Personal motivation in perspective

This blog relates the use of intercultural communication models to individual motivation by shortly addressing a few of the most commonly used models to several aspects of personal motivation.

Over the years, many theories related to the diversity of culture with a focus on societies have been published. To name a few big ones that have been first published decades ago, but did have some additions and alterations over the years: Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner: Seven Dimensions of Culture, and Bennett: Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. Hofstede with his famous Cultural Dimensions , this one actually made me fall in love with the subject of intercultural communication.

What these theories have in common is that they are often used to explain and understand the diversity of culture from a societal perspective. Although these models are very valuable when you want to explain certain phenomena, they have two disadvantages in my opinion. First, these researchers come from the West. In other words, they use their western frame of reference to observe the world. Second, they focus on a given set of variables that is similar to every culture, which creates understanding up to a certain level, but which does not include personal motivation.

Let’s take a closer look at these two disadvantages before we look closer into the models. Why is it in fact a disadvantage to explain something from a western reference frame, when it does not solely concern “people in the West”? Let met demonstrate with a small example. Think of a tree. Now how did the tree you thought of looked like?

In this picture you see common trees that grow in the West, East, South, and North. There is not one “right” tree. They are all trees, yet they cannot be compared. The same applies when you think of houses, or dinner, or religion. In fact this frame of reference applies to a very wide range of tangible and intangible goods that form a certain space.

The second problem relates to stereotyping, because of the lack of visible personal motivation. What happens if you have to judge or assess something you only know from a book? You relate to stereotyping, and as I mentioned in the article on cosmopolitanism, personal motivation is a huge aspect of any type of decision.

Motivation is basically the main reason for peoples actions and believes. It can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is known as motivation that comes from within the individual. A self-desire to develop driven by interest. An example in the workplace would be knowledge. Extrinsic motivation comes from stimulants outside of the individual. An example in the workplace would be salary.

Intrinsic motivation is very valuable when it comes to building habits. It makes it more likely that you will focus on the task because you, for example, have a final goal. Or you have something in mind that will benefit you in the long run. At in the same time builds confidence and satisfaction in a way that extrinsic motivation will never be able to. It gives a sense of pride of what you have achieved. This is an aspect largely influenced by culture though, Back to the theories, Hofstede for example, if you come from a very masculine background, the change that as a woman you feel the desire to become a car mechanic, not just a car mechanic, but the very best there is out of personal motivation, is very unlikely.

Intrinsic motivation in the workplace becomes visible through the feeling of responsibility, the feeling that you accomplished something and that you are valuable to the company, that you are innovative in your job and simply the fact that you enjoy doing your daily job.

I don’t want to give the impression that existing models of intercultural communication don’t serve any purpose, because that would be far from the truth. They are on average excellent to use when applied to certain groups, see also my previous blog on stereotyping. Let me give some examples of how each model can be used.

The Seven Dimensions of Culture addresses natural cultural differences. One of the dimensions is named “neutral versus emotional”. In a ‘neutral culture’ people hold back on showing their emotions, in an ‘emotional culture’ emotions are expressed openly and naturally. A neutral culture is for example Japan and an emotional culture would be for example Italy. Just think about the effect this has on business. Where in this case the Italian would smile and talk more loudly when excited whereas the Japanese remains neutral.

The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity describes different ways in which people can react to cultural differences. There are three stages that are considered ethnocentric followed by three stages that are considered ethnorelative. Ethnocentric means that someone sees his or her own culture as the only reality, ethnorelative means you see another culture from within its own perspectives. The first stage of this model is called “denial of difference”. In this ethnocentric stage people don’t care about cultural differences, other cultures are not noticed or not understood. Confrontation with other cultures might lead to aggressive attempts to avoid this culture. People in this stage believe their own reality, which is very hard to change. An example would be someone from Sweden going on a holiday to Egypt and “knowing better” than the local population how to solve any problems in the country. Thinking after all Egypt and Sweden are not that different, both countries have a MacDonalds. If only the Egyptians would listen to the Swedish.

The Cultural Dimensions theory is a framework that describes the effects of culture on values, and then relates these values to behaviour. Recently a new dimension has been added to the framework. This dimension covers the aspect of indulgence versus restraint. The essence of this new dimension is that it’s basically a measure of happiness. A very positive development is also that Asian researchers have had a big say in this development. Meaning the focus does not come purely from the West. In a society where people indulge themselves people give in to the natural human desire to enjoy. For example Dutch students, after a one hour lecture, go buy themselves some chocolates because ‘they so much deserve it’ after an hour of focussing. The counterpart, restraint, would be controlled gratification by others. For example, students in Saudi Arabia would hold back and wait for a lecturer to tell them they deserved a break. So where in the Netherlands, in this case, students decide they deserved the break, in Saudi Arabia the students would wait for the lecturer to initiate the break.

Each of these three models are can be used to interpret valuable information on groups of people, but non of these models include personal motivation of the individuals within a group. Therefore, when explaining societal phenomena, yes, do use these models. When explaining the motivation of an individual within a society, please, do expand your look into their personal drive to avoid any unneeded negative stereotyping.

Next blog will link the same subject to the corporate aspects of motivation to complete the picture.