Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Culture and Conflict: How to Save Our Dropouts By Barbara Baggerly-Hinojosa

For those who work in business and in education, it is interesting how people from different cultures behave so differently.  It is important to understand culture in order to understand why and how people are going to react to situations.  Many times, this inability to understand someone else’s culture contributes to the mismanagement of conflict.  According to Rahim (2011), “conflict is defined as a process manifested in incompatibility, disagreement, or dissonance within or between social entities (i.e., individual, group, organization, etc.).” 

According to Geert Hofstede, Professor Emeritus at Maastricht University in Holland, there are five cultural dimensions that can predict how a person from a particular culture will behave in any given situation.  One of these dimensions is Power Distance.  Hofstede (2011) describes Power Distance as how much a culture values hierarchical relationships and respect for authority. 

When looking at the United States and Mexico, Mexico scored much higher on Power Distance than the United States.  In fact, Mexico scored higher on the Power Distance dimension on the GLOBE instrument  than other Latin countries with a score of 81, compared to an average of 70 (Hofstede, 2011). 
This score indicates that Mexico has a higher level of inequality of power and wealth than does the United States.  As Northouse (2007) stated, “Power distance is concerned with the way cultures are stratified, thus creating levels between people based on power, authority, prestige, status, wealth, and material possessions” (p. 306). Many of our high school dropouts are from a culture that values a very structured, hierarchical environment.  

Another dimension researched by Hofstede was Individualism.  Hofestede (2011) described Individualism as, “the degree to which individuals are inte-grated into groups…ties between individuals are loose:  everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family.”  

The United States scored higher than Mexico on the Individualism Characteristic (Hofstede, 2011).  Hofstede explains that, “there are only seven (7) countries in the Geert Hofstede research that have Individualsm (IDV) as their highest dimension” with USA being the highest.  This score indicates that in the United States, people are much more likely to be looking out for themselves than in Mexico. 

It is important to understand people’s backgrounds and cultures in order to better manage any conflict that occurs.  As stated by Northouse (2007), “the overall purpose of the GLOBE project was to determine how people from different cultures viewed leadership” (p. 313).  If we understand differences in cultures, we can better understand differences in leadership approaches and perhaps just save some of our students from dropping out of school.  The following are some tips for us to keep in mind when dealing with conflict and cultures valuing Power Distance:
·         Eye contact may not be made.  This is a sign of respect.
·         Punctuality is not rigid because the emphasis is on personal obligations.
·         Titles such as Mr., Mrs., Doctor, etc. are important.

References: Hofstde, G. (2011). Geert hofstede cultural dimensions.  Retrieved from
 http://www.gert- hofstede/
Rahim, M. A. (2011). Managing conflict in organizations (4th ed.). New Brunswich
     & London: Transaction Publishers.
Northouse, P. (2004).  Leadership: theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Barbara Baggerly-Hinojosa is a wife, mother, and educator living in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.  She is a PhD student with Our Lady of the Lake University in Leadership Studies.  Mrs. Baggerly-Hinojosa is the President of the Leadership Empowerment Group, LLC. and is currently researching the relationship between the leadership of the high school principal and the high school drop out rate.  Mrs. Baggerly-Hinojosa is the author of Are You A Ten?  The Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader.   For ordering information, please contact Mrs. Baggerly-Hinojosa at , visit, or follow Leadership Empowerment Group, LLC.

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