Each culture has a smallest unit of focus and identification. You may think that it has to be the individual. However, this is the way it is in only some cultures. Other cultures will have the group as this smallest unit. It is called being a more individualistic or collectivistic culture.

In individualistic cultures, the person is the main entity. People identify first with themselves. In such cultures, the needs of the individual are taken care of first, self-care is very important. It is the “Put your own mask before helping others” safety message in planes. People are expected to be independent and self-reliant. This in turn will guarantee the well being of the groups they belong to. Happiness and self-realisation comes from the individual.

In contrast, collectivistic cultures consider the group as the primary entity. The needs of the individual are met by fulfilling the needs of the group. Identity is through group membership and people are more interdependent. It is much more normal for people to form strong bounds and responsibilities towards each other and stay together, particularly families. The bound can also be with your company for instance. Harmony is a key word for such cultures because it is from the group that the individual will ensure his/her well being. Collectivistic cultures focus on promoting selflessness.

As usual on these cultural differences, it is not one side or the other, black or white. An important aspect of well being is the sense of belonging. So, even in quite individualistic cultures, people still need to belong to groups they can identify with. In the same way, people in collectivistic cultures also need to look after themselves and do not leave everything to the groups they belong to.

From a more practical point of view, what can you do to make your interaction with people from a different side of this continuum positive?

One thing you can do if you are more individualistic is not to force somebody from a collectivistic culture to rush into making a decision on their own. You need to accept that such a person needs to consult with other people and that the decision will be taken as a group.

Another example can be that if you are more collectivistic, you may need to understand that more individualistic people will need time on their own and that they may not always welcome group activities.

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