salvador 🇸🇻, Guatemala 🇬🇹, Honduras 🇭🇳, Mexico 🇲🇽, Nicaragua 🇳🇮, Panama 🇵🇦, Paraguay 🇵🇾, Peru 🇵🇪, Puerto Rico 🇵🇷, 🇺🇾, and Venezuela 🇻🇪. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. African countries: Algeria 🇩🇿, Angola 🇦🇴, Benin 🇧🇯, Botswana 🇧🇼, Burkina Faso 🇧🇫, Burundi 🇧🇮, Cabo Verde 🇨🇻, Cameroon 🇨🇲, Central African Republic (CAR) 🇨🇫, Chad 🇹🇩, Comoros 🇰🇲, Democratic Republic of the Congo 🇨🇩, Republic of Congo 🇨🇬, Cote d’Ivoire 🇨🇮, Djibouti 🇩🇯, Egypt 🇪🇬, Equatorial Guinea 🇬🇶, Eritrea 🇪🇷, Eswatini 🇸🇿, Ethiopia 🇪🇹, Gabon 🇬🇦, Gambia 🇬🇲, Ghana 🇬🇭, Guinea 🇬🇶, Guinea-Bissau 🇬🇼, Kenya 🇰🇪, Lesotho 🇱🇸, Liberia 🇱🇷, Libya 🇱🇾, Madagascar 🇲🇬, Malawi 🇲🇼, Mali 🇲🇱, Mauritania 🇲🇷, Mauritius 🇲🇺, Morocco 🇲🇦, Mozambique 🇲🇿, Namibia 🇳🇦, Niger 🇳🇪, Nigeria 🇳🇬, Rwanda 🇷🇼, Sao Tome and Principe 🇸🇹, Senegal 🇸🇳, Seychelles 🇸🇨, Sierra Leone 🇸🇱, Somalia 🇸🇴, South Africa 🇿🇦, South Sudan 🇸🇸, Sudan 🇸🇸🇩, Tanzania 🇹🇿, Togo 🇹🇬, Tunisia 🇹🇳, Uganda 🇺🇬, Zambia 🇿🇲, Zimbabwe 🇿🇼 ↩︎

This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms.