The purpose of this article is to address a problem I have experienced over many years teaching culture classes to undergraduates, MBA and working managers, who may confuse the interpretations of behavior in terms of value dimensions. I aim to help in dealing with this problem, which frustrates students, leads to false conclusions and brings the idea of value dimensions into discredit.
To achieve this I explain the problem and give examples of the paradoxical results that may arise. By explanation and reference to more complete sources I show that one needs to be clear about the meaning of the dimensions and make sure one is comparing like situations with like. This means taking into account situational factors in each case and sorting out cultural from non‐cultural variables such as individual differences. I illustrate this by 15 cases, which show how the confusion can arise and why it leads to false contradictions.
I found the most common confusions concern uncertainty avoidance versus expressiveness and risk taking, gender distinction and goal orientation, collectivism and politeness, directness between unequals and harmony between social peers, prohibition for welfare ends and prohibition for authorities’ interests and finally collectivism and goal orientation in teamwork.
The value of the paper is that it offers concrete help to students of culture and that little attention has been given to the area in the literature. One exception is Osland, who reach similar conclusions without underlining the specific issue of confusing dimensions in interpreting behavior.
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