Surface and deep culture differences

Cultural differences can be looked at in terms of two levels – Surface and Deep:


These are noticeable differences in groups and they can be three types:

  1. Demographic: Differences are easily distinguishable characteristics such as age, color, gender, race, physical abilities and language.
  2. Material: Differences in ‘tangible things’ like art, literature, architecture, crafts, music, dancing, clothing, food and drink and technology.
  3. Behavioral: These are the easily detected practices and norms of behavior in a group such as body language (e.g. posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements), forms of greeting, conversational patterns, rituals, festivals, and holidays.


Deep differences are primarily out of conscious awareness such as assumptions, expectations, attitudes, values, and beliefs that influence behaviors.  They include different expectations about, for example, relationships, communication, time, power, problem solving.

When working across cultures it is the deeper differences that tend to cause the most difficulty because they are less obvious.  We need tools like the Worldprism Profiler to help us identify these hidden cultural differences in our borderless workplace.

When we first start working with someone we notice the surface level differences.  Over time we become aware of the deeper cultural differences, and eventually move down to the person’s individual personality.

Do cultural differences impact productivity within your organisation? Our cross cultural training tool is used by 75% of Fortune 500 companies to develop cultural intelligence. It is imperative that diverse organisations support an inclusive culture where cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity are paramount. Contact us for more information on how we can support your organisation to overcome cultural differences and turn diversity into your competitive advantage.


About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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