Deeper cultural assumptions: the nature of space

Our assumptions about the meaning and use of space are among the most subtle aspects of organizational culture because assumptions about space, like those about time, operate outside of awareness and are taken for granted. At the same time, when those assumptions are violated, very strong emotional reactions occur because space comes to have very power­ful symbolic meanings, as expressed in the current phrase, “Don’t get into my ‘space.’” One of the most obvious ways that rank and status are symbol­ized in organizations is by the location and size of offices.

Hall (1966) points out that in some cultures, if someone is walking in a certain direction, the space ahead is perceived to belong to that person, so that if someone crosses in front of the individual, that person is “violat­ing” the other ’s space. In other cultures, notably some Asian ones, space is initially defined as communal and shared, allowing for the complex flow of people, bicycles, cars, and animals you may see in a Chinese city street with everyone somehow moving forward, and no one getting killed or trampled. Space, like time, can be analyzed from a number of different points of view.

Source: Schein Edgar H. (2010), Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey-Bass; 4th edition.

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