Join us in Warm Sun AND Accomplish a New Year’s Resolution


  • Are you tired of the cold, the ice, and the snow? Is it all getting to be too much, and you’d like a break? Are you longing for some warmth, sunshine, the beach, and vibrant Latin music?
  • Have you promised yourself that in 2014 you will spend more time on yourself, invest in your professional development, network with like-minded professionals, or expand your training/facilitation/coaching repertoire?
  • Do you realize that global and multicultural competence are requisites in today’s world, and you want to improve these vital skills and learn to help develop them in others?

You can accomplish all these things by joining us in Mazatlán Mexico in February, or in Atlanta Georgia in March for our Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification Workshop! Early bird registration rates are available, so now is a good time to secure your seat in one of these workshops.

The Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification Workshop receives high accolades from the most experienced interculturalists as well as from those with significant life experience but who are new to the intercultural field. Clients rave about the Cultural Detective Method and use it worldwide. Facilitators love having Cultural Detective in their toolkit. It helps them truly make a difference and secure repeat business from clients—ongoing coaching, training and consulting revenue—as clients commit to the continuing practice that developing true intercultural competence requires.

Many people do not realize that Cultural Detective is flexible enough to integrate nicely with existing training programs—adding depth and practical skills that learners can use immediately and build upon in the future. Participants easily remember the Cultural Detective Method, and can put it into practice when encountering a challenging situation—solving misunderstandings before they become problems!

“It is difficult to exaggerate how fundamentally important Cultural Detective has become for us. The difference between courses we conduct with and without CD is astounding.”
– Chief Academic Officer

“We have achieved, for the first time in my five years working on the Learning and Development team, a 100% satisfaction rating from our learners. Thank you, Cultural Detective!
– Chief Learning and Development Officer

“Our customer satisfaction rates have increased 30% thanks to Cultural Detective.”
– Customer Support Manager

Click here for details on dates, locations and pricing, and click here for a detailed agenda of the workshop. Sound tempting? Get out of the cold AND spend time developing your effectiveness and employability! We’d be delighted to have you join us! Of course, if you are living somewhere warm, we’d gladly welcome you, too!

New Year’s Gift: Oldie but Goodie—The STADIApproach

Permission is granted to use this model freely and to circulate it, PROVIDED the © and url are maintained.

Permission is granted to use this model freely and to circulate it, PROVIDED the © and url are maintained.

It is said that experience is the best teacher. But learning does not lie in the experience itself; rather, it is our interpretation of the situation—the meaning we give to our experience—that provides our learning.

How might we better enable learners to constructively give meaning to their intercultural experiences? Are you looking for an easy and highly effective way to structure your next intercultural workshop or coaching session? Are you wondering how you might better enable study-abroad students to understand their experience in a way that builds cross-cultural competence? Do you have employees working internationally or multiculturally, and you’d like them to learn to truly harness the potential of diversity?

This “oldie but goodie,” the STADIApproach to Intercultural Learning, has been used in dozens of organizations worldwide with huge success. Click on the link to view a full article on the approach. I first published it for use with my proprietary clients in 1989; it is now even more useful as it can provide a design framework for blended learning approaches that leverage Cultural Detective Online. The CD Online system has STADI embedded into its core. In the hands of a skilled facilitator, teacher or coach, you can assist your learners to Sense, Think, Apply, Do and Integrate by analyzing the experience of others via the critical incidents in CD Online, as well as probing their own real life experiences.

We trust you’ll find the STADIApproach article helpful! Please accept it and use it as my new year’s gift to you, this January of 2014. It is my wish that the new year will enable all of you, dear readers, to better facilitate intercultural understanding, sustainability, respect and equity on this planet of ours.

Please share your experiences with us, and your designs that effectively leverage Cultural Detective Online to supplement your training, teaching or coaching endeavors.


You Trust a Quiz to Tell You Who You Are?

Your profile now!

Depp photo @Examiner
Honsou photo ©Armando Gallo/Retna Ltd

You may have had the same experience I have: clients, students, trainees and colleagues often ask me what assessment tools I recommend. My response, of course, is “for what purpose? What do you want to assess?” Sadly they usually can not answer that question. They know they want something online, something quick. They want something that provides immediate feedback, either inexpensively or for free. But, they rarely have focused in on a purpose, on what they want to learn through the “assessment.”

Sometimes I hear, “To give our people a profile of themselves—a profile of their style that tells them who and how they are.” The assumption is that, by understanding ourselves via this hypothetical quick, online, inexpensive or free assessment, we will immediately (almost magically) become empowered to collaborate more effectively across cultures.

Now don’t misunderstand me: assessments and inventories can be incredibly helpful tools. We are all better served by understanding our learning styles, personality traits, and communication skills. Taking a quick online assessment can also be fun. Heck, those quizzes in the magazines can be entertaining: What kind of personality am I in the bedroom based on whether the quiz says I’m more attracted to Johnny Depp or Djimon Honsou. I had fun just writing that sentence!

However, I can’t help but feel the world is just a WEE bit out of whack when we trust a personal profile, produced by a quick survey, more than we trust our own 20, 50 or more years of experience living with and as ourselves. Profiles can be informative: they can stimulate thinking and conversation. But they are not going to, in and of themselves, improve my ability, either in the bedroom or to work cross-culturally.

What causes us to want a profile? We are by and large intelligent people. We are adults. We know ourselves. Many of us want the quick and easy “answer” because our days are so full. Many of us don’t take time for contemplation, practice, or deep meaningful dialogue—even though these are precisely the acts via which wisdom, happiness and, yes, competence are achieved.

Let’s face it: intercultural competence, like all the other important abilities in life (good parenting, sound health, even skills with technology) involves PRACTICE. We need to stay current, we need to both broaden and deepen our abilities and experience.

So, keeping in mind the importance of HOW we use assessment tools, and the importance of a regular structured practice to improve our abilities, there are a handful of “profile” tools in the cross-cultural field that I find useful. Why do I like these particular instruments? They involve or encourage the contemplation, practice and deep meaningful dialogue of which I’ve written, and that research shows is required in order to improve cross-cultural competence. Some tools I can recommend are:

  1. Cultural Detective Self Discovery: This unique product in the Cultural Detective series helps individuals to investigate their cultural identities and develop a “Personal Values Lens.” Through a structured sequence of short exercises and discussions, individuals identify their core values, the positive and negative aspects of these values, and the thinking and behavior that flows from them. They then explore how their values and behaviors may be similar to and different from those of cultural groups. This Personal Values Lens can be used in conjunction with the Cultural Detective Online system for individualized structured learning, or, better yet, with the guidance of a facilitator or coach.
  2. The International Profiler: This terrific tool by our friends and colleagues at WorldWork involves a web-based psychometric questionnaire, followed by coaching sessions, to help develop an individual’s ability to operate effectively in unfamiliar cultural contexts. Nigel Ewington has been piloting ways of combining The International Profiler (TIP) and Cultural Detective (CD), to harness the best of both. Perhaps we can ask him to do a guest post about that?
  3. Personal Leadership: This methodology offers a way of being and interacting with the world that begins from the “inside out,” one that asks people to be fully present in their lives, awake to their habitual behaviors, and willing to look at situations with “beginner’s mind.” Of particular interest in this context is the personal visioning practice. Barbara Schaetti and Heather Robinson and I have created a MashUp process aimed at leveraging the dynamic interaction possible with Personal Leadership (PL) and Cultural Detective (CD).
  4. The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), originally based on the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), is a statistically reliable, cross-culturally valid measure of intercultural sensitivity. What I love about it is that it is developmental: great for charting individual or group progress. It can be completed online, with the assistance of a qualified administrator, and involves individualized feedback. Ideally the IDI is used as part of a process that also involves development planning and coaching.

We can have all the information in the world about ourselves, but if we do not have the courage and diligence to act on it, it is worth very little. None of the tools discussed above provides instantaneous transformation or the magic pixie dust of cross-cultural collaboration. Nor, I imagine, will they give me an evening with either Johnny or Djimon. But with ongoing, mindful practice and the guidance of a good coach or trainer, we will find worlds open to us that we might never have imagined, and we will develop the ability to collaborate more effectively across cultures—exactly what many of our clients are asking for. Each of the tools above dovetails very well with the Cultural Detective Series: TIP and IDI can help you chart progress using CD as a developmental tool, and PL helps ensure the inner work that should accompany CD use happens.

There are many more inventories, assessments and collaborative tools in the intercultural field. What are some of your favorites? How do you use them for maximum effectiveness? How do you motivate yourself and others to practice? What do you wish existed to address specific developmental needs and challenges?

Benchmark Statement on Intercultural Competence: AEA

AEA statement coverDo you want to promote intercultural competence in your organization or industry? Are you looking for some guidance? A blueprint? A success story? If so, do I have a “Cultural Effective” for you!

Just over a year ago, friend and colleague Stella Ting Toomey and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the American Evaluation Association‘s annual conference as invited speakers. There I was pleased to witness a commitment to responsible inclusiveness that was truly state of the art.

Six years of diligent work by a task force and other concerned individuals had resulted in a theoretically sound and practical Public Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation (AEA 2011, Fairhaven, MA USA).

There is so much about this public statement that stands out for me, not least of which is a definition of culture that is at least on a par with the best of what I’ve seen come out of the intercultural communication field!

Culture can be defined as the shared experiences of people, including their languages, values, customs, beliefs, and mores. It also includes worldviews, ways of knowing, and ways of communicating. Culturally significant factors encompass, but are not limited to, race/ethnicity, religion, social class, language, disability, sexual orientation, age, and gender. Contextual dimensions such as geographic region and socioeconomic circumstances are also essential to shaping culture.

Culture is dynamic, fluid, and reciprocal. That is, culture shapes the behaviors and worldviews of its members and, in turn, culture is shaped by the behavior, attitudes, and worldview of its members. Elements of culture are passed on from generation to generation, but culture also changes from one generation to the next.

Culture not only influences members of groups, it also delineates boundaries and influences patterns of interaction among them. Evaluators frequently work across these boundaries.

I remember my excitement the last couple of times a book has been published with “intercultural competence” in the title. If I am truly honest, I will admit to you that I’ve been disappointed. Amidst good work and steps forward, the books I’ve reviewed rehash a lot of what I feel is old and tired or, even, counter-productive to good practice. But this AEA statement! How do they define intercultural competence? For me it’s spot on — both theoretically sound and skillfully applied!

Cultural competence is not a state at which one arrives; rather, it is a process of learning, unlearning, and relearning. It is a sensibility cultivated throughout a lifetime. Cultural competence requires awareness of self, reflection on one’s own cultural position, awareness of others’ positions, and the ability to interact genuinely and respectfully with others. Culturally competent evaluators refrain from assuming they fully understand the perspectives of stakeholders whose backgrounds differ from their own.

Cultural competence is defined in relation to a specific context or location, such as geography, nationality, and history. Competence in one context is no assurance of competence in another. The culturally competent evaluator (or evaluation team) must have specific knowledge of the people and place in which the evaluation is being conducted—including local history and culturally determined mores, values, and ways of knowing.

The culturally competent evaluator draws upon a wide range of evaluation theories and methods to design and carry out an evaluation that is optimally matched to the context. In constructing a model or theory of how the evaluand operates, the evaluator reflects the diverse values and perspectives of key stakeholder groups.

It is tailor-made for a Cultural Detective: process-based lifelong learning (CD Worksheet); knowledge of self and others and the ability to bridge (3 fundamental CD capacities); situation-specific, contextually grounded effectiveness (CD Critical Incidents); grounding practice in theory (pulling salient theoretical teaching from practical experience); and acknowledging people as complex amalgams of the influences of multiple cultural influences (layering Lenses).

The AEA statement includes the following content:

The Role of Culture and Cultural Competence in Quality Evaluation

  1. What is culture?
  2. Evaluations reflect culture.
  3. What is cultural competence?

Why Cultural Competence in Evaluation Is Important

  1. It is an ethical imperative.
  2. Validity demands it.
  3. Theories are inherently cultural.

Essential Practices for Cultural Competence

  1. Acknowledge the complexity of cultural identity.
  2. Recognize the dynamics of power.
  3. Recognize and eliminate bias in language.
  4. Employ culturally appropriate methods.

The AEA’s blog and their annual conference include lots of project examples and discussions about how to conduct culturally responsible evaluation, through which I’ve witnessed honest dialogue about successes and difficulties. Intercultural competence in evaluation has definitely become an organization-wide effort and an ongoing process for the AEA membership.

The work of the task force continues through today, as they do their best to develop cultural competence in evaluation via education and training, within and outside the AEA, as well as by sharing the public statement and what they have learned via the process they’ve engaged. I am proud to have had a very small role in their extensive process, and pleased to be able to help share it so that others can leverage their work.

Kudos to Dr. Melvin Hall, Cindy Crusto, the American Evaluation Association, and all of those involved in this terrific effort! I know they join me in hoping that their efforts might help you further yours. I will close with an excerpt from their closing:

Evaluators have the power to make a difference, not only directly to program stakeholders but also indirectly to the general public. This is consistent with the Guiding Principle that obliges evaluators to consider the public interest and good in the work they do. In a diverse and complex society, cultural competence is central to making a difference.

Cultural competence connects with and complements existing knowledge and skills in the field. It offers both opportunities and challenges for evaluators. Cultural competence presents evaluators with new horizons for learning, opportunities for renewal, and the potential to deepen understanding of one’s own work in all contexts. Cultural competence challenges evaluators to deepen their self awareness and sensitivity in terms of their own cultures and those of others.

Many evaluators are actively exploring the terrain of cultural competence. They are expanding the boundaries of what it means to respond to cultural diversity in authentic and respectful ways. This statement invites new conversations and connections to advance this sensitive and exciting work.

Developing Intercultural Competence — Online?

“While other cultural databases do an effective job of providing country overviews, Cultural Detective Online offers unique and complementary capabilities.”
—Joseph K. Lunn, Project Portfolio Manager and Cross-Cultural Trainer, Zurich North America

What makes for a truly useful online learning tool? When I asked intercultural trainers this question they seemed to want to be able to emulate the face-to-face environment as much as possible. Keep the learners’ attention, make it experiential, real and applicable — and make them think! They don’t need “the answers,” they need to know how to come up with real solutions when they find themselves in the midst of cross-cultural conflict. Oh, and you know the old adage, keep it simple!

So, when developing the Cultural Detective Online tool, some key fundamental concepts were kept in mind:

  1. Personal/professional goal setting should be at the entrance to working with the tool — what are the learners’ objectives in using the tool? They should be able to adapt and change these but also keep them in mind in order to stay on track and achieve them.
  2. Culture-general and culture-specific content and process — this is fundamental to working with the Cultural Detective Method (read more by Janet Bennett on this topic if you are up on it), so no challenge here!
  3. Contextually based learning — also core to the Cultural Detective Methodology is working with real-world critical incidents and pushing the learner to develop an understanding of the underlying role and subtle nuances cultural values can play in everyone’s lives.
  4. Links between deep culture and surface culture, between values and behaviors — again innately a part of working with the Cultural Detective tools and richly impactful (where we get the big aha moments) once the learner discovers, develops and really hones this skill.
  5. Prompting for the learners to summarize and apply their learning to their real situations — this is where the work they’ve put in pays the learner back; in other words what’s the bottom line? How can I really use what I just learned to make a value added difference in my work, in my global team, with my international vendors/clients/offices, etc.?
So we’ve heard from some of our early adapters — Cultural Detective Online will take you further in your intercultural competence journey. Joseph Lunn of Zurich NA says,

“In addition to crisp, clear detailed summaries of each country’s cultural values, the nearly 400 cross-cultural incidents provided show users exactly what can go wrong when cultural understanding gaps exist. The tool follows-up by sharing the differences in cultural values that underlie each incident and offers concrete suggestions to build cultural bridges and avoid similar incidents. CD Online is a great hands-on teaching tool that adds value to:

    • Employees beginning overseas assignments
    • Global project team members
    • Mergers and acquisition partners
    • Outsourcing engagements

Thanks for making this tool available to those who need it at a reasonable cost!”

Developing intercultural competence online? Of course! Take a test drive and see for yourself: Cultural Detective Online!

Oldie but Goodie: Map of Key Cultural Differences

Intercultural communication is about how we can communicate effectively with one another. A frequent approach to improving intercultural communication is to develop our understanding of ourselves and of others. And probably the most common way of doing that is to teach about cultural differences, often referred to as the “dimensions of culture.”

There are many different versions of the dimensions of culture. I generally find them valuable as tools to help us compare cultures, or to cognitively learn about ourselves and others. And I also find they really limit us. While not intended this way, their use has a tendency to reify culture, to cause us to think about culture as a “thing” rather than a process. It’s why I’m such a fan of the Cultural Detective Worksheet: it’s a process for understanding self and others, for leveraging similarities and differences in order to collaborate in more innovative, rewarding, and satisfying ways.

Enough about that. This post is about cultural differences. In my training one of the ways I talk about cultural differences is to ask people to think of them as a map of the terrain, and to use them as a scanning tool. In a given interaction, which difference(s) got in the way? For example, was status important for her and not for me, and I just missed it? Was it a different sense of responsibility that really upset me? Maybe he likes to do several things at once, and I’m more one-thing-at-a-time? Was it the fact that I don’t think religion belongs in the workplace that caused him to think I’m not trustworthy?

That is how the map above came to be. It is a graphic summary of some of the cultural differences or dimensions, at least as I saw them back in 2008. It is available for you to use freely under a Creative Commons license. You can introduce the various cultural differences to your team and then, when you get mired in cross-cultural miscommunication, you can take out your map of differences and decipher just which dimension might be causing the problem. Or, maybe it’s something not even on the map.

Just click on the link above for a larger image, and to download the accompanying 11-page article entitled, “Detecting the Culprits of Miscommunication: Values, Actions and Beliefs.” Please feel free to copy and distribute, as long as you retain the copyright and source url.

I’m really interested to hear from you about how you use the dimensions of culture to promote effective interaction. What are your tools and techniques? Your dos and don’ts? And what do you think about this “map of the culprits of miscommunication” idea?

Why is Intercultural Competence Helpful? The Case of the Ion Exchange Resins

Is there a bottom-line business benefit to intercultural competence? As someone who has lived and breathed cross-cultural and intercultural business competency for well over thirty years, that question tends to elicit a chuckle in me. And today, the person on the phone who asked me that question reminded me of a story.

You see, just yesterday I received an invitation to an “OB-OL-kai” in Japan, a “get together of Old Boys and Old Ladies,” a reunion of a group of colleagues that I miss terribly and would love to party with, again, face to face. We went through a lot together. They are some of the most talented professionals I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my career. And a few members of that group were involved in the story I’m about to tell you:

Cultural Detective and the Case of the Ion Exchange Resins

We worked for a multinational business that globally sourced ion exchange resins. IERs are small beads used to separate, purify or decontaminate; they are used to make ultra-pure water, for example. Don’t worry about the technicalities; this story focuses on how the people worked together.

In this case, the IERs were produced in southern France, at a facility that was one of the absolute best in the world. My client imported the IERs to Japan, selling them primarily to the semiconductor manufacturing industry.

The Japanese customers had extremely high quality standards, and the French-produced IERs consistently met all the customer’s requirements. The product was well within spec. But, the Japanese customers were worried: occasionally the IERs they received from France would vary slightly in color. One shipment might arrive quite clear, the next shipment more yellow or orange. Always the specifications were met. The IERs functioned to their purpose. But the color varied.

“The color doesn’t matter,” the French vendor explained. “The color has absolutely no impact on the performance of the IER.”

“Yes, that is true. We understand that color does not affect performance,” came the reply from the Japanese customer. “But we are concerned about why there is a color variation? We feel it must indicate a variance in the production process itself. There must be some variable in production that is not consistent and could be improved.”

A classic cultural gap: a focus on result vs. a focus on process. Does the product perform as required? Or do we look at continuous improvement of the production process itself?

In this case, the argument could quickly produce a stalemate, with both supplier and customer insisting their view is “correct.” The French could insist that their IERs are the best the customer will find. As long as the customer doesn’t find an equivalent product, that could be ok. But, it’s not a very good answer on a global stage, where there always seems to be another supplier waiting in the wings, with cheaper cost, easier shipping, or more commitment to listening to the customer.

Possible results of the vendor insisting that color doesn’t matter?
  • Lost customer (and this was a lengthy and very lucrative relationship),
  • Lost business/profit/cash flow,
  • Lost investment in developing this customer,
  • Huge reinvestment to develop a new customer of the same caliber,
  • Loss of opportunity to improve their product and their production process,
  • Not to mention the human aggravation.

The Japanese, in turn, could blame the supplier. “They are not committed to being the best they can be. They are resting on their laurels, on their prior success. We need suppliers who strive to maintain their leading edge. We need a supplier who listens to us and respects us.”

Possible results of the customer insisting color variation matters?
  • Diminishing trust of, communication and collaboration with the vendor, leading to
  • Loss of a strategic vendor,
  • Loss of the investment in selecting and developing the vendor,
  • Huge reinvestment to source and develop a new vendor,
  • Major time and financial commitment to establishing a relationship and educating a new vendor regarding customer needs, in hopes that the new relationship might become a strategic partnership.

I have seen this push-pull occur so often in my career. It frustrates those involved, it causes aggravation, it wastes time, and it wastes money. Take a moment to put some money to the points above, to calculate the “bottom-line impact” of such a simple cross-communication. In this industry, it is easily in the millions of dollars. And why? Due to pride, to arrogance, but mostly due to ignorance: not really understanding cultural differences and how to navigate them effectively.

And what might an interculturally competent solution look like? We know it involves multi-directional bridging, and systemic as well as interpersonal solutions. And, usually, such interculturally competent solutions are win-wins for both customer and supplier.

How so? Well, the vendor could listen to the customer, learn from the customer, even though the customer’s points don’t pertain directly to the product performance. In this way, the vendor would:
  • Strengthen trust and teamwork with the Japanese customer,
  • Could very well improve the quality of its manufacturing process, which in turn
  • Could help ensure it remains best-in class.
  • The customer will refer more customers to the vendor, due to the strong relationship with and excellent quality of the vendor, and the vendor’s global markets will grow.
In turn, the customer could voice its praise for the vendor’s quality, and explain that it’s intentions are collaborative and collegial; to help both vendor and customer be the best they can be. The customer could apologize for the hassle, and offer its process expertise to the vendor. In this way, the customer would:
  • Strengthen a very lengthy and very strategic vendor relationship,
  • Improve the cross-cultural skills of its staff, enabling them to partner more effectively with other vendors,
  • Improve the customer’s reputation in the global marketplace, as one of collaboration and loyalty.

Thus, the French and Japanese could work together to manufacture more color-consistent IERs, grow their global markets, strengthen their partnership, improve their employees’  skills, and polish their reputations in the marketplace. Win-win-win.

In real life, what actually happened was somewhere in between. These people were smart enough to hire a full-time intercultural consultant, after all, which I believe is one demonstration of their commitment to success. They got advice, and they did their best to put it to good use. They realized that intercultural competence is a lifelong process, contextually based, and strived to always do a bit better. It’s one of the reasons I want to travel halfway around the world to go to that OB-OL-kai!

What do you think? I would love you to share with us why you believe intercultural competence is helpful? Do you have a Cultural Defective or Cultural Effective case to share?