Czech Republic: Understanding Risk Aversion Among Your Subordinates

In cultures where risk and uncertainty are well-tolerated, such as the US, the relationship between managers and subordinates is based on two-way communication and a degree of trust. In risk-averse cultures such as the Czech Republic, the relationship is characterized by one-way communication between managers and subordinates and an effort to sustain a high degree of control. As always, personalities of individuals modify cultural influences, but this also works the other way around – cultural influences modify personalities of individuals. A highly controlling manager in a culture where risk is tolerated goes against the prevailing model, just as a Democratic, open-minded manager would be distrusted in a risk-averse culture.

In risk-averse cultures like the Czech Republic, control of outcomes is a central issue for management, and as a consequence managers emphasize employee loyalty and obedience. In risk-tolerant cultures like the US, control is not seen as necessary to ensure desirable outcomes, therefore managers emphasize open discussion and multiple viewpoints. One of the dominant characteristics of risk-averse cultures is that conflicts are settled by referring to rules or precedent, whereas risk-tolerant cultures approach conflicts by seeking compromise and understanding between the parties. In risk-averse cultures people generally wait to be told what to do, whereas in risk tolerant cultures people are generally encouraged to do what they believe is best in a given situation.

The educational and intellectual traditions of Czech and American society emphasize sometimes very different goals and objectives. Czech and American students are trained very differently in how problems are to be approached and solved. In practice this means that Americans often tend to be impatient with what they consider intellectual or theoretical discussions, whereas Czech people tend to be critical of those who are unwilling to discuss all aspects of an issue or a decision. The biggest problem with these situations is that the irritation experienced is rarely expressed or explored – stereotypes are applied and conclusions drawn without further discussion. This allows the situation to occur over and over, reinforcing the negative stereotypes and progressively inhibiting productive communication.

A Glimpse

“A Texan recently gave a speech to a group of Prague business people. Having wrapped up his 90-minute speech, he thanked us all for having taken the time to listen to him by saying, “Though I always respect and appreciate someone for giving me their money, I feel even more indebted when they give me their time, as time is more valuable than money.”

“The sentiment he was trying to express was clear to everyone. However, his remark was received with skepticism because most Czechs wouldn’t automatically make the connection between time and money. Moreover, I have yet to meet a Czech who would prefer to give me his money before he gives me his time. Time in the Czech Republic is not a commodity as such, and giving someone time out of your day is usually no more than a sign of consideration and respect.

“A second cultural stumbling block the Texan encountered was when he finally ended his presentation with the classic American expression “God bless you.” The Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe. Therefore, the connection between God and the gentleman’s business presentation was difficult to understand. Nonetheless, it was valuable because it illustrated the importance of religion in the United States and how that aspect of life distinguishes America from Europe.

“Relations to time and to God are only two cultural differences separating Czech and, in this case, American culture. Another very important consideration is the varying approaches both cultures take to family and work.

“Czechs rank time spent with their families as one of their highest priorities, so it’s not surprising that a Czech would feel some resentment when a meeting scheduled to end at 5:45 p.m. drags on until 6:30 p.m. Since family is central to the lives of most Czechs, they may not be so willing to sacrifice time away from home in exchange for recognition at work.

“An American, on the other hand, would be more likely to stick it out until 6:30 p.m. so as not to call into question his loyalty to the company. The prospect of a raise or a promotion plays a greater role in the American’s life and, therefore, he or she might be more willing to give up time at home.

“That is not to say that Czech attitudes aren’t changing. Increasingly, Czechs are beginning to feel the same pressures that push Americans to put dedication to work at or near the top of a long list of other priorities. Naturally, money eventually plays a key role in any country or culture.

“However, it is worth making the effort to understand that Czech values have very little to do with the materialism engrained in the American dream. It is also worth recognizing that quality of life in this country isn’t so much about what can be bought as whom to spend time with.

“A deeper understanding of Czech values will make communication far easier and make earning their respect and trust a great deal quicker.”

Karin Genton-L’Epée

Excerpted and adapted from the ebook “Cultural Dimensions of Expatriate Living & Working in The Czech Republic” by Bill Drake.