Overcoming hierarchical differences

There are certain cultures in which a lot of value is placed on hierarchies – for example, in Japan, South Korea and Brazil. In contrast, there are also countries and regions where almost all people tend to be treated equally, where hierarchy is considered rather unimportant; examples include Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada.

This article will give you specific tips and strategies on how to best handle both styles and how to achieve your personal goals easier and with fewer gray hairs. In our article, you’ll learn more about the backgrounds of both cultural styles.

tips on dealing with hierarchy-oriented people

  • Think hard about who you assign to which tasks in hierarchy-oriented cultures. Your employee’s hierarchical position should be at the right level, or else problems could arise with acceptance.
  • Pay attention to the correct observance of titles and status symbols.
  • Find the decision maker and personally convince him or her of your concerns. Keep in mind that the decision maker may not be your direct contact person.
  • Bear in mind that it may be expedient to include supervisors in communications with employees – for example, if a task is particularly important or if it involves very punctual preliminary work.
  • When it comes to confronting higher-ranked people with criticism, find a diplomatic opportunity.
  • In certain circumstances, you may have to treat people at a lower hierarchical level more demandingly to retain respect and achieve goals.
  • Expect male and female roles to be separated more strictly.
  • Linguistically enhance the names of your employees’ roles and job titles [but not in any illegal ways]. For instance, a “sales manager” could become the “President of Sales”. This could afford the person in question more respect and thus help him or her achieve goals more easily.

 tips on dealing with flat hierarchies

  • Be aware that you may receive open criticism from your counterpart. This is rarely personal. Similarly, you can also feel free to express your opinion openly.
  • That you may encounter the same person in different roles is in no way a sign of incompetence. It has more to do with the respective culture’s flexibility in practice.
  • If you’re in contact with two different people from your target culture, procedures may differ. Try not to let this annoy you. The ultimate work goal and/or results may be the same.
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  • Treat women the same way you would treat men [with regard to work roles and responsibilities].
  • As trivial as it may sound, avoid jokes about minorities and women.
  • It’s likely that less value is placed on protocol and formality in cultures that focus on equality.
  • It’s likely that titles and qualifications are considered unimportant.
  • Factor in everyone’s opinions and views. Do this as often as possible and even when making decisions that you would normally make alone.
  • Make a point of advocating your opinions, even if you don’t have any decision-making power within your home company.

Please keep in mind that the tips introduced here are merely ideas that may or may not work in your current situation. Keep your eyes and ears open, because observation is a relatively good way to discover what procedures your counterpart finds important.

And finally, here’s the ultimate tip: Ask the people you’re working with what’s important to them. Also ask from time to time about what you can do better. You won’t get more accurate information about desired behavior in any other way.


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About Markus Eidam

Nach meinem insgesamt vierjährigen Aufenthalt in verschiedenen Ländern dieser Welt bin ich seit dem Jahr 2004 Geschäftsführer bei den Auslands-Experten von Eidam & Partner. In jüngeren Jahren habe ich Interkulturelle Kommunikation, Erwachsenenbildung und Psychologie studiert und mich zum Trainer, Coach und Personalfachwirt der IHK ausbilden lassen. Unser Unternehmen bietet Ihnen Interkulturelles Training, Interkulturelles Coaching, Consulting und eLearning zu 80 Zielländern.
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