5 Trompenaars’ Dimensions of Culture

Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Define Trompenaars’ seven dimensions of culture (Ashman, 2020)


Trompenaars’ Seven Dimensions of Culture

Fons Trompenaars worked with Charles Hampden-Turner to build upon Hofstede’s work and devised a different set of seven dimensions that can be used to compare and contrast cultures. Hofstede publicly criticized their work, but Riding the Waves of Culture, written by Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner in the late 1990s, is considered by many to be the apex of cultural studies in this area.

As with Hofstede’s dimensions, it is important to understand that cultural dimension “scores” must be understood in relational terms; in other words, the “score” is only meaningful when compared and contrasted to another culture’s “score.” Also, always remember that a discussion of culture is necessarily a discussion of generalizations (sometimes called “prototypes” or “cultural patterns”) and so the “score” of a particular culture is not necessarily representative of the values of every member of that community.  

Click on the link below to watch Fons Trompenaars explaining his theory on culture in his own words:


“Trans-cultural competence can be achieved by being aware of cultural differences, respecting them, and ultimately reconciling them.” .
~ Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner[1]


Melissa Ashman[2] has summarized Trompenaar’s seven dimensions of culture:

1. Universalism vs. particularism

This dimension examines the extent that a culture is more prone to apply rules and laws as a way of ensuring fairness, in contrast to a culture that looks at the specifics of context and looks at who is involved, to ensure fairness. The former puts the task first; the latter puts the relationship first.

Universalism Particularism
  • everyone is treated the same and follows the same rules
  • contracts are detailed and are strictly followed
  • issues are resolved by considering contracts, rules, laws and legal documents
  • less time is spent on building social relationships: the task is most important
  • people are treated differently and have different rules
  • contracts are general and are loose guidelines
  • issues are resolved by considering personal relationships
  • more time is spent building social relationships: the task is less important


2. Individualism vs. communitarianism

This dimension examines the extent that people prioritize individual interests versus the community’s interest. Similar to Hofstede’s dimension of “individualist vs. collectivist”.

Individualism Communitarianism
  • people see themselves as individuals
  • individuals tend to look out for themselves and make decisions based on what will benefit themselves
  • people see themselves as part of a group
  • individuals tend to look out for the group and make decisions based on what will benefit the majority


3. Specific vs. diffuse

This dimension examines the extent that a culture prioritizes a head-down, task-focused approach to doing work, versus an inclusive, overlapping relationship between life and work.

Specific Diffuse
  • a person’s public life and private life are different
  • a person might be high status in one area but lower status in another area (for example, an honorific title might be used in some situations but not in others)
  • a person’s conduct might change depending on the context
  • a person’s public life and private life are similar
  • a person’s status remains generally unchanged in all spheres (for example, an honorific title would be used in all situations)


4. Neutral vs. emotional

This dimension examines the extent that a culture works to avoid showing emotion versus a culture that values a display or expression of emotions.

Neutral Affective (Emotional)
  • emotional should not be displayed publicly
  • an individual might express only a narrow range of emotions
  • emotion can and should be expressed in public
  • an individual might express a large range of emotions


5. Achievement vs. ascription

This dimension examines the degree to which a culture values earned achievement in what you do versus ascribed qualities related to who you are based on elements like title, lineage, or position.

Achieved Ascribed
  • status can change and is earned through effort
  • status can be earned through achievement in academics, sports, and business
  • individuals are responsible for their own destiny
  • status is not earned; status is static and is based on an individual’s situation at birth
  • status is awarded based on family name, wealth, beauty, height, and ethnicity
  • individuals cannot change their position in life


6. Sequential time vs. synchronous time

This dimension examines the degree to which a culture prefers doing things one at time in an orderly fashion versus preferring a more flexible approach to time with the ability to do many things at once.

Sequential Synchronic
  • people prefer when events occur or are presented in chronological order
  • schedules and deadlines are important and tasks are completed one at time
  • punctuality is important; time is valued and shouldn’t be wasted
  • people see time periods as overlapping
  • people are more likely to work on several projects at once
  • people are more flexible with schedules and time commitments


In this TEDTalk[3], Guillame Gervey talks about his experiences working in India and shows how time is valued differently by different cultures.


7. Internal direction vs. outer direction

This dimension examines the degree to which members of a culture believe they have control over themselves and their environment versus being more conscious of how they need to conform to the external environment.

Internal External (Outer)
  • people believe that they have control over their fate
  • people believe they should try to control events
  • people want to dominate their environment
  • people believe that they have limited control over their fate
  • people believe in allowing events to run their course
  • people want to maintain harmony with their environment

Discussion Questions

Which of these dimension do you consider most relevant to the study of culture in the business context? Which do you think are most relevant to a discussion on cross-cultural communication barriers?

Click on the Country Comparison tool link below. How does your culture “score” relative to Canada? Do you believe that your culture has been “scored” correctly?



Additional Resources for Understanding Trompenaars’ Dimensions

  1. Try Trompenaars’ CultureXplore country comparison tool
  2. Check this YouTube channel to watch video presentations by Fons Trompenaars

  1. Trompenaars, F., & Hampden-Turner, C. (1998). Riding the waves of culture: Understanding diversity in global business. McGraw Hill.
  2. Ashman, M. (2018, June 13). Chapter 8.1: Intercultural communication. In Introduction to professional communication. BCcampus Open Education. https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/professionalcomms/chapter/8-1-intercultural-communication/. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
  3. TEDx Talks. (2012, May 15). What time is it: Guillaume Gevrey at TEDxBMS [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IovSk4cLCd0.


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