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  • Symen A. Brouwers

Cross-Cultural Psychology for Everyone


In depth conversation about culture and human endeavour is typically the dominion of the academic field of cross-cultural psychology. Over the last decades, cross-cultural research has built a large pool of evidence, often dealing with the ways in which people from two or more cultures are the same, or different: People do not only vary in the ways they solve complex problems, but also in the degree to which they emphasize trust, the extent to which they honor tradition and very many other ideas and behaviors.


Flowing and natural conversation about the ways in which people’s ideas and habits are infused with culture would have an enormous power. Anyone who works across cultures will have fond memories of situations in which the differences between feelings or thoughts stood out as important. But for an executive, the ideas and preferences of partners or a novel audience can be distant: Differences may not be obvious, maybe too big to properly handle, or deemed as something superficial and irrelevant that can be nudged in a better direction.

The bulk of cross-cultural research has been driven by the so-called ecocultural model. In this model, culture is conceived as the typical psychological characteristics of a social group, such as ideas, social conventions, or preferences that are shaped by untouchable and permanent external forces, such as the physical environment, economic circumstances, social institutions, that work from the outside-in to shape psychological functioning. When properly appreciated, the model can help those interested to grasp universalities across cultures and the ways circumstances can “eat into” those.

Business based approaches to the ways in which people deal with cultural differences have primarily taken the shape of cultural intelligence: A provincial would be mostly ignorant to cultural differences and thus not very intelligent across cultures, while an analyst would try and understand the situation and select appropriate behavioral alternatives to fit in. Key to these and other approaches to culture are mostly based on immediately observable differences: Knowable facts of how to greet, try to save face, or making a time plan. And these can be many if one travels a lot.

People having the most successful types of cultural intelligence care little for cultural differences in a direct manner: From having grown up in various cultural environments, the Chameleon has in-depth knowledge of culture as such, enabling the Chameleon to move effortlessly between distinct cultural environments. The type might be the least frequent of all cultural intelligence types, but the parallels one can draw with the ecocultural model of cross-cultural psychology have important lessons for the executives finding differences not obvious, too big to properly handle, or minor things to be nudged in a better direction.

Having been built on the scaffolds afforded by the human mind and society, a behavioral alternative does not go anywhere. Cultural differences are not knowable facts that can be isolated and learned in a book, but inherently connected to the inner workings of the human mind. At Hecht Insights, we will help you and your organization develop this deeper understanding and greater versatility across cultures. What is the model your organization uses to work with people across cultures?


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