Imagine you are a passenger in a car, your best friend is driving way over the speed limit, and hits a parked car. The police arrives, and your friend asks you to lie and say they were not speeding. Would you? This is one of the (paraphrased) questions Alfons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner asked thousands of international managers for their book, Riding the Waves of Culture (1997). They identify seven dimensions of cultural differences, five of which concerned with interpersonal interactions. One dimension, described by its opposite extremes of Universalism and Particularism, looks at how consistently a culture applies rules. No one person or one culture is every completely on either side of the extreme; rather, they can move and span up to 50 % of the spectrum.

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In Universalist cultures, rules apply across the board. Treating everybody in the same way is considered a sign of fairness. This reminds us of the Thinking function: “Thinking is a process of evaluating and making judgments based on objective criteria and principles or logic.” (Understanding Yourself and Others, An Introduction to the Personality Type Code, Linda V Berens and Dario Nardi, 2004)

In Particularist cultures, the operative word is: “depends”. Rules may be bent according to who is involved. This reminds us of the Feeling function: “Feeling is a process of making evaluations based on what’s important, where personal, interpersonal, or universal values serve as guideposts.” (Understanding Yourself and Others, An Introduction to the Personality Type Code, Linda V Berens and Dario Nardi, 2004)

Germans, as well as most Western and Northern nationals, are more likely to take a Universalist approach. If we only look at the Type description, we might expect someone with a dominant Feeling function to place the relationship above the rule, and lie for their friend. I, ENFJ, born and raised in Germany, would not. I may not volunteer the information, and feel badly for my friend when giving my statement, but I would not lie. If that speeding friend of mine is German, too, they most likely would not ask me to in the first place.

Korea is a Particularist society where you would probably preemptively offer your support to spare your friend the embarrassment of having to ask for your help. That is not to say Koreans do not value order and rules, but protecting the personal relationship is more important. Friends rely on each other for everything, there is strong interdependence within colleagues of an organization, and the extended family provides a sense of stability and security (Kiss, Bow, Shake Hands, Terri Morrison and Wayne A Conaway, 1995).

Now consider this follow-up question: imagine you’re a passenger in a car, your best friend is driving way over the speed limit, and hits a little girl on a bike. The police arrives, and your friend asks you to lie and say they were not speeding. Would you?

Universalist participants still - perhaps more emphatically - respond “no”, but the answer from Particularist participants can now go both ways: either, they respond “no”, because someone got hurt. Or they stick by their response “yes”, because the consequences for the friend would be even more dire. It will take more targeted and specific research to ascertain under which circumstances culture overrules type preferences, and vice versa.

What would you do?

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