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Individualism & Collectivist

Individualism & Collectivist

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the cultural worldview spectrum re: individualism and communitarianism

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Individualism & Collectivism

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So, what's most important, the will and needs and interests of an individual, or group harmony, the needs of the group? It's an interesting question, and cultures differ on where they stand. The position they take when they answer this question. I'm Marlene, and in this tutorial today I'd like to take up the question with you. I'd like to talk with you about two cultural world views.

One is called individualism, and the other is collectivism. I have a scale here behind me that shows these two worldviews of collectivism and individualism. Now collectivism is a cultural world view that holds preserving group harmony as primary, more primary than meeting individual interests or needs. So, the group could be your employer, your family, your place of worship, but that is what's primary.

Now, individual-- Sorry. Down here. Individualism is a worldview that holds the individual primary. Meeting individual needs is more important than preserving group harmony. So, the United States could be seen as a highly individualistic culture. So, I'm going to put us close down here, very close to here.

And I think you can see all kinds of expressions about this, just within our culture. We've got the Wild West, cowboys, conquering the frontier, people are comfortable with moving across country, leaving home at an early age, living alone, self-improvement. There's a whole host of self-improvement books. In fact, you'll even find that when someone is competing in a sport, they want the team to win, but they might not feel total success unless they beat their own personal best.

It's that sense of individual achievement that puts us right closer down here to being highly individualistic, honoring the freedom of the individual. Now, there are countries that fall anywhere on this scale. A number of Mediterranean companies might be closer up here to collectivism. Some Asian countries, like China or Japan, are more towards the group harmony collectivism end of the scale.

Now, this is of course not absolute, doesn't apply to everybody. Every individual in any given culture. It's a broad way of looking at a culture, the assumptions and expectations that are in general considered right or proper.

So, how does this play out? Well, here are some examples in a culture that is highly collectivism, collectivist, criticism of one individual would reflect on the whole group. So, if you were to take someone aside, for example, in a workplace, or if you were to talk with them in any kind of critical way where others could overhear, it would be a very disrespectful thing to do because the whole group would feel as though they were criticized. So, of course you would want to take some one aside and talk to them out of earshot of anyone else.

Decisions are made not quickly because they affect the entire group. So, if you are wanting to make a decision and you're coming from a point of view, a worldview, that feels like we've got to decide now. This is important, and you might even be stressing what's in it for you, which is something that we do in our culture here, you're not going to get as far. You may in fact, run into some misunderstandings and be considered arrogant and disrespectful because what's important to a culture that has the worldview, where group harmony is most important, is how any decision will affect the entire group.

So, there will be a lot of preliminary discussions based on how it will affect the rest of the group. How it might affect the community. So, if you were are in a situation where there was a conflict or misunderstanding, based on these two different approaches, it would be best to negotiate or approaching a negotiation, by looking at how any decision could benefit the group as a whole, the company, the department, whoever is involved, as opposed to simply what's in this for you, which could be a common pitfall for business people who come from a more individualistic point of view.

So, it's also important to know the people you're working with in more of a personal way. Take their pulse. What's going on in their life? Because in a culture that really regards group, the group spirit, group harmony as highly important, more important than perhaps the individual needs, people become very involved in each other's lives, even within the workplace.

So, personal work life is very integrated, and you may find management even perhaps making a visit to a hospital room to visit an employee whose family member was in an accident or was ill. And as a result, there could be a very strong loyalty to the company. So, these are a few differences between the cultures who hold these two different worldviews, collectivism and individualism. I've enjoyed this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A worldview which holds that preserving the harmony of a group is more important than the interests, beliefs, and goals of any individual member of the group.


A worldview which holds that an individual's interests, beliefs, and goals are more important than preserving harmony of the group to which that individual belongs.