Paradoxical Relationships Between Cultural Norms of Particularism and Attitudes Toward Relational Favoritism: A Cultural Reflectivity Perspective

Journal of Business Ethics 145 (1):63-79 (2017)
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We examined how the cultural dimension of universalism–particularism influences managers’ attitudes toward relational favoritism. Paradoxically, we found in a survey study that Brazilian and Chinese managers perceived more negative consequences of relational favoritism than did American managers—even though the Brazilians and the Chinese perceived stronger particularistic cultural norms in their countries than Americans did in the United States. We attribute this pattern of results to “cultural reflexivity”—the ability of people from transforming economies to be culturally self-critical during a period of dramatic societal change. This pattern of results also emerged in a scenario study in which we asked these same Brazilian, Chinese, and American participants to assess managerial succession decisions made by a General Manager. We varied the scenarios so that the promoted manager was either a colleague with no pre-existing relation with the GM or a colleague who was a relative, a close friend, from the same town, or from the same school. Consistent with the results of the survey study, we found that perceived cultural norms of particularism were negatively related to perceptions of fairness. In other words, Brazilians and Chinese, even while living in more particularistic cultures, were more harsh in judging relational favoritism. We conclude with a discussion on the implications of these paradoxical relationships.



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