Differences in morals and ethics can lead to a great deal of cross cultural conflict.  How a culture applies morals and ethics can be described as either Universalist or Particularist.

Particularist or Universalist?

Latin, African, and Asian cultures are Particularist. The Particularist believes morality is situational, and depends on the relationships of the participants and context. Particularists know that there are multiple perspectives on any situation. How you view an event depends on your role in it, who else is involved, and the context. Hard and fast rules don’t make sense to the Particularist. How can you apply the same rules to all situations?

Germanic language ( English, German, Dutch, Afrikaans, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic) countries are Universalist.  Universalists do not believe ethics are situational. There is a single truth, not multiple perspectives.  Universalists believe rules and laws are objective and unchanging, and must be followed by everyone regardless of the situation. Relationships and context are secondary or irrelevant.

Cultural differences in morals and ethics are difficult to overcome. They can cause conflict in negotiations, contract agreements, concepts of “honesty”, and trust in relationship building.

These are typical communication styles of each.

• Speak in absolutes
• Prefer direct communication with clear details of agreement
• Get down to business attitude
• Particularists may find their behavior rude and abrupt

• Speak vaguely
• Prefer indirect communication
• Often digress or go off topic
• Avoid absolutes