Individualism versus collectivism


We Americans live in a society that is very individualistic by nature. Individualism refers to the simple fact that the “self” comes before anyone else. For example, in US culture everyone is expected to look after himself or herself  and his and her immediate family only.

In most other cultures it is the complete opposite. The word collectivism refers to the idea that family and community come first and we help everyone in our “in group” out before ourselves. Meaning, there is know one left behind. To collectivists, the individual is not what is important, what is important is being a loyal member of the group, supporting the group and never leaving the group.

According to  collectivism “stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong and cohesive ingroups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.”

Foreigners that are new to or have been living in the US are most likely from a collectivistic society that put’s the whole before the individual self. This concept is very crucial to understand because it is the main factor that differentiates US culture from most of the world.

It is not something that you have to adapt to but something you should understand especially for business. My first client was having a really hard time with  understanding the differences between Indian and American culture. He did not understand why he couldn’t relate to people at work, why people were always asking him to repeat himself or why he was not adjusting to the culture. By helping him understand how others in the work place could be taking advantage of him and his knowledge was one of the best things he ever learned from me. I am proud to say that after teaching and working with him  he is now  able to understand and negotiate with numbers, understand American slag,  American style and American nonverbal behavior. Knowing how all these things work gave him the  ability to think  more like an American, which really helped him and his business.  We still catch up from time to time and he is doing well but I am proud to say he is on his way to a better life…Therefore, understanding some of the tips listed below and some of the differences between and within cultures is important not only for business but for everyday life. If you want to think more American in the business sense you have to start to understand some of the things listed below and how individualism and collectivism differ.

I got these helpful tips from  hope they help!

Five Things to Know about American Culture:

1)    The individual is important. For instance, if someone has a choice of activities, they will choose whatever is best for them; they want to do what will benefit them the most.

2)    Independence is strength. It is a part of U.S. history, such as the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. A strong person is considered someone who is self-reliant, free of others’ expectations and rules.

3)    Women are considered equal. Do not be condescending towards them or assume that they can’t do something. Also, do not leer at them or make comments about their bodies.

4)    A multicultural society requires flexibility. Because Americans come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, you have to be sensitive to these differences and understand that there isn’t just one “right” way to behave.

5)    Respect people’s space. If someone does not want to go somewhere with you or if they want to be alone, respect their decision. Don’t pressure them to conform to your expectations.



Comments are closed.