Understanding the importance and source of status is a vital part of working cross culturally. People can attain status in two ways:

Achieved status – what you do

In the US and other English-speaking countries,  status is achieved and based on your own hard work and results.  Titles are not commonly used, and  people are usually called by their first names. Respect for superiors must be earned, and is based on how effective and knowledgeable they are. Superiors can be of any age, religion, race or gender.

Workers are more likely to think outside the box, speak up and challenge superiors, and be assigned to tasks based on skill rather than position.

Ascribed status– who you are

Ascribed status is usually the result of  family or personal connections, gender, or years of service at a company.  Indian, Asian, and Arabic cultures have ascribed status.  Titles are used extensively, not only as a sign of respect, but to clarify your status in the organization.  Employees’  roles and responsibilities are clearly defined at each level, and processes and procedures are strictly followed in the workplace. In these cultures it is extremely difficult to achieve status through your work efforts or achievements.

Negotiating Across Cultures

Do not underestimate the importance of status in cross cultural negotiations.  Achievement-oriented cultures will usually send the most knowledgeable employee, regardless of age, gender, or status, to negotiate.  Ascriptives should not dismiss this person or take it as a sign of disrespect if a lower level employee is sent to negotiate.

Ascription-oriented cultures will send a high ranking employee to negotiate, regardless of knowledge. If a low ranking employee is assigned to a negotiation, it is a sign that the company is not very interested. For ascriptives,  “face”  is extremely important. The achiever should respect the ascriptive’s status, even if he is less knowledgeable.

Since processes and procedures are strictly followed in cultures with ascribed status, decisions may take longer, as the negotiator may not have the authority to finalize agreements. Negotiators from achieved status cultures must learn to be patient, and not expect decisions on the spot.

Does your culture have ascribed status or achieved status? How does it affect your expectations at work?