When Cultures Collide - Diplomat Magazine (2022)

When Cultures Collide - Diplomat Magazine (1)Despite globalisation, Richard Lewis says people are still rooted in their national and regional backgrounds, and it is important to understand how these influences work to avoid cultural misunderstanding

One of the key parts of a diplomat’s job is to understand and build good working relationships with the governments and peoples of the countries he or she is dealing with. Despite the fact that cultures are coming together under the influence of globalisation and internationalism, people are still rooted in their national and regional backgrounds and it is important to understand how these influences work.

Three key areas can cause cultural misunderstanding. Handled wrongly they can cause strained or ruptured relations. Handled with due care and respect they can build strong, effective links. What are the three key areas? Values, communication patterns and attitudes to authority and leadership. By values, I mean core beliefs, national characteristics and attitudes and worldviews. By communication patterns, I focus particularly on speech styles and listening habits. Attitudes to authority and leadership speaks for itself.

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Stereotypes and generalisations

Mention national characteristics and immediately someone will jump up and tell you they know someone from the culture you are discussing and they are nothing like what you describe. Then they accuse you of stereotyping.

Describing national characteristics is just a first step in understanding the individual. Anyone’s culture is complex. Anyone you deal with is a mixture of several different kinds of experience. One is their national background but just as important in many countries is their regional background. Ask an Indian about the key Indian characteristic and they will tell you – variety. Huge differences of population, language, lifestyle, religion and culture exist in this democracy of 1.2 billion people. Ethnicity is also an important distinguishing factor, as is gender, generation, religion and social class. On a personal level, education and upbringing are important as is their personal and corporate experience. As international consultants advising governments, corporations and international organisations such as the World Bank, we make generalisations based on national characteristics and use this as a platform to drill down to the individual. This has proved to be enormously helpful in bringing international negotiation and project management to a successful conclusion.

When Cultures Collide - Diplomat Magazine (2)

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The Lewis Model

One of the key tools we use in international consultation is the Lewis Model. This divides the world’s countries into three categories, based on the way they organise themselves, the way they communicate and, particularly, their attitude to the use of time. It provides a framework within which individuals can understand their own profile and compare it to the people they are dealing with.

The three categories are Linear-active cultures, Multi-active cultures and Reactive cultures. A linear-active culture is a planning culture, characterised by careful planning, commitment to deadlines, more or less strict timekeeping and building personal relationships through successful business dealing. Cultures in what is sometimes called the Northwest cluster of countries are typically linear-active. A multi-active culture on the other hand is a vision culture. It knows what it wants to achieve but is flexible about how it does so. This means it prioritises activities by personal importance rather than by adherence to externally established deadlines. It also means time itself is a flexible resource. For example, Indians joke that IST (‘Indian Standard Time’) really stands for ‘Indian Stretchable Time’. In a multi-active society relationships are everything and therefore building strong personal relationships comes first. “Get the relationship right and business follows as day follows night,” one Korean friend and colleague explained.

There is sometimes a suggestion that linear-active countries like the US and Germany are more successful than multi-actives. They may be more efficient. What you do find, however, is that international operations run more smoothly according to linear-active principles and as cities in multi-active countries become more internationally commercial and successful they inevitably become more linear-active in their mode of operation.

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Most countries tend towards a linear-active or multi-active modus operandi, but we need to mention one more category in the Lewis model – reactive. This is a characteristic typical of countries in the Asia Pacific region, such as China, South Korea and Japan. Diplomats from reactive countries typically value time for silence, consideration and reflection. Respect for the other person and giving them time to think before answering questions is very important. Also important is the reactive concept of groupthink. Japanese diplomats will want to take time to reflect and discuss with colleagues before giving a response to a problem. The process is known in Japanese as nemawashi, binding the roots of the rice to make it stronger, or more typically, a process of collective internal negotiation. This means that decisions can be slow in coming and foreign envoys have to ready for this.

Most important of all is the overriding importance of ‘face’ or personal dignity. All societies have this to some extent but in the Asia Pacific region it is particularly evident. ‘Face’ puts an absolute premium on respect, politeness and consideration, and most colleagues will do their utmost to save face, even if it means being economical with the truth or outright covering up of difficult or embarrassing situations. This may extend to covering up the facts of a crisis when the situation is visibly deteriorating. Successful diplomats require the ability to both understand the culture and to know culturally the right way to behave in order to resolve difficulties.

Culture isn’t black and white. Countries vary in the degree to which they conform to the three categories. This is why we find it useful to present them in this colour-graded triangle.

Human Mental Programming

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What we find in a globalised world is that many countries share common values but also have their own deeply rooted national values. We describe this as human mental programming. If you compare, for example, Japan and the US the base of the triangle shows ‘internationally-held values’ while the rest of the triangle shows national values. The diagram enables the user to see at a glance the similarities and differences between typical members of the two communities and to calibrate their approach to each in the appropriate way.

Communication patterns – what your audience is looking for

Finally, a quick look at communication patterns. This covers both negotiation and meetings styles and listening habits. What is your audience looking for in a presentation? In Russia, for example, you are probably dealing with cautious listeners wary and suspicious of ‘officialese,’ so the more you can be personal and empathetic and ‘strike a personal chord’ with your audience the better. At the same time they need to be reassured that you have the authority and expertise in your subject to impress a sceptical audience, hungry for information.

In Germany, personal empathy is good but not vital. They want information, delivered at the right level of detail with a knowledge of the technical issues at play. They don’t want or need simplifications and jokes (almost obligatory in US and British) which can detract from the presentation value in Germany. Above all they don’t need a ‘hard sell.’ They want you to be frank about the ‘pros and cons’ of any project you describe so that they have the information to evaluate it for themselves. Above all, be ready for ‘aggressive’ questioning, if they are interested. A British diplomat was horrified at the level of detailed questioning he faced after his presentation, only to discover at the end that his presentation had gone down really well.

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On a final note, you’ve probably heard of the British diplomat in Shanghai who told a joke in English and was highly gratified by the enthusiastic response. Afterwards he asked his interpreter how he had translated the joke. ‘Well, Sir,’ replied the interpreter, ‘First, I said, His Excellency is about to make a joke. Please smile in anticipation.’ Then I said, ‘His Excellency’ is telling a joke. Please laugh.’ Finally, I said, ‘His Excellency has finished the joke. Please laugh loudly and applaud heartily.’ Enough said!


When cultures collide Richard Lewis summary? ›

When Cultures Collide gives you a greater understanding of what makes other people tick and enables managers to ensure that their policies and activities exploit cultural synergies and make the right appeal to their chosen market. “An authoritative roadmap to navigating the world's economy.”

What happens when cultures collide? ›

Additionally, when cultures collide, acculturation can occur. Acculturation is a type of assimilation in which a minority culture adopts some aspects of the majority culture but still maintains some of its unique characteristics.

Who is the diplomat? ›

Diplomats are members of foreign services and diplomatic corps of various nations of the world. The sending state is required to get the consent of the receiving state for a person proposed to serve in key diplomatic positions such as an ambassador, also referred to as the head of the mission.

What is multi active culture? ›

Cultural Classification: Multi-active. Multi-active people are talkative, impulsive types who attach great importance to feelings, relationships and people-orientation. They like to do many things at the same time and are tend to feel confined by agendas.

What happens when two different cultures meet? ›

Assimilation. The process of a assimilation when the two cultures meet often only happens when one is more advanced than the other and swallow up the other culture. This eventually leads to complete loss of cultural identity. It sometimes- like adoption, results in a complete new culture.

Why are there cultural clashes? ›

Cultural clashes in American society are usually rooted in lack of understanding and communication. A 2019 article in Frontiers in Psychology emphasizes that culture clashes are rooted in the friction that comes from different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

How do you combine cultures? ›

When faced with a merger, keep issues related to blending cultures a top priority and take steps to ensure a smooth transition.
  1. Plan ahead. ...
  2. Hire professionals to assist with the integration. ...
  3. Involve the employees in the process where possible. ...
  4. Communicate frequently with both organizations.

Who owns the diplomat publication? ›

The Diplomat
Owner(s)MHT Corporation
PublisherJames Pach
EditorShannon Tiezzi (Editor-in-Chief) Catherine Putz (Managing Editor) Abhijnan Rej (Security & Defense Editor) Sebastian Strangio (Southeast Asia Editor) Ankit Panda (Editor-at-Large)
6 more rows

What is diplomat in simple words? ›

noun. a person appointed by a national government to conduct official negotiations and maintain political, economic, and social relations with another country or countries. a person who is tactful and skillful in managing delicate situations, handling people, etc.

What do diplomats do all day? ›

The main functions of diplomats are: representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending State. initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements. treaties and conventions.

What is the difference of your culture from another culture? ›

Definition. Cultural difference involves the integrated and maintained system of socially acquired values, beliefs, and rules of conduct which impact the range of accepted behaviors distinguishable from one societal group to another [1].

Why do we have such cross-cultural similarities? ›

A culture of each nation has many characteristics and aspects that shape their individual faces. When comparing cultures, common characteristics are regarded as the similarity and differences among two or many cultures. Hence, in the relationship between cultures, each culture has its similarity and differences.

Which countries are multi-active? ›

Italy, Saudi Arabia or Bolivia are great examples of multi-active countries. Reactive cultures are the most introverted of all types. The usual characteristics of the reactive type include more listening than speaking, being respectful, avoiding conflict and trying to reach a diplomatic agreement where everyone wins.

What happens when civilizations come into contact with one another? ›

culture contact, contact between peoples with different cultures, usually leading to change in both systems. The effects of culture contact are generally characterized under the rubric of acculturation, a term encompassing the changes in artifacts, customs, and beliefs that result from cross-cultural interaction.

Can two cultures coexist? ›

Despite having many cultural differences, society can effectively and peacefully coexist, and they can do this by being open to cooperation, building on common values and beliefs, and learning to respect the beliefs of other cultures. The numerous cultures and beliefs in the world give variety and spice to life.

What being stuck between two cultures can do to a person's psyche? ›

Those who feel rejected from their heritage culture can be left feeling alone and unsupported. This has been linked with depressive symptoms, poor well-being and greater stress. It can also leave people feeling as if their two cultural identities are in conflict with each other.

What is an example of culture clash? ›

An example of cultural conflict is the debate over abortion. Ethnic cleansing is another extreme example of cultural conflict. Wars can also be a result of a cultural conflict; for example the differing views on slavery were one of the reasons for the American civil war.

What are the biggest causes of intercultural conflict? ›

The most common driver of intercultural conflict derives from something known as 'ethnocentrism'. Ethnocentrism essentially stems from an individual's belief that their culture and way of doing things is the right way.

What is an example of a cultural misunderstanding? ›

People say one thing but mean another. Saying something is “fine” in the UK really means it is not fine – it's the exact opposite. Among Brits, they understand what 'fine' means – it means it's 'not good enough' and that changes need to be made. The Dutch national however took the meaning literally – big mistake!

What is the mixing of cultures called? ›

Definition of acculturation

1 : cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture the acculturation of immigrants to American life also : a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact.

What is an example of cultural integration? ›

Examples of Cultural Integration

Chinese immigrants brought Chinese food, etc. The original religious beliefs in the United States were animistic, the belief that natural objects such as trees contain souls, but now every type of religious belief, no matter the culture of origin, is practiced.

Why is culture important in merger? ›

Cultural factors and organizational alignment are critical to success (and avoiding failure) in mergers. Yet leaders often don't give culture the attention it warrants—an oversight that can lead to poor results. Some 95 percent of executives describe cultural fit as critical to the success of integration.

How can I read the Diplomat magazine for free? ›

How does it work? We are introducing what is known as a metered paywall. Specifically, you will be able to read 5 articles each month entirely free of charge. After that point, you will be prompted to sign up for a Diplomat account and full access.

What personality type is the Diplomat? ›

Diplomat personality types – Advocates (INFJ), Mediators (INFP), Protagonists (ENFJ), and Campaigners (ENFP) – care about helping and connecting with others. They prioritize being kind and generous, and in general, they'd rather cooperate than compete. Empathy seems to come naturally to these personalities.

Is diplomatic a negative word? ›

No. Being a diplomat is always neutral in American or British English, and is normally used in the literal sense that someone works as a foreign emissary on official business. In the figurative sense, we use "being diplomatic" rather than "being a diplomat".

How does one become a diplomat? ›

Although educational requirements for diplomats are not specific or standardized, an undergraduate degree, at minimum, is common. Most hold a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science, International Relations, History, or another related discipline. They typically include foreign language courses in their studies.

Can you be a diplomat in your own country? ›

What Is a Diplomat? A diplomat is a public official who works on behalf of his or her country and helps to implement its foreign policy. Though diplomats do occasionally work domestically within their own country, they usually are sent to a foreign nation and are based at an embassy or consulate.

How difficult is it to become a diplomat? ›

It is very hard to become a diplomat.

Diplomats typically need lots of education and exceptional analytical, organizational, and leadership skills. They also must have the ability to communicate clearly and effectively in both written and oral contexts.

Can diplomats carry guns? ›

As far as I know, there isn't any law specifically saying that foreign ambassadors may carry handguns. But diplomatic immunity pretty much puts foreign ambassadors above the law. The worst thing the U.S. government can do is declare them persona non grata and kick them out of the country.

What makes a good diplomat? ›

Diplomats need strong analytical, organizational, and leadership skills. They must have good judgment and high integrity. In addition, they must be able to communicate effectively, both in writing and orally. They must be able to learn at least one foreign language, often several, during their careers.

What is merging organizational cultures? ›

The four main strategies for merging different corporate cultures are assimilation, deculturation, integration, and separation (see Figure below). Assimilation Assimilation occurs when employees at the acquired company willingly embrace the cultural values of the acquiring organization.

What are the issues that would crop up when two companies in different cultures move into acquisition or merger? ›

One frequently cited cause of failed deals is cultural incompatibility. Mergers can leave employees feeling isolated, unsupported and unsure about what the future holds. This uncertainty can undercut the upsides of any deal and even derail it.

What is the mixing of cultures called? ›

Definition of acculturation

1 : cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture the acculturation of immigrants to American life also : a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact.

What is the process by which two cultures are merged together to become one distinct culture? ›

Cultural assimilation occurs when ethnic groups take on the culture of another group in order to integrate into society. A common analogy for cultural assimilation is the term 'melting pot'. A melting pot occurs when groups of people with different cultures, 'melt,' or come together to create a new or common culture.

Why is culture important in merger? ›

Cultural factors and organizational alignment are critical to success (and avoiding failure) in mergers. Yet leaders often don't give culture the attention it warrants—an oversight that can lead to poor results. Some 95 percent of executives describe cultural fit as critical to the success of integration.

How can you overcome cultural differences in mergers and acquisitions? ›

4 Strategies for Overcoming Culture Clash After a Merger
  1. Analyze Cultural Differences Before the Merger Happens.
  2. Communicate & Listen to Employees.
  3. Define & Implement Your New Culture.
  4. Celebrate & Embrace Change.
Nov 9, 2017

Which type of challenge is the hardest to overcome in a merger? ›

Despite best-laid plans and executive oversight, human factors present the greatest risk and sales-force integration is the toughest merger issue to overcome.

What are some of the key issues and questions that need to be addressed during mergers and acquisitions? ›

Top Ten Issues in Mergers and Acquisitions Transactions
  • Deal Structure. ...
  • Consideration: Cash versus Equity. ...
  • Working Capital Adjustments. ...
  • Escrows and Earn-Outs. ...
  • Representations and Warranties. ...
  • Target Indemnification. ...
  • Joint and Several Liability. ...
  • Closing Conditions.
Jul 6, 2022


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