Attaining Cross Cultural Competence

The Cultural Spirals - A Path to Cross Cultural Behavior

By David Solomons


As a cross cultural consultant with many years of experience working with individuals and groups throughout the world, I have developed a very simple formula for a transition from mono-cultural to multi-cultural behavior.

The beauty of this formula is that it is easy to adopt…and, when applied, is self generating…and works!

It is based around a very simple principal, and is encapsulated in just one word…ASK. In other words, be ‘interested’ rather than ‘interesting’

Who have been the people in your personal lives who have inspired you the most, the people you have warmed to the most? You will generally find that they are the people who took an interest in you, whether in your family, in your school or in your workplace. So, equally, anyone with whom we have to build a co-operative relationship will respond better to us if we show a genuine interest in them and their culture.

How do we react when we are confronted with behavior with which we are unfamiliar - which makes us feel irritated, bemused or uncomfortable? Our default reaction is to make a judgment, and, on balance it is likely to be a negative one. But do we ever stop and ask ourselves where that judgment comes from and whether it is justified and appropriate?

Most of the time, we just instinctively react through that initial irrational judgment, which is based on our own values and attitudes and not with any knowledge of the context for the other person’s behavior.

This often leads to hostility, resistance and resentment  in our cross cultural relationships (which is often returned) and which will create a downward spiral of negative interaction, often ending in polarisation and ‘territorial’ conflict.

Not much of a formula for understanding and co-operation!

We can flip this dynamic, literally on its head. By initiating the relationship with an increased awareness of the judgments we instinctively make, but NOT expressing those judgments through reactive behavior - instead, taking the time to ask whether the judgment is based on fact, and, if not, asking for more information.

In this way, we immediately set up a reverse dynamic to the mono cultural downward spiral. This time, by showing interest and gaining more information about the unknown behavior, we gain a more co-operative relationship which is self propelling and constantly improving.   

David Solomons is a Senior Associate with Global Dynamics Inc.