Tooting One's Own Horn: Individual vs. Group Thinking

Do you toot your own horn?  This is an expression that Americans use to talk about self-promotion.  That is, talking about the good things you have done.

In some cultures, promoting one’s skills or achievements is seen as distasteful and inappropriate.  Individuals there are supposed to talk about the accomplishments of the team, not the self. 

U.S. American culture, however, believes that if a person doesn’t tout individual successes, he/she won’t get noticed in a competitive work environment.  In short, American workers have become practiced at taking credit (sometimes when it wasn’t totally deserved) so they can get promoted or noticed by another company.

Here is a list of this year’s top ten economies (according to GDP).

1.     USA

2.     China

3.     Japan

4.     Germany

5.     France

6.     UK

7.     Brazil

8.     Italy

9.     India

10. Russia

Now let’s look at these countries on a scale of individualism vs. group thinking according to TMA World’s cultural assessment tool, Country Navigator.  If 1 represents strongest level of individual orientation and 10 the strongest level of group orientation, then you can begin to see where clashes of belief systems might occur. 

1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10

               US                                                    G                                 In              It                  C               J

               UK                                                    B                                 F


For example, if a group of Japanese businesspeople is working with an American firm, they may perceive their US counterparts as shameless braggarts hogging the credit.  On the other hand, the Americans may think that the Japanese don’t have any confidence in their ability, perhaps because they’re indecisive and stuck in a herd mentality. 

Note that “bragging,” “hogging,” “unconfident,” and “herd mentality” are negative words that judge others according to our own cultural standards.  If we know we’re working with groups who have a different way of viewing accomplishment, we might better use a system that compares people in a non-judgmental way.  Using a scale with numbers is a good start.  Then we can talk about “more individualistic” or “less individualistic” behavior and make adjustments in our thinking according to the context of the business deal.

If you’d like to see suggestions on working more objectively across cultures, visit our What’s Up? blog at this address.  We wish you good luck as you continue this navigation!

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.