The culture of a group can range in size from small communities to entire nations; when a culture of any size puts the needs of the group as a whole over the needs of any one given individual, they are said to be a collectivist culture.
One of the hallmarks of these types of cultures is a sense of connection between members, almost like an extended family. On the national level, these cultures are found throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa; in the western world, they are much more limited.
Traits of a collectivist culture are often seen in the behaviors and beliefs of members of said culture. Generally speaking the following is true:
- People within collectivist culture place more emphasis on the concept of the greater good.
- Collectivist cultures are willing to make sacrifices or do more than their fair share so as to improve the quality of life of everyone.
- There is also a great deal of teamwork and collaboration among members, which can be seen in Amish culture, for example, when members come together to support one of their own and help build a barn in an incredibly short period of time.
- Families also play a key role in collectivist cultures. Chinese culture, for example, uses familial terms as signs of respect and connection, such as aunt or uncle, even when people are not related.
- Collectivist cultures reinforce their values through social norms that encourage selflessness. If someone has more than enough of something, they are often socially pressured to share their good fortune with others, thus elevating the entire community.
People that not only want to blend in with other cultures and retain the ability to communicate should take the time to become knowledgeable about the nuances of the culture that make it unique. This learning process in and of itself is a sign of respect and enhances what communication can exist at the outset. When other cultures see that outsiders are at least aware of communication norms and are trying to respect those boundaries, they might be more likely to at least initially engage.
In a collectivist culture, a clear display of what can - and often will - happen when there is a lack of cultural competency. In order to be truly effective in engaging with other cultures, it is important to take the time to learn about how to communicate in a way that is effective and not offensive. The norms of a culture are often present in the communication methods undertaken, so knowing what those norms are and how they are enacted through various forms of communication is key to breaking through collectivist cultures and others that are perhaps lesser understood.