Power Distance Index: Definition and Examples

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The “Power Distance Index” measures how hierarchical a country is and how its citizens value authority. In high-power distance index countries, employees are often afraid to express disagreement with managers, power in organizations is not equally distributed, and people in power hold special privileges.

In low-power distance index countries, people downplay their power, trying to look less powerful than they really are. There are fewer overt symbols of power, and power in organizations is often more equally distributed.

A culture with a high power distance index is not inherently bad. But it is bad in situations in which you don’t feel comfortable disagreeing with your superior when lives are at stake. For instance, the airlines of high-power distance index (high PDI) cultures are more prone to crashes, particularly if they don’t take steps to address this weakness.

Mitigated Speech and Plane Crashes

Aviation errors are rarely the result of a lack of technical skill. More often, they are errors in communication: One pilot sees something and doesn’t speak up.

Communication errors are more common when pilots come from a culture with a high power distance index. This is due to “mitigated speech,” which avoids direct statements of what is intended. Because high PDI countries place a greater importance on respecting hierarchy, subordinates are more likely to speak indirectly to their superiors. 

Power Distance Index: Definition and Examples

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Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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