to see the Cultural Whole.

By Matthew Hill

When we think of “culture”, we may see pictures, remember what we were taught in a geography class in school or think that sophisticated stereotypes represent the values and behaviours of a country and its people.

A large body of culture specialists exist working in this area including – academics, students and practitioners. Some of them are now feeling frustrated or even trapped by cultural oversimplifications. Psychometric tests, models and questionnaires appear to reduce and limit the individual or team being measured…

This is intrinsic to the design of the test, as it generates results that can “predict” future behaviour. The tests do not hide the limited situations in which they may be applied or that they are designed to produce a fixed, simplistic result. Critical to the tests and older culture theory is that, whilst the world is changing rapidly, there are national / country cultures and that these country cultures, relative to other national / country cultures are changing slowly or not at all. The assumptions about change and country culture are now being challenged.

Thought from wider disciplines, non-Western cultures and other philosophies has produced a completely different way of seeing the individual, the team and the international company.

There is now a movement that is gaining interest amongst some progressive culture specialists that want to transform Western culture training and help it reflect world culture. This may anticipate the new economic shift in money and power away from America and Europe. If the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) come to dominate the economy, this new approach will be critical to our political and economic survival.

The models used in training today are a product of our logic, scientific methods and European background and are very different to the holistic, dynamic and alternative philosophies that can be found on other continents.

Deliberate oversimplification has lead to questionable decision-making, patronizing and imperialist treatment of non-Western employees and an reductionist “1 to 10 scale” approach to diversity and the peoples of the world.

Cultural models starting with Geert Hofstede’s interviewing of IBM employees in the 1960s, continuing with Hall’s “high” and “low” context dimension and Fons Trompanaars dilemma theory have been accepted as the norm both by practitioners and academics alike for the past 40 years.

The assumption of national culture and average cultures has been wearing thin for sometime. The need for a more sophisticated philosophy has led to leading practitioners exploring other disciplines, other continents and other ideas to move the field forward. The quest is not to replace old theory with new. It is not to dismantle an old model and to replace it with a new one. It is to change the game itself.

Before we get too lightheaded with our dream of a utopian understanding of all people by everybody, let us place our feet back on the ground and realize that work in practice must be to paid for. Coaches, trainers, business people and academics live within a framework of capitalism, personal and career development and they all have mortgages and roles within communities.

Within the context of business, the question is – What is not working? What is not being fixed by culture theory at the moment? And what culture training will be relevant to business in the future as power becomes distributed to non-Western countries?

Nearer to home, George Renwick, has already identified that culture training assignments are getting shorter, cheaper and less popular. Many predict the end of cultural awareness training, corporate employee relocation training and certainly the methods and models that are commonly used at the moment.

What will they be replaced by – Whole person training? Will they acknowledge the dynamism of global markets and the complexity of mind and language? Will the new approach take into account the ever-increasing pace of fluid change? Will the new ways take include social media and non -Western centric business entities?

Where can a new approach begin? Kotter’s Harvard leadership model, Landmark Education’s communication curriculum and many non-Western philosophies choose to start with self. That is, reflecting upon one’s mind, body and essence to raise awareness of the impact the world has had on self and how one may influence and interact with others.

The beginning of the journey may be taken from observing functioning and happy people who exist in basic, difficult or even inhuman conditions. Beneath the trappings of human society and the promise of capitalism, there is to be found what we all start with – dignity and integrity. Is it time to reconnect with what we began with and the pure intent that has helped so many face the most challenging of situations?

We can acknowledge that everyone in business has values, drivers and habits that have been given to them by their families, institutions, language and human interactions.

We can choose to see emotions as pre-programmed patterns of reaction that, in the past, have aided survival.

Further we can see that human consciousness gives us feelings and choices as to how to respond. This has lead us to create social structures such as justice, kindness, art, science, community and our economic system.

If we pare down to a base level, then we can ask the question – does culture exist in the absence of interpersonal interaction? Are culture and difference only about human communication? Are they moment by moment? Are they fluid, dynamic and infinitely variable? Should we be turning up for work and looking at commerce as “business in the now?”

What emotions do we feel when given the opportunity to escape from ego, our ethnocentric conditioning, our corporate boxes and our roles in society (sister, father, boss)?

Maybe, first ,we have to ask who are we? Our circles of culture include our roles within the family, our identity within a country, region or place, our education, class and status. Our personality will dictate our preferred role within a team. Our history of achievement and political manoeuvring will indicate our power, influence and socio-economic standing. Finally we have a sense of ourselves – whether we are winning or losing, rising or falling and whether our stock has the appropriate value in society.

In our existing frame of business life, we have ego and a need to control, improve, change, develop, speed up, make better and do more. We have self -limiting beliefs, ego triggers and the basic human needs of security, stimulation, meaning and connection.

Moreover in business we experience power plays, judgements, pre-conceptions and competitive listening. We experience defence, denial and negative emotional responses. These can be seen as business people operating from a state of scarcity and fear.

How can we transform out of the old and into something more useful? We will never escape our nature, are nurture or our society, but we can transcend their effect and we can chose to exist in a different way.

Does it begin with accepting self? Being more aware of our foibles, more conscious of our patterns? Can we gently interrupting ourselves when we make a judgement, manipulate or perform a sneaky power play?

Is the future about developing our ability to respond? Is it about dissolving the self and creating a space from which to operate? Is it about transcending the need for control and judge? Could it centre on resolving our fears and freeing ourselves from patterns of behaviour that no longer serve us?

Can we learn to gently interrupt the mental processes that happen every minute, so that we may shape our future with different choices, different behaviours and, maybe, different outcomes?

Our framework of beliefs, assumptions and roles give us a subjective reality through which we interpret what we see and hear. We challenge or reject what does not fit within our frame and we make exceptions for what appears not to fit but should be inside the box. How can we move toward something else? What intention must we have to generate empowering thoughts?

It can begin by raising your consciousness of the frames and patterns that we are in. Naming the frame can free you to see from a slightly different perspective. Escaping the Western superior view is easy once you realize that your tone, language, expectations and general behaviour come from a context of empire. When someone with Empire beliefs is high – then correspondingly the non-Empire person feels low.

Recognising the cultural trap you’re in is not the end of the process. However, the step of recognition gives you a choice to have a different intention and to see others from a different perspective. You can then choose to create a context where you can behave differently and you will be seen differently. As power and money shift from the West to the World, that seems expedient.

Will corporate change be affected, one executive at a time, one team at a time and one factory at a time? It starts when one individual chooses to behave differently. This is how an epidemic begins. It is viral, behavioural and local.

As we transcend our normal unconscious constraints and the self – limiting beliefs that come with our nature, nurture and roles, we can be authentically open to our spirit, soul or essence.

When we come from an authentic space, it is possible to have a much more constructive relationship with people, groups and companies originating in other places, other cultures and with other ways of thinking.

Is it time to help our managers to escape from fear, defence, comfort and social compliance? What will raise their consciousness, their state of being and empower them to choose to manage themselves, influence their state and to take actions that are more appropriate in a global economy and, the extensive diversity and complexity of a dynamic changing world.

Where does this process begin? Learning about self begins with making a decision to be open to feedback. Knowing what you know gives you certainty. Asking people what they know about you, that you do not know, marks beginning of a scary and exciting journey. Exploring what you don’t know and what other people don’t know either, is guaranteed to take you to a new realm.

It takes time to free yourself from old patterns. It takes time to break and improve habits. It takes courage to be different and to face the criticism and pain that comes with standing out. Change, though, begins with the first person. It begins with the first action and it begins with the first authentic conversation.

A state of tolerance and patients is another good first step. This can involve an analysis of what you are currently intolerant of. Linked with feedback, maybe the areas that you are intolerant of are, in fact, the areas where you could have some baggage, some fear and some unresolved issues. Here it may be about stepping lightly out of your comfort zone, lowering some of your protective layers and experimenting with what you can cope with and what your enlightenment will do to you and for you.

In a business context, the first sign of “the holistic revolution” may be seen in the decision making process. There maybe a shift from the old blame culture, threat reduction paradigms and avoidance of punishment models to a new reality of empathic listening, openness to synergy and the creation of a platform for equal status and collaborative relationships. It is when we can escape our cultural boxes that exciting new business possibilities and opportunities become visible.

It is easy to see that deconstructing unconscious prejudices can lead to rapport, trust and healthier exchange. Stephen Covey would say; “make a contribution and put something in before you expect to get something out.”

Authentic exchanges are the building blocks of healthy communication. Connecting evidence of these exchanges with one’s personal feelings can lead to breakthroughs in interpersonal dynamics and to the consideration of the perspective of other people in other groups.

For some of us, this will look like a scary descent into uncertainty, chaos and an excess of one-way trust that will be frighteningly free of structure, limits and rules.

For those who have experimented and experienced non-western knowledge based exchanges, this type of conversation will appear relatively natural and normal. The journey starts with an intention to have a go and to see what happens. More than tolerance and patients, it is the intention to let go of the ego. It is in being prepared to pay the price of embarrassment. Is it worth a red face, to find a beautiful new way of being? Is it worth giving up the certainty of today to find a different reality tomorrow?

For some this will read like the “haves” giving up their power and status on a voluntary basis, to the “have-nots.” This may produce a strong, fear-based reaction for the “First Worlder’s” that is akin to suicide. “Why would we want to give up our cosy, comfortable powerbase, when we don’t have to?”

The news of the new global economic reality has not fully filtered through to some of these people. If China, India, Russia and South America become dominant, then a new and harsh reality will come as an even bigger surprise.

Now is the time to make a healthy contribution to global business. It is better to take a noble action before you are forced into an ignoble retreat. The sooner we get past ego and realise that the European and American first world paradigm is not the only game in town, the sooner we can face the new reality. But, why be dragged there? Why not take a proactive leap into a different and more humane world?

Do we want to work together, communicate together and exist together in symbiosis, harmony and reciprocity? At a global level this may be manifest in the relocation of a corporate HQ to a more central or relevant Continent or country. At a local level it means transcending power and cultural differences. At a personal level it means escaping the self and experimenting with being unified with the energy of a bigger reality. It is a leap of faith. It is a manifestation of trust and it is about making a contribution because you want to.

Do you want to begin the journey? Do you want to examine your current cultural reality? Do you want to know who you really are? Do you want to take some responsibility for how your culture has shaped you?

How can you take the first step? Will you keep a log or journal of your cultural encounters? Will you catch yourself as you to think and act within your old cultural framework? Will you practice a new style of listening, coming from space and authentically relating and appreciating those who are different to you? Will you gently acknowledge and suppress your preconceptions and judgements as you attempt to reduce the magnetic power of your old cultural paradigms? Will you work on your courage and strength to be tolerant and patient enough to keep going, even when all those around you mock you, belittle you and show you their fear?

Will you come from space, be receptive to possibility and open to the authentic expression of others? Will you explore new roles, new contracts and new ways of doing business? Will you invest the energy in the exciting process of “post-culture business”? Will you transcend your old desires and endeavour to be creative, authentic and effective in your business?

And will you do this before you have to?

Matthew Hill is a leadership trainer, coach and motivational speaker working with diverse teams. He aims to provoke but never to offend (unless he intends otherwise.) He can be heard, almost daily, at;

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 at 8:23 pm and is filed under about cross-culture, cultural intelligence, General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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