This question and its answers are a really good example of a problem I've been aware of on this site for a while.

  • There are large culture differences between different work environments. Answers often don't reflect this.

Users of this site seem to be from predominately Western culture (I'm considering this Western Europe, USA, Australia/New Zealand) or India. Questions such as the above have a huge cultural affect even between just Western/Indian culture, not to mention regional/industry differences within either.

These differences are routinely ignored in questions/answers. I rarely see this present in either, there seems to be an assumption that all users are in Western culture. I am firmly of the opinion that many questions asked here have answers which are highly localized - by this I mean answers depend on region.

My question is:

  • How can be better identify questions for which geographic factors (culture, etc) have significant influence on the proper answer?

Note that this meta question is somewhat related.

  • 3
    I think that, to some degree, if the question is written well, the differences are revealed in the question itself. Then, all users are able to accurately judge a good answer or not. I don't think any question should assume that others can fill in the gaps simply by identifying the question as pertaining to one culture or another.
    – Nicole
    Commented Dec 23, 2012 at 22:26
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    Who will be the arbiter of whether or not an answer is culturally relevant?
    – Jim G.
    Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 2:25

3 Answers 3


In my experience, the cultural differences, the cultural gap, is narrowing to a certain extent. Working in the US, a project manager doesn't want to have to let someone go just because it's not part of the culture to coach an employee and give him or her all of the tools to be successful; therefore, many executives are bringing the same kind of management style from the Western world to India, and I've personally witnessed these changes.

Thus, in the example you've cited, the answers should work. The bottom line is if you're working for a company that doesn't help you be successful, then there are others out there that will. This is just one example of a possible answer, however. There may be other valid solutions, both localized to the country of India as well as those that reach a wider audience.

With that said, the same guidelines apply here as they do on questions related to a specific industry. The answer should apply at least to the country/industry that the asker is working in, but there's no restriction saying answers can't also apply to other locales.

Should the asker include country of origin? Absolutely, and I overlooked this in my first clarifying comment to the question. We should all be sure to ask the question askers what country they work in, what industry, and what their specific job function is. But do we need tags? That I'm not sure yet, and I'd want to hear from others on this issue.

Now, if an answer doesn't apply to a situation, we should leave a comment, edit, downvote, and use all of our other tools to help improve existing answers.


I certainly agree that culture is a huge influencer and one that means there are many cases where an answer that is perfect in one location is extremely limited in another. And I like the idea that question askers are best served if they can give the community a bit of a clue in location, general industry and job function.

I'm trying to decide if I care whether it's in tags or the question body, and I'd say I probably slightly prefer having it in the question, but that's such a personal preference that I could easily be talked out of it by almost any moderately well worded opinion. :)

What I'm most concerned with is finding the balance between not ignoring culture and not being a slave to it. From a personal perspective - I've spent 100% of my employment history in the US, but I've been an active member of the Indian performing arts community for over 10 years - so I have a depth of experience working in two very different cultures - in both cases, I've been both an individual contributor and a boss. I'd say that having the perspective of diverse cultures is one of my biggest strengths and I have benefitted for many years by having alternate approaches to almost everything and by being willing to admit there are no absolutes.

I realize, though, that on a Stack Exchange, this is a problematic answer. We are geared to help each other by voting and allowing the asker to pick a right answer - which implies there IS an absolute answer. But we also assume that we can answer each other's questions because we have a large enough audience pool that someone can offer meaningful advice from experience and thoughtul research.

So - I wrestle with whether to do anything. If we encourage downvoting or deletion for answers, I worry we'll

  • loose the benefit of cross-cultural sharing
  • severely limit our audience for key user groups as people stop sharing if they don't know enough to address anything particular to the culture

I'd rather see us upvote for answers that are particularly good at being pan-cultural, or on point with the culture.

  • Its inevitable that people will view answers and questions with a "cultural perception filter" and act accordingly, especially when it comes to areas of fair and equal treatment. There can also be a big gap between "how we think the world should be" and "how the world is" both within our own culutral background and those of others. In some areas I suspect we will have community based diversity not consensus.
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 23:24
  • 1
    I really like this approach because it's more inclusive than exclusive, and it doesn't force us to draw imaginary lines in the sand that may prevent the best answer from manifesting. If there are doubts, we should use comments to seek clarification or improve the post.
    – jmort253
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 4:38
  • 1
    I agree with the last statement (about up-voting culturally aware answers) but I do not believe for a moment the entirety of the voting patterns here will follow that unfortunately...
    – enderland
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 16:10
  • Yeah... but then we can't create culturally sensitive users... try to program them as we might. :) Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 16:44
  • @bethlakshmi - I'm probably not going to upvote a culturally sensitive answer if that culture and the response doesn't fit in with my ethical framework. Some workplace issues from some cultures are more challenging in that regard, particularly when it comes to areas like health/safety, bribery, discrimination, harrasement and "ethical supply chain" issues. I've encounted all of these as being "culturally normal" in different places in my career, in "Western" countries as well as "non-Western".
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 19:57

I agree culture has a huge impact on the workplace, especially when it comes to defining how relationships and communication should function.

Even within "Western culture" there are huge differences in how companies and businesses operate. The line I tend to quote on this is "the English are too polite to be honest, and the Dutch are too honest to be polite", mainly because I have lived/worked in both countries and see the impact this can have in professional relationships.

Culture has many levels, however - corporate, national, regional, social - that can be "invisible" to people on the inside, and impenetrable to those on the outside.

For example - for example scoring on a "360 Degree Leadership Styles Inventory" I took in Australia had to be adjusted from the original (US) culture on some answers.

As a result it can be hard to see a "cultural imprint" in a workplace question, or conversely for the original poster to understand that there is a cultural imprint.

Not suprisingly, there's a huge body of work devoted to this kind of issue.

One of the advantages of sites like this is that we can get answers from a range of cultural perspectives; in many workplace situations there is no "proper" answer, just alternatives that are (hopefully) supported by personal experience or references.

A "low voted" answer may well have the "best" solution for the original poster, because they can use that within their culture, where the "voting population" may not understand the culture.

It is also worth remembering that aspects of other cultures, such as Kanban and The Art of War have had international influence.

So - I suspect this will be an issue that we can't easily resolve; partially because culture is very complex, and partially because the "best" answers could well come from a different cultural context.

  • 4
    Maybe a start would be making sure that, when we exercise the back it up rule, that we explain what culture our perspectives come from. This is something that the answerers can do, as well as something the askers can include.
    – jmort253
    Commented Dec 23, 2012 at 22:20

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