Ready for Some Good News?

girl with curls v1

photo by Steve Evans from Citizen of the World (South Africa  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

…maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we [journalists] almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.”

—Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, Oct. 1, 2015

Things seem so grim some days that sometimes I want to turn off the news. But such a “head in the sand” approach isn’t beneficial — it is important to me to know as much as I can about what’s going on globally. But I keep believing there are many good things that are happening in the world that we just aren’t hearing about — the kindness and compassion of people, the connections that make us truly human, the tireless efforts to educate more children, feed more people, and eradicate diseases.

On a particularly glum day, I was delighted to find a NY Times Op-Ed Column by Nicholas Kristof—something that actually gave me reasons to feel more optimistic about the improving situations of people globally. While the daily struggle continues to be difficult for too many around the world, there actually is some good news.

Funny thing is, US Americans don’t know about it. Kristof puts this lack of knowledge squarely on the shoulders of US journalists, but I wonder if others around the world know this information?

According to Kristof, “…the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty… has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).”

What? Why didn’t someone tell me? All this work actually is making a difference! For example, in the 1980s, only half the girls in developing countries completed elementary school; today the number is 80 percent. In 1990, more than 12 million children died before they were 5; now the number is less than half that amount.

Kristof writes: “The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.”

Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a forthcoming book, The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World, notes, “We live at a time of the greatest developmental progress among the global poor in the history of the world.”

All this is very encouraging news—caring, hard working people do make a difference, just as I want to believe! Thousands of people all over the world share their knowledge, skills, and expertise to help others have a better life. We at Cultural Detective salute each of you doing your part to make the world a better place!

Facilitated Online Learning Sessions for Cross-Cultural Skills


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Cultural Detective Online is LIVE!!!!!!!!

Cultural Detective is proud to announce the new product launch of Cultural Detective Online! This tool is like having a virtual coach in your back pocket, successfully guiding you through the all-too-common missteps of cross-cultural negotiations and communications. Please check out the four videos on the home page. Today only (15-16 October, depending where you are on the planet) there is a 25% launch discount; enter promo code:   CDO-blog25  during checkout.

Huge thanks goes out to each of you who have worked with and incorporated the Cultural Detective Method into work with your clients or employee populations globally, as over the past eight years this tool has become a significant contribution to the intercultural field. Because of our clients and team, Cultural Detective has become globally recognized as one of the premier developmental tools of our time. Now we are on the cusp of very exciting and broader use of the tool through Cultural Detective Online! This new product launch furthers our mission of encouraging communities globally to prosper through intercultural understanding and collaboration.

Cultural Detective Online is useful in a broad range of contexts including global business negotiations and multicultural team effectiveness, international assignments and study abroad, and for successfully communicating within our families and communities, and within and across faith traditions.

A subscription to Cultural Detective Online offers the opportunity to explore the concepts of “culture” and “values” and how they impact communication in everyday life. It provides access to dozens of culture-specific Values Lenses and topic-specific Challenges Lenses, hundreds of real world cross-cultural incidents, and the easy-to-use Cultural Detective process for improving the ability to collaborate successfully across cultures, both on individual and organizational levels.

We are excited to announce that subscriptions are now available for individuals or groups, and we invite you to subscribe to Cultural Detective Online today by visiting ! Subscriptions start at less than US$100/year, and are less for larger groups of subscribers. You will rarely find more value for your money.

Book Review: Communication Highwire

by Dianne Hofner Saphiere, Barbara Kappler Mikk, and Basma Ibrahim DeVries
Intercultural Press, ©2005

Communication Highwire: Leveraging the Power of Diverse Communication Styles

Review written by Piper McNulty
Originally published in the The CATESOL Journal vol. 20.1

Communication Highwire, as the circus metaphor implies, explores the balancing act inherent in any intercultural interaction: how to remain true to oneself while exploring aspects of other styles, with a goal of achieving more effective communication.

After decades of teaching and training across, and about, cultural differences, these three authors have found that labels such as “direct,” “low context,” or “polychronic,” while providing initial insights, are not sufficient for their purposes, and that a more “robust, and dynamic” (p. xi) analysis framework is needed. In addition, unlike most books on intercultural interactions, Communication Highwire moves beyond appreciation of cultural difference to suggest ways to leverage diverse styles for improved communication across cultures.

Their model is additive, with a goal of expanding each individual’s communication-style repertoire. The book is divided into four sections: an introduction, five factors affecting communication style, a detailed breakdown of 16 specific styles, and an extensive collection of activities. The authors return throughout the book to the ongoing, often contentious relationship between two businessmen, Mike and Tanaka-san, who struggle to understand each other’s behaviors, articulate their own goals and preferences, try each other’s styles, and ultimately work together productively. Examples from many other cultures and contexts are also used to illustrate the concepts and strategies throughout the book, drawing on the authors’ extensive intercultural experience, both professional and personal.

Saphiere, Mikk, and DeVries explore communication across cultures from different client needs and perspectives, and they argue persuasively that successful communication requires a combination of styles. The best coauthored books present a mixture of ideas, experiences, and analysis and we are the richer for these authors’ extensive collaboration. Each chapter, and the themes that carry throughout the text, appear to be the result of extensive discussion, reflection, and collaboration. The book is full of engaging, highly readable examples, discussion prompts, and skills activities, which take the reader well beyond the obvious and the “common sense” of communication theory. Occasionally the sentences get a bit wordy, but the writing is clear and cogent throughout, and the authors do an excellent job of selectively substituting everyday terms where field-specific jargon could simply distract and frustrate the reader.

The book also stands out for its gentle reminders to consider multiple perspectives, to “hold…individual goals loosely enough to hear, accept and more fully understand each other’s goals” (p. 79). In addition, the analysis checklists are exceptionally thorough. For example, most intercultural communication (IC) texts simply state that in some cultures one should avoid eye contact with authority figures, yet we all know that eye-contact rules are not that simple.

These authors list four different descriptors of eye contact, and while such detailed analyses might seem more than the average ESL/EFL student needs, or can handle, adults in a second-culture context often struggle to adjust their communication behaviors to be more effective with their new interlocutors, and they are often very aware of fine nuances of style. Such students are usually more than ready to embrace this depth of analysis, because they want to understand why their interactions across cultures do not always go as intended.

Of particular interest to TESOL members will be the detailed analyses of functional language. Students trained to analyze miscommunication as these authors suggest will be at a significant advantage when discussing, negotiating, persuading, critiquing, or receiving feedback, skills that can come into play in academic contexts, the workplace, when renting an apartment, or opening a bank account. Also addressed are idea presentation, turn taking, expectations of communication process, use of emotion, permeability of new ideas, apologies, requests, praise and disagreement, feedback, and humor, among others. Language for describing details of both vocal characteristics and nonverbal behaviors are also provided. Making this global range of styles explicit is of great benefit to instructors and students alike.

The authors also emphasize that no individual will be predictably direct, or emotionally expressive, or quick to touch others in all contexts (to name just a few), but that communication styles are a situational tendency, providing a link between behavior and underlying intentions. To leverage our understanding of others’ styles, they present a four-step method: (a) reflecting, (b) analyzing, (c) discussing, and (d) deciding. While these steps might seem easy to carry out, discussing and deciding are not found in most IC literature, and the authors’ engaging analysis of the ongoing relationship between Mike and Tanaka-san helps instructors and clients develop their own version of the suggested analysis strategies.

The book is such a rich source of information and analysis tools to seem, at times, overwhelming, but the outline format and use of charts allow the reader to skim the chapters’ subtopics, selecting the specific communication styles or functions that are most applicable to their client/student population.

As for the activities, we have all read step-by-step instructions of skill-building activities and wondered whether we could achieve the outcomes promised by the author. Intercultural and diversity training can be particularly idiosyncratic and context specific, making it difficult for others to duplicate their success. However, the activities presented here are easy to envision, and the tips and suggested adaptations allay concerns that the exercises are too dependent on the original facilitator’s approach. In addition, the relatively large font, line spacing, and the wide margins leave plenty of room for underlining and notes.

Communication Highwire is an excellent resource for ESL/EFL instructors whether or not they use the activities in their own classrooms, as the tools provided may help them recognize where, and why, their own interactions with their clients, of any age or level, have gone awry, and what may be causing disconnects in their classrooms. The authors explore culturally different communication styles with depth, clarity, and insight.

Communication Highwire would be a useful supplement for teacher-training programs and a valuable addition to any ESL/EFL instructor or trainer’s library, no matter what the level or context of instruction.

Communication Highwire: Leveraging the Power of Diverse Communication Styles is a gem!

Book Review: Intercultural Communication, Globalization and Social Justice

by Kathryn Sorrells, Sage Publications, ©2013 ISBN 978-1-4129-2744-4

Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice provides fresh voice and much-needed current perspective on intercultural communication competence. Written as an undergraduate and graduate level text, as a 30+ year professional I also read it enthusiastically. From Sorrells’ debunking of racial color blindness (p. 62), to the commodification of culture (p. 190), to her closing call for global citizenship (p. 227), her keen intellect and passionate commitment to social justice is evident and unwavering throughout.

From the beginning the author makes clear the need to put intercultural communication in context and with a clear purpose:

“Regrettably, some of the most egregious injustices—exploitation of workers in homes, fields, and factories and violence perpetrated through racial profiling and ethnic cleansing—are performed within intercultural contexts and are enabled by intercultural communication.” (p. xiv)

…”the globalized context in which we live today makes ethnocentrism and ethnocentric approaches extremely problematic. The assumption that one’s own group is superior to others leads to negative evaluations of others and can result in dehumanization, legitimization of prejudices, discrimination, conflict and violence.” (p. 13)

“This text … provides a framework to create a more equitable and socially just world through communication.” (p. xiv)

By page 38, I knew I was in good hands, as Sorrells wove Amy Chua and her World on Fire into the intercultural mix, providing it as counterpoint to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man.

The author appears to have challenged herself to address each topic, even the most familiar, through at least four lenses:
  • in what ways is the topic complex and contradictory,
  • how does the topic appear from micro, mess and macro views,
  • what are the local and global connections, and
  • how do the complexities and contradictions play out in our world today, particularly in terms of equity and justice?

Sorrells is an excellent teacher, providing rich yet succinct examples—unraveling the various interwoven threads of her stories to enable the reader to more clearly see each thread—while keeping the overall tapestry in mind. Her writing should energize and guide cadres of undergraduates, as well as professionals, to use intercultural communication theory and practice to bring more equity and justice to our world.

Sorrells covers the content you’d typically expect in a basic text on intercultural communication: nonverbal communication, context, dialogue, relationships, communication style, identity theory, use of space. What makes this book different is that she uses important current issues and topics to provide a fresh perspective and powerful, meaningful insight. She examines intercultural communication informed by topics such as power, hegemony, growing socio-economic inequities, the culture of capitalism, race, color-blindness, immigration, glocalization, hip-hop culture, appropriation, hybrid cultures, and online communication. She pulls from a variety of disciplines including feminist theory to address her topic. In the process, she introduced to this practitioner new ideas such as fragmegration (p. 131), culture jamming (p. 144) and polysemic space (p. 91).

The book begins by looking at why the intercultural field has not been able to settle on one definition of culture, tracing definitions of culture from anthropology, cultural studies, and globalization. The author next guides us through a much-needed review of the history of intercultural communication, doing so crisply and meaningfully. Revisiting the origins of the field may help us return to our collaborative purposes and away from the overly analytical comparative studies trends of today.

Each chapter concludes with discussion activities and questions, which for a trainer or coach will be invaluable. And they’ll make lesson planning for the classroom easy.

To enable students to navigate the complex intercultural spaces they inhabit, the author introduces a process of critical, reflective thinking and acting. She calls this “intercultural praxis.” Via six interrelated points of entry (inquiry, framing, positioning, dialogue, reflection, and action), “intercultural praxis uses our multifaceted identity positions and shifting access to privilege and power to develop our consciousness, imagine alternatives, and build alliances in our struggles for social responsibility and social justice.” (p. xvi)

Obviously the text is not intended for a basic-level reader of English! And, while this praxis model is definitely conceptually sound, it is far from easy to put into practice.

What were some of the points in this book that stood out for me? The concept of “positioning” is important:

… “how our geographic positioning is related to social and political positions. As you read these sentences, where are you positioned socioculturally? The globe we inhabit is stratified by socially constructed hierarchical categories based on culture, race, class, gender, nationality, religion, age, and physical abilities, among others. Like the lines of longitude and latitude that divide, map and position us geographically on the earth, these hierarchical categories position us socially, politically and materially in relation to each other and in relation to power.” (p. 18)

Sorrells explains that positioning “directs us to interrogate who can speak and who is silenced; whose language is spoken and whose language trivialized or denied; whose actions have the power to shape and impact others and whose actions are dismissed, unreported and marginalized.”

The author’s reference to modern-day anthropologists Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo was also valuable. Their premise is that culture, in the context of globalization, has been “deterritorialized.” What this means is that “cultural subjects (people) and cultural objects (film, food, traditions, and ideas) are uprooted from their ‘situatedness’ in a particular physical, geographic location and reterritorialized, or relocated in new, multiple and varied geographic spaces,” (p. 43).

Hence, we find Hindi films and Amitabh Bachchan posters worldwide, with wildly different meanings attached. “Similarly, a person’s or group’s sense of identity, who migrates from Iran to Israel to the United States, for example, is reinscribed in new and different cultural contexts, altering, fusing, and sometimes transforming that identity.”

There were two very minor disappointments for me, amidst all the positives in this text. The first is that while this volume includes a great deal of content that other intercultural texts omit, Sorrells does not adequately address religion and its role in society today. The clash of religious and spiritual beliefs, the gaps between believers and non-believers, the judgments one to another, the fact that religion can provide access to power or motive for distrust, are important. Religion can divide or unite communities, nations, and continents. A chapter or at least a couple of pages devoted to the topic, as seen through Sorrells’ keen perspective, would be a valuable addition.

Second, while the book is overflowing with examples from all over the world, it is unnecessarily US-centered. Perhaps a US publisher wanted the book to sell to US universities, and thus preferred it be written that way. This could so easily have been a non-nation-centric book—with an even bigger market. It comes so very close that it seems a shame not to have gone the extra step.

Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice is a must-read for any intercultural professional or serious student of the field. And if you have the pleasure of teaching an intercultural communications class, this is a terrific new text.