By Kris Bibler, 1989 Thunderbird graduate
Have you lived in several cultures during your lifetime? Are you life partners with someone of a different culture? Are you an immigrant, a refugee, or maybe a child of parents with different nationalities? Do you work with people who have had any of the above life experiences? These are just a few of the pathways that may lead to a Blended Culture persona.
What exactly do I mean by Blended Culture? I take the term from the Cultural Detective Blended Culture, where it is defined as, “people who have been significantly influenced in their fundamental sense of who they are by two or more ethnic and/or national cultures and, as a result of their profound bicultural or multicultural experience, hold multiple frames of reference within themselves.”
As a Thunderbird alum or student, it’s quite possible you relate to, or work with people who relate to, the Blended Culture set of values. Understanding those values can help you learn more about yourself and your relations with others, as well as help you manage or work with people who hold those values. Consider the following incident (taken from Cultural Detective Blended Culture):
Sophia, Martin and Tom work for an international organization in The Netherlands. Martin and Tom are both Dutch. Sophia, a Blended Culture person with some adult living experience in The Netherlands, is their manager.
Martin believes he can best achieve results by being open, accessible, and friendly with his clients. He believes that his joviality makes up for any potential risk that his casualness might sometimes cause offense. When he comes late to a meeting, he comes with coffeecake. On the other hand, Tom, or Dr. T.D. Hovers as he prefers to be introduced, is entirely professional. In the company’s relatively informal organizational culture, he always wears a three-piece suit. Tom is measured, considered, and deliberate. He believes it is a mark of respect to always be on time for an appointment.
Sophia has assigned Martin and Tom to a project, believing that their different styles – effusive in contrast to measured, people-centered in contrast to systems-centered – will provide the project with necessary complements.
Martin has now come into her office demanding to know which of the two has final authority on the project. They can’t agree on certain details of the project audit, on the procedures to use, or even on such small issues as how they will sign their names to documents. Sophia explains that she expects them to take equal responsibility for the project, and that she expects them to manage their own styles so that they can learn to work well together. Martin’s response: “I will never work with him again!”
In this incident, Sophia had hoped to use Tom’s and Martin’s different styles as a creative resource, but didn’t account for the two men not being willing or able to work together. As a Blended Culture person, she believes people have choices about how they behave, and assumes they can negotiate differences in order to better achieve team objectives. In contrast, Martin doesn’t value and certainly doesn’t enjoy working with someone as different from himself as Tom. He is ill-prepared to shift his natural working style for the benefit of the project, and doesn’t even understand that this is what Sophia expects of him. He is looking out for his own needs by coming to Sophia for a resolve.
So how do we reconcile such a dilemma? Sophia and Mark would both do well to examine differences between Blended Culture and Dutch values: Sophia would thus be able to better lead her team members and Mark would be able to better anticipate his manager’s expectations. More proactively, a team can decide to intentionally call upon Blended Culture values to function as a set of overarching values, regardless of the primary values held by individual team members. Since Blended Culture Values are primarily values of “process” versus values of content, the team can be guided by the behavioral flexibility and natural desire to “build bridges” that mark a Blended Culture person.
For more information about Cultural Detective Blended Culture and the Methodology used to develop intercultural competency, see www.culturaldetective.com.
Kris Bibler graduated from Thunderbird in 1989. She is based in Zurich, Switzerland, where she is the Business Development Manager for Cultural Detective®. Since graduation she has worked in sales/marketing roles for top organizations such as DHL Airways, Logistics Management, Inc. and Automatic Data Processing (ADP). After working in the United States domestic diversity training field for a year, Kris began utilizing her 20-plus years of sales and marketing experience to launch the robust global business solutions in the Cultural Detective® series to large organizations around the world. Her passion is to help organizations and their employees gain access to the rich intercultural learning that they need to transform their ethnocentric mindsets and structures in order to fully support and capitalize on the rapidly changing global workforce and the global economy.
CULTURAL DETECTIVE SERIES
This article is the second in a series of intercultural competency stories, through which we will aim to increase readers’ awareness and ability to work productively across cultures.
Article 1: Avoid cross-cultural trial by fire
Article 2: Call upon Blended Culture values