#13 How to use dilemmas to understand cultural differences w/Fons Trompenaars

Cultural differences can stand in the way of doing business or having good relationships. Fons Trompenaars is one of the world’s most prominent experts when it comes to exploring and defining culture. He has spent the last 30 years helping Fortune 500 companies manage and resolve cultural dilemmas and business issues.

In this episode, we talk about how you can understand your culture, how you can use cultural understanding to deal with your intercultural business issues and not least how you can resolve intercultural differences.

Fons will talk about

  • The 3 layers of culture. Conscious or not, they can be measured and are all relevant for the way we interact with other cultures.
  • How you can use dilemmas to understand and reconcile cultural differences.
  • The 7 dimensions of culture. Remember, awareness is not enough. You need to understand your own culture and its differences to other cultures in order to successfully reconcile your cultural dilemmas.

Are you too busy? Here are the key points

Here are my key takeaways from the podcast. But there are more goodies in the episode itself, so hopefully, you will listen to it.

#1 You can measure culture. You can think of culture as having three levels:

  • The explicit part; The observable reality of language, buildings, food, fashions, customs, art, etc.
    • The second layer consist of norms and values. Shared norms and values constitute the most common definition of culture.   
    • Finally, the third level is the underlying assumptions of the people in the culture. This level has escaped from conscious questioning and has become self-evident for the people in the culture.

These levels can be measured on seven dimensions to describe the culture.

#2 Dilemma reconciliation can succeed, when mutual parts seek to understand each other and move forward despite cultural differences. We share dilemmas. Across cultures, we recognise similar dilemmas. But how we approach and resolve them is different. And it is by understanding the differences and embracing the opposites, we can perform dilemma reconciliation. This is an important focus in Fons’ research.

#3 When you want to change a culture – start with the business issues, not the culture. Fons warns us not to do big cultural projects in organisations. If you ask him, they rarely work, anyway. Instead, start with the business issues – you all share them – and then use dilemma reconciliation workshops to resolve dilemmas as they occur. Through them, you should understand and work with cultural diversity. You can change a culture, and you can build a uniform culture within an organisation, but don’t make it into a big culture project.

Curious for more? Here are the links I promised

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