Richard G. Petty, MD

Cultural Competence

One of the problems about so many self-help articles is not only that their authors have often not done their homework, neglecting research and sometimes ignoring the dictates of common sense, but they also tend to be culturally myopic.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in different cultures and some of the advice proffered by a few American business experts would quickly get you shown the door in Japan or Germany!

I’ve just learned that Wal-Mart is pulling out of Germany, writing off a loss of around $1 billion. Part of the problem was that this super successful American company failed to understand German culture. It attempted to introduce the “greeters,” that are a familiar sight in the United States. Germans found it offensive to be confronted by someone ordered to smile at every customer. To a German, a broad toothy grin may be seen as intrusive and an invasion of privacy.

My personal background, extensive travels and work with people from every corner of the world, have made me very sensitive to these differences, and I’m often asked for advice before people head off to do teach, speak or to do business overseas. I was very pleased to find out about a company that specializes in training executives to be culturally competent, and one of the tools that they use is cultural profiling.

I just read an excellent article in the Telegraph by Michael Gates, in which he describes a moment in Finland, when he asked someone how they were, to get the response, “You asked me that last week.” Ask a German how they are, and they will probably spend the next ten minutes telling you.

Different cultures have very different ideas and attitudes toward time, space, truth, privacy, authority, individuality, and, of course, gender. The glass ceiling is still alive and well in many cultures. Children are raised quite differently in different cultures: I knew a British doctor working in the pharmaceutical industry. Her company sent her to the United States for three years, but in less than two she and her family were back in England: she did not like the effects of American education on her children.

The Expat Telegraph website has also launched a series of “National Cultural Profiles.” This is a terrific resource to help us understand the thinking patterns of the world’s major cultures. The resource has been taken from the CultureActive cultural web program that is used throughout the world by governments, non-governmental organizations and corporations. It is also the core of a project (InterCulturalEdge) based at Duke University’s Fuqua Business School in North Carolina.

CultureActive is based on the work of Richard D. Lewis, the author of When Cultures Collide, a book that I recommend highly. He is the chairman of Richard Lewis Communications. Lewis has developed a theory, known as the Lewis Model of Culture. He classifies cultures into three main types:

  1. Linear-active
  2. Multi-active
  3. Reactive

These National Cultural Profiles are different from typical country profiles that you find in the Encyclopedia Britannica or the CIA website that detail economic or political data. These profiles concentrate on key cultural questions such as values, beliefs and communication.

There are free mini-introductions available at the Expat Telegraph website, and there are much more detailed profiles available for subscribers.

CultureActive also allows you to complete your own Personal Cultural Profile by filling in an online questionnaire.

Learning how to communicate with people from different cultures is essential if you hope to expand your own personal horizons, as well as developing your business.

“Civilization is the order and freedom promoting cultural activity.”
–Will Durant (American Historian, 1885-1981)

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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