Cross Cultural Perspectives

Cross Cultural Perspectives

A monkey and a fish were caught in a terrible flood and were being swept downstream amidst torrents of water and debris.  The monkey spied a branch from an overhanging tree and pulled himself to safety from the swirling water.   Then, wanting to help his friend the fish, he reached into the water and pulled the fish from the water onto branch.   The moral of the story is clear:  Good intentions are not enough.If you wish to help the fish, you must understand its nature.  

-Ancient Chinese Fable

Freidman’s flat world concept is a reality.  ‘India’s global power houses’ co- authored by our own Pradipto with Nirmalya and Suj raise the importance of cross-cultural perspectives  for economic growth and success mediated through leaders with a global mindset. On a marketing plane Kraft foods began its success only after learning and adapting to the reality that the Chinese do not like Oreo biscuits to be made sweet and the Indonesians want them sweeter! So we have three types of Oreo biscuits for three countries and Kraft foods is finally blossoming as a global company with this simple understanding of their global customers. Prahlad has time and again alluded to the opportunities for creative business models for wider application when leaders move with a learning mind and heart beyond their borders. I invite the readers to reflect on the implications of the following ideas which I found very useful to me in my cross-cultural training activities including during the last two months of training work with global company heads and leaders in Seattle.

Cultural types

Terrence Brake has given us this useful framework to look at various dimensions of managing globally.  We must remember that these types are not water tight compartments.  A country like India can have features of more than one type

Key FeaturesIndividuality & Independence

Driven by need for harmony.

Alienation from the group can be traumatic

Honor, respect for individuals and groups very important.

Identity of individuals connected to a group like family, class, clan etc.

Loyalty to strong leaders essential

Where they are foundAustralia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Northern and Western EuropeMany parts of Asia like: Japan and to a lesser extent China and KoreaSouthern Europe, South America, Africa and the middle east
Impact upon communication

Prefer explicit and precise communication


Are indirect, meaning is dependent on who says what to whom


Tend to be rhetorical, emotional, using exaggeration and repetition


Impact upon motivation

Desire to achieve


Desire to gain affiliation


Desire for power


FeedbackDirect and two-way. US and UK tend to start and with encouraging words. In Germany criticism is more direct

Feed back is indirect, informal and continuous. Focus is on performance in the team. Save face.


One way feed back, intermediaries for negative feed back. Reputation is vital.



Short, well structured, dynamic with supportive data. Many questions asked.


Low key Lots of supportive information with visuals. Audience attentive but not participative


Warm, personal touches and soft sell. Audience will interrupt with many questions. Will appreciate flexibility and gently bringing back to the topic.



Fast and tied up with legalities


Slow and require trust over time, contracts are broad and subject to change.


Take time to form trusting relationships. Impatient with overly legalistic contracts



Applying cultural cross cultural models

In my seminar with leaders from global and Indian Organisations I use the insights from the work done by people like Terrence Brake (shared above), Hofstede, Triandis and  Tramponar to develop deeper appreciation about cross cultural differences.  Non Indians in my workshop become more conscious of relative importance for trust building before decision making.  They also realize the hierarchical nature of our culture and the longer time it takes to get things done initially.  This helps them to work with Indians far more effectively.

Similarly it helps Indian leaders to learn to become more assertive and more explicit in their communication and also lot more structural in the way they manage time. With this heightened appreciation of one another’s culture, global leaders are able to transact business far more effectively.

For reflection

From this idea can you see possible opportunities to enhance your cultural sensitivity with your multicultural clients, collaborators and competitors?  What creative possibilities occur to you in relation to diversity, inclusion in this fast developing global economy?  Most importantly how can coaches demonstrate respect and cultural empathy in helping leaders move to the next orbit of excellence?

I would love to hear from you.

Suggested Readings

  1. Argayle, M. (1988). Bodily communication (2nd ed.). Madison: International Universities Press.
  2. Auerbach, J.E. (2001). Personal and Executive Coaching: The Complete Guide for Mental Health Professionals. California: Executive College Press.
  3. Axtell, R. E. (1993). Do’s and taboos around the world (3rd ed.). New York: The Parker Pen Company.
  4. Brake, Terrence.(2002). Managing globally (first American edition).New York: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
  5. Hill, C. W. L.(2002). International Business: Competing in the global marketplaces (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
  6. Kumar, N. (2009). India’s Global Power Houses: How they are taking on the world. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.
  7. Matsumoto, D.(2000). Culture and Psychology.( 2nd ed.)Belmont,CA:Wadsworth.
  8. Morris, D., Collett, P., Marsh, P., O’Shaughnessy, M. (1979). Gestures: Their origins and distribution. New York: Stein and Day Publishers.
  9. Passmore, J. (2007). Excellence in Coaching: The Industry Guide. London: Kogan Page
  10. Richmond, V. P., McCroskey, J. C., & Payne, S. K. (1991). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
  11. Samovar, L. A. & Porter, R. E. (2000). Intercultural communication: A reader (9th ed.). Belmont: Wardsworth Publishing Company.
  12. Zuckerman, E.L.(2000). Clinician’s Thessarus (5th ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.

-Dr. B J Prashantham