In the U.S., it is a given that those who are good at what they do earn status—respect, prestige, admiration. Being nice comes second. But that is not true everywhere. Different cultures have different values, and to climb the social ladder, you have to embody those values. In a recent paper in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Carlos Torelli, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, compared the influence of individualism and collectivism on notions of status. He and his collaborators found that European-Americans were more likely than Latin Americans to demonstrate competence—for instance, solving tough problems at work—as a strategy for earning professional respect, whereas Latin Americans were more likely to demonstrate warmth, perhaps by volunteering to help co-workers.
Further, people who are individualist see status as a sign of competence but not warmth, whereas people who are collectivist associate warmth but not competence with status. Failing to recognize these cultural differences can create conflict and disappointment if, for instance, you and your superior are using different metrics to judge your performance.
“This stream of research is rooted in my observations about differences in politicians in Latin America and the U.S.,” Torelli says. In the U.S., candidates often run on their business chops—Mitt Romney and Michael Bloomberg fit this mold. But in Latin America, he observes, “populist leaders are often idealized as selfless benefactors who genuinely care for the well-being of their people—think Salvador Allende or Hugo Chávez.”