Promoting mutual understanding and cultural dialogue

Theory: Recognizing the educational culture of migrants

In this section we will present different theories developed by Hall and Hall (1990)[1] and Trompenaars (1997)[2]. As models they generalize and should not be taken and interpreted as universal truth. Every individual has its own particularities and must be treated in its own uniqueness. All those models that are presented are only tools to help the understanding of someone’s singularity.

HALL AND HALL (1990)[3]; context refers to ‘the information that surrounds an event; it is inextricably bound up with the meaning of that event’

Low context High context
Interaction explicit, unambiguous and formal Emphasis on ‘interpersonal chemistry’ and ‘body language’/ ‘word of mouth’
Emphasis on time management, deadlines and punctuality Simultaneous carrying out of tasks/ less emphasis on time management
Work and home life rigidly separated Blurred division between home and work
Message content is all important The content of the message is less important
Agreements based on contracts Agreements based on trust
Negotiations relatively fast Negotiations relatively slow
Expertise and performance mean more than relationships Importance of establishing relationships
Favour greater personal space Favour reduced personal space and touching
Examples: Scandinavia, Switzerland North America Examples; Japan, Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Southern Europe

Image 3 The contextual continuum of differing cultures

Recognizing the educational culture of migrants


Relations to others

Universalism vs Particularism

What is important? Rules or relationships?



Definition 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. 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.
Strategy 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.

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.

Examples U.S., Canada, the U.K, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland. Russia, Latin-America, and China.

Individualism vs collectivism

How do we show our emotions?



Definition People believe in personal freedom and achievement. They believe that you make your own decisions, and that you must take care of yourself. 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.
Strategy 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.

Praise and reward group performance.

Don’t praise individuals publically.

Allow people to involve others in decision making.

Avoid showing favoritism.

Examples U.S., Canada, the U.K, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland. Latin-America, Africa, and Japan.

Neutral vs affective relationships

Do we prefer to work individually or in a group?



Definition 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. People want to find ways to express their emotions, even spontaneously, at work. In these cultures, it’s welcome and accepted to show emotion.
Strategy 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.

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 .

Examples U.K., Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, and Germany Italy, France, Spain, and countries in Latin-America

Specific vs diffuse relationships

How far do we get involved?



Definition 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. 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.
Strategy 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.

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.

Examples U.S., the U.K., Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands. Argentina, Spain, Russia, India, and China.

Achievement versus ascription

Do we work to get where we are or is prestige/status given?



Definition People believe that you are what you do, and they base your worth accordingly. These cultures value performance, no matter who you are. People believe that you should be valued for who you are. Power, title, and position matter in these cultures, and these roles define behavior.
Strategy Reward and recognize good performance appropriately.

Use titles only when relevant.

Be a good role

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.

Examples U.S., Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia. France, Italy, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

Relation to time:




Definition 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. 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.
Strategy Focus on one activity or project at a time.

Be punctual.

Keep to deadlines.

Set clear deadlines.

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.

Examples Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. Japan, Argentina, and Mexico.

Relation to the environment

Do we control the environment or leave it to fate/destiny?

Internal Direction

Outer Direction


People believe that they can control nature or their environment to achieve goals. This includes how they work with teams and within organizations.

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.

Strategy 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

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.

Examples Israel, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

Image 4 Trompenaars’ dimensions on culture

Trompenaars dimensions on culture



[1] Understanding Cultural differences

[2] Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business