July 27, 2019

12 Dimensions of Culture

Knowing where you stand will empower you to be more successful in the global, intercultural workspace.

Edward T. Hall, one of the founding fathers of intercultural communication studies, said:

Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants.

We found that to be true, both in our own lives and in figuring out the cultural preferences of people around us.

How do you illuminate your own values and beliefs?

We were working in the UAE in the early 2000’s – already an incredibly culturally diverse society. Every day we were faced with people that would carry a specific passport, have a specific accent, or have features that seemed to indicate a certain ethnic background, yet none of that would be an indicator of their cultural preferences. In a world full of globetrotters and second or third generation expatriates, national or cultural labeling didn’t work. We wanted a framework that could accurately measure cultural preferences, and help us in our day-to-day interactions.

So in 2002, a KnowledgeWorkx team of international expatriates (two Dutch, a Canadian, and a Korean), all of whom had learned Arabic as a foreign language and were working in the Middle East, came together in Dubai to develop a cultural mapping inventory with which to understand people from a cultural perspective without using national or ethnic cultural labeling.

The 12 Dimensions

What the team came up with are 12 dimensions that give deep insight into a person’s cultural behavioral preferences. These preferences form a multi-layered snapshot of a specific person at a moment in time: they can change, they can be different depending on the environment, and they’re not the same as personality and character.

They have also proven to be a huge asset for people who want to pursue global competence. The 12 Dimensions give you the ability to accurately analyze, and map out the human terrain around us from a cultural perspective, so that you can make more intelligent decisions about the intercultural complexities that you face every day. You learn what to listen for and how to integrate it into your reasoning, decision-making, and the words you use when you interact with others.

It has proven to be incredibly exciting to teach people the techniques to pick up these 12 dimensions, and to see how it empowers them to be more successful when the environment becomes global and intercultural.

There is an article to explain each of the 12 dimensions; they are listed and linked below. Each Dimension is a spectrum with two opposing tendencies at either end. Through our assessment, any person can be “mapped” to a point along each of those spectrums (the “snapshot”), and the combination of these snapshots creates a unique, individual cultural profile. Things get even more interesting when you see the Group Report for your intercultural team.

Growth – Do you focus on investment in material growth, or personal growth?

Relationship – Does everything have an effect on your reputation, or are your relationships and reputational risks/rewards compartmentalized?

Outlook – Do you focus on lessons from the past, or potential for the future?

Destiny – Is it in your hands, or are you carried along by external forces?

Context – How broad is the spectrum of acceptable behavior in your culture?

Connecting – The degree to which information is freely shared.

Expression – How open with your emotion are you? What are the ‘display rules’ in your culture?

Decision-Making – Do you build trust through procedures and rules, or by getting to know people and relationships?

Planning – People-focused or time-focused?

Communication – Direct or indirect?

Accountability – How do you view your contribution and belonging to a group?

Status – Is it achieved, or ascribed?

By applying the Cultural Mapping Inventory that uses these 12 dimensions within your organization, you can help determine your own corporate culture, and manage your global identity. We believe that every global executive should have an idea of where they stand on these 12 dimensions.

Check out more articles on our KnowledgeWorkx Resource  page.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.