Person-Nation (Mis)Fit


It hurts and can be shocking when your (extended) community isn’t thinking the way you do. We surround ourselves with like-minded friends, including on social media, and so we develop what is called the ‘False Consensus Effect‘. It means that we wrongly assume that most people agree with what we think.

Additionally, once we realise the others think differently than we do it is tempting to try and convince them to see the situation from our perspective, preferably with evidence or good arguments. But we should not try to just impose views, no matter how evidence based, as the other would simply reject it due to confirmation bias, which is when we prefer, seek out, interpret and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. In other words, your evidence based proof will fall onto deaf ears. The key here is to find out why the ears are deaf.


It is now very confusing what is “British” as it seems the country is 50/50 in terms of their values. BUT effective conflict management, albeit hard work, can be possible by looking at what is really the matter, not by condescending viewpoints. First, a government must try to separate the espoused values from what people really need and how this can be supplied. For example, is it a sense of security? Or a need for freedom? Furthermore, try to find out what the nation needs in terms of skills and which government leadership team has the abilities to deliver an effective, happy workforce. For example, what does a region require in terms of industry innovation and how can this be supplied and what kind of training needs to be put in place? In management research this is called Person-Environment Fit, made up of a match between values, demands-abilities and needs-supplies, which has a strong correlation with wellbeing.

Much of such leadership requires the skill (and guts) to find out the ‘hidden issue’ – people say it’s about immigration. Is it? Or is it about companies not adhering to fair living wages, by underpaying Europeans in the construction and hospitality industry? Or they don’t like how British culture is changing. Well, in Brighton the Migrant English Project offers free English lessons and a lunch to immigrants in a welcoming way. Perhaps the kind side of integration policies needs to be reviewed, in order to address the multicultural tensions (See Scheffer on the situation in The Netherlands).

The issue of Euro bureaucrats – is it that? Or a sense of unequal regional investment and neglect – with the City being bailed out but also a focus of an unsustainable system of economic growth in an era where consumerism is having a lasting impact on our environment (see also Luyendijk’s Swimming with Sharks).  The investment in the NHS: a stalemate situation between Hunt and doctors has been awful and what better way to blame Brussels to free funds. Yet, dare I say it, perhaps we need to look at Europe how it’s done elsewhere – with medical cards to pay a nominal fee to see a GP. There is too much distance between what someone pays for National Insurance and how that person can use it – a card can show a tally from which expensive surgery can be deducted.  The alternatives are endless but this requires enormous innovative, creative and (culturally) intelligent thinking. The question is, who is up for the job?

Because in the meantime it seems that we are dealing with a “Schrödinger’s Brexit” – we’re neither in nor out of the EU. There is a call for a 2nd referendum and a call to have the result annulled. But before Remain supporters celebrate – such an imposed approach could cause further civil unrest within a split nation. Similarly, the Leave campaign claim they ‘won’ and everyone now needs to get on board. But that ‘win’ wasn’t a majority and people won’t be able to just change their views. They may have to accept that Britain will leave the EU but they won’t (want to) understand it. At this stage, it’s raw. Eventually, all that people can probably muster is to see the issue from the other’s perspective (provided it isn’t blatant hate, racism and ignorance or arrogance and elitism) but they won’t embrace it as their own viewpoint. In conflict management research, the ‘compromise’ solution isn’t ideal; Schrödingers Brexit will not make anyone happy. It’s up to the leadership to engage in integrative governance, which will be hard work.


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Don’t worry – be smiling

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Reflective questions (for academics)

The assiduous Dr Giroud came to Middlesex University to discuss networking for academic success, for which I, personally, was very grateful. Academics are known to be introverts and the networking aspect can be daunting. The below is a reflection of her presentation in the frame of self-reflective questions that any writer, researcher, academic can ask him/herself. These questions are my interpretation of the talk that was organised by Prof Anne-Wil Harzing and Prof Terence Jackson.

Workshop 8: Rocket Science? Networking and External Engagement for Academic Success. A presentation by Dr Axèle Giroud

Key reflective questions:


  1. What are your convictions?
  2. What are your professional values?
  3. What personal values are not to be compromised?


  1. What are your goals over 20 years?
  2. What do you want to achieve and how?
  3. What kind of leadership motivates you?

Field of interest

  1. What is the area that interests you?
  2. In what topic would you like to be (known as) an expert?

Research coherency

  1. What projects are you working on at the moment?
  2. What is the coherent narrative behind your (unpublished) papers?


  1. How do you want to communicate your work?
  2. Who are the stakeholders?
  3. How will you gain: 1) enjoyment 2) validity 3) learning?
  4. In what practical ways can you network to enhance/better the following:
    1. Reputation
    2. Collaboration
    3. Humanity/Life

Room for improvement

  1. What is the most challenging aspect of being an academic for you personally?
  2. How can you develop this?

An important question that is important to me personally and also in terms of as a research interest is whether we experience ‘person-environment fit’ and sense of belonging. Our environment can be the organisation but can also be our field of research or our choice of vocation. Doing some reflective exercises such as the above can help (re)focus on where we’d like to be in life.

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Cultural Intelligence Paradox

Have you ever been abroad and asked for directions? Did the
person sometimes give directions that you KNEW were wrong or did they try to give directions eventhough it was evident they knew less than you did? This is because in their culture, it is more important to be helpful than to be accurate.
Vice versa, in London or New York, if you ask for directions, a person would think nothing of it to shake their heads and walk on or wave ‘no’, which can come across as being unwilling to assist. This is because they are from an individualistic context, where being factual and accurate is valued more than harmony. Although frustrating at the time, in a travel scenario like this we’re a little more atuned to others’ different way of doing things. In a professional or social environment at home, where we are required to work and live together for longer periods of time, interactions can be more challenging because things aren’t so black and white.

In an article for the, then, Commission for Racial Equality (now Commission fo Equality and Human Rights), I highlighted the likelihood of mixed race becoming more and more common but also that race is a social construct we created to categorise the world. In the biological sense, it’s become a redundant thing – people are shades of pinky-brown, blue-black, olivy-pink, etc. As a social construct it is still very powerful –for example, the impact of Obama’s election. Nonetheless, governments and Human Resources are finding it increasingly difficult to use that information sensibly – as more and more people will tick the box ‘other’… (van Meurs, 2007). Similarly, people nowadays may have dual nationality, or have lived somewhere outside their country of birth for a substantial time. It is almost bizarre that governments are increasingly obsessed with immigration because this mixing, for love or money, can’t be stopped.

That said, we learn how to do certain things (like eating with knife and fork) and take that with us on journeys. We may learn to eat different things in different ways, but, on average, we have a preference to which we stick. We’re taught how things are done from an early age and through a process of enculturation (formal and informal education) learn more to the point where it becomes a ‘truthful way’ and we are blind to alternatives.

In class, a group of Chinese students shared that they eat Europen food but with chop sticks. Then one day, I had to call them in as there was an overlap issue with their course work and I needed to know who wrote the original piece and who had copied. They replied that they tended to work together a lot as a group and didn’t care much about individual merit (collectivism) and the bravest of them told me shyly that they could never admit who in their team copy/pasted something (plagiarism). I explained that this meant they’d all risk getting a fail. I could tell from their expressions that they didn’t understand how I’d value the factual truth over maintaining face. I made what’s called a ‘rule based’ decision and their ‘why’ didn’t matter. Perhaps I should have considered a ‘consequence based’ decision if I wanted my teaching in cross cultural awareness to be effective and convincing.

We only see and hear the top of the ‘cultural iceberg’ – we don’t know what
drives behaviour unless we’ve learned through experience (bicultural individuals will be more naturally aware of this). The same goes for non-verbal behaviour such as dress, hand movements and personal distance and verbal behaviour such as communication style, laughter and use of silence. Again, it is impossible to know all of the detail, especially in a multicultural environment. Much misunderstanding can be avoided by just considering how what we communicate could be perceived.

In this time of fast-paced social communication, it pays to pause and be aware that the other will use their values as guiding principles in terms of how they interpret your behaviour. If we don’t want to be categorised and judged, we must consider that the same applies to others and, as confusing as this may seem, we’ll sometimes see them wanting to be part of a multi-cultural mix and sometimes identify themselves as part of a distinct group. We are multitudes.

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Negotiating styles across cultures: why and what next?

One of Harvard Business Review’s most popular articles for 2015 was one authored by Erin Meyer, who wrote an interesting piece on the different styles people use when negotiating with a visual that went viral on Twitter. Her work resonates because our world is increasingly connected and, as much as technology helps us to connect faster, our brain cannot necessarily keep up when we deal with people across the world.

We understand that there are cultural differences and that we should be tolerant and understanding of this but internally we may get frustrated and struggle with the (well of course obviously but let’s not say it aloud) incompetent, wrong way that other party is handling the negotiation.

Meyer’s blog features an example of an interaction between  a Saudi customer and an American negotiator. The argument here is that the American should’ve known better when he tried to close the deal – when negotiating with Saudis, you focus on the relationship, not the hard facts. But, isn’t trust important to all of us? And, secondly, what if that Saudi had studied in London and had picked up an aversion to direct communication because in Britain they prefer a more indirect communication style?Cultural relativism

For decades scholars have worked on these challenges, from the famous ‘Getting to Yes’ by Fisher & Ury to the excellent work of Jeanne Brett summarised in now the 3rd edition of ‘Negotiating Globally’.

It helps to understand the ‘why’ behind people’s communication and negotiation styles. Culture, communication and conflict are a Bermuda triangle within which we can get easily caught. Meyer’s book is insightful, as does of course the work by Brett and, for example, the work of Gelfand and Dyer, which explains the complexity of how messages are sent and received in an intercultural negotiation context. Gelfand negotiation There are entire communities devoted to the issue of intercultural conflict and communication, from the practically oriented Dialogin to the training and education focused SIETAR (which has sites tailored to regions, here’s the EU version but there’s one for Australia, Japan, USA etc.) to the more academic International Association for Conflict Management (where you’ll see Brett, Gelfand and others in the ‘wild’). But there are so many more organisations that deal with this topic of understanding cultural differences during conflict management and negotiations.

Once you’ve established the underlying drivers (e.g.,  Hofstede’s dimensions) and understand that when in Rome the Romans do things differently, there is still the challenge of how to behave. Brett, Gelfand and Meyer all have published widely on the subject in terms of advice, such as what strategies to adopt. If it doesn’t work out and coaching is required, there are a multitude of cross cultural management consultancies that can help.

The problem in the future (if it isn’t already the case) is that the learning of how they do it in Rome isn’t very useful if these Romans have studied in America and lived half their life in Thailand on an expat assignment. The next generation is mostly bi- or even tri-cultural. What’s more, the meetings conducted within the international arena will be attended by a diverse group of individuals. It will be impossible to learn the do’s and don’ts for each associate or colleague.

We may then be taught to adopt a strategy of ‘tolerance’ and simply accept that they are differences. But tolerance, ‘I tolerate you’, hints of a power imbalance and a tension that cannot be sustained for long. The key is to turn around the focus of attention away from the other and take perspective.

By developing our cultural intelligence, through taking a pause, suspending judgement, being mindful, asking questions and being able to put oneself in the other’s shoes, i.e., have empathy. It’s a recent concept, developed by P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang and is like emotional intelligence but with the difference that EQ helps us in a room with people of similar background but CQ (or CI) helps us when we’re dealing with diversity. The key is to understand that no culture is ‘neutral’ or better than the other. Harry Triandis wrote about this in 2006 and since then, the field of cross cultural conflict management and intercultural negotiation has looked at this topic closely, for example in the Financial Times. The challenge within academia, however, is that there isn’t a reliable and quick measure for CQ/CI as, for now, it’s measured through self assessment. Perhaps whether someone has high CQ is a matter of asking how they’d solve dilemmas (see also Trompenaars) or observe them in group situations.

Managing with cultural intelligence takes time, something we seem to have less of in a world that is increasingly faster, facilitated by technology. When we recruit, merge, interact, negotiate and communicate, we need to suspend judgement and be aware with which lenses we’re viewing the world. What guiding principles guide our behaviour?

That means we cannot use culture as an excuse; we’ll need to go through a (sometimes literally) pain barrier to arrive at a solution that is mutually satisfactory. It’s cognitively tasking to be effective in a globalised environment but once you’ve gone over the perspective threshold, you might find yourself to be future fit.

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Not one, or none, but all.

The column below was first published in De Psycholoog – Dutch magazine for Psychology December 2015 under the title: Niet een of geen maar allemaal. A PDF of the Dutch version can be found here: PSY1512_WisselColumn.

You do not come across it often as a specific direction within a faculty and the annual congress is small. In 1972, a group of academics in social psychology and anthropology established the international association for cross-cultural psychology. Cross-cultural psychologists are mainly concerned with whether psychological findings have universal validity.


For example: if a psychologist used the Christmas story to measure a child’s thinking level through his or her ability to recount details, is it unfair to apply this in a country where Christmas isn’t celebrated? Or are we comparing apples and oranges when we measure the spatial understanding of two groups and one group, as Marshall H. Segall and colleagues describe so beautifully, grew up in a ‘carpented world’, and the other group only knows the plains and round huts in the Kalahari Desert?
Our findings are time and context bound. Much of our thinking and doing is uncharted territory and this is what makes psychology an exciting science. A recent meta-analysis shows that the balance of ‘nature versus nurture’ is about 50/50, but this relationship may change with the development of better and more culturally intelligent research methods.

For, how ‘Western’ is the diagnosis that people outside of Europe and America are more prone to go with the opinion of a group that deliberately gives the wrong answer (i.e., they don’t think for themselves) of Simon Ash’s famous
experiment on conformity? As Bond and Smith suggested: maybe this concerns a different phenomenon and collectivists find loss of face more important than being right
“Gestalt psychology is THE psychology, according to supporters (Duijker, 1959, p.191) and is a matter of identity and distinction. But why? Psychology has to do with communication within all views; not just about what we measure, but also how we share our knowledge with the world. And we can do better if we try to explain the chaos together. We should perhaps reconsider why Japanese students are deemed to be superior at mathematics since they only need to learn ten words (43 four-ten-three and 14 is ten-four versus the Dutch three-and-forty and fourteen)? What psychology do we use to explain a phenomenon – communication, social, neuro,
or …?

That’s the lesson, according to cross-cultural psychologists; if we diagnose, we must be aware of our own perspective. The lenses with which we observe are not neutral. As Ramses Shaffy sang: “Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire, not without us.” But in the world of Psychology nobody escapes the chaotic context. In this we are one.
Bond, R. & Smith, P.B. (1996). Culture and conformity: a meta-analysis of studies using Asch’s (1952b
1956) line judgement task. Psychological Bulletin, 119(1), 111-137.

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No analysis needed

Every day I’m thankful where I was born and where I live now, especially when winter is kicking in.
“Jennifer Wilson, a teacher from Harare who has been volunteering for more than a month, is sorting through the clothes, discarding useless fake fox scarves and ripped, dirty castoffs. During the week she has been teaching English in a new schoolroom on site. “In my class I’ve had doctors, teachers, engineers and architects. They are educated people. I would like people to know that, that they are not just coming to milk the state,” she says.”
If you want to donate the right stuff, people need trainers and walking boots (particularly sizes 41 and 42 – 7 and 8 in UK sizes), sleeping bags, and small men’s trousers (waist sizes 26-32).
If you want to help through a donation, Doctors of the World is the only large charity stationed in Calais long term
I am enormously in awe of the volunteers who work in Calais, on Greek islands, on Malta, in Italy, on the Med sea and everywhere else to help refugees. Finally, I am so sorry. I am to apologise to those who thought that once they’d brave a sea, cross a land, climb a barrier and escape corruption, no job, violence and no hope that they’d be helped by leaders of this world, anno 2015. I’m so so sorry that this isn’t happening purely because you have the wrong passport or the wrong kind of bank balance.
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Race, gender & cultural appropriation

Recall the fires on gender and race that were flaring up? In response to Tim Hunt’s dinosaur joke on women in labs and falling in love and crying, another scientist had put up an image of a tree house with ‘no girls allowed’ – which reminded me of the all male meetings Tumblr blog and the Calvin & Hobbes G.R.O.S.S. cartoon. Interestingly, the argument now goes that it has highlighted women in science more than any other campaign ever managed – with many women taking selfies in the lab, at fieldwork etc. It cost Prof Hunt his metaphorical head but perhaps he sort of deserves a bronze version of it – displayed in UCLs gardens maybe…

So, following on from that Twitter went nuts over Mr Jenner turning Ms Jenner and how she now needs to return her Olympic medals because in the past he “always felt he was a she” and so competed under fraudulent circumstances. That said, she got congratulations for being herself and being honest – even from Obama.

Not so much for Rachel Dolezal who is white but feels black. A woman who campaigned for black rights but then was outed as her parents as white. Cultural appropriation is complex. It means that if you wear Dutch clogs without knowing the meaning of it or being of Dutch heritage, I can be offended. ‘Can’ because it’s not actually about the item of cultural representation but the underlying power relations. So in the Dolezal case another twitter storm ensued. I’m standing on the sidelines trying to think it through – it seems the liberals have accepted transgender people more than transrace people but only in one direction of the latter – white to black, as black to white is a matter of power struggle.

Cultural appropriation (Pepper the Dog with Dutch clogs)

But, in the words of Radiohead, do we do it to ourselves? Segal and people argue that race isn’t biological – it’s a category we invented. So if we’re on a spectrum, we are not bound by categories. When we continue mixing, it’ll get increasingly complicated to categorise the world.

Thus if cultural appropriation includes racial appropriation and are we then saying race is a culture (system of shared meanings – not biological?) and if a white woman dying her hair black is outrageous, can offence be taken by women about gender appropriation when transexuals find it feminine to don theatrical make up, wear tiny skirts and lacy tops as it is not representative of what women are and, in some eyes, ridicules it? But isn’t the transexual being exposed to a non-empathetic outside world and thus such cultural appropriation isn’t the same as somebody wearing  sari without understanding  the cultural values behind it?

Through the process of differentiating, we set boundaries and tell others, just as there was a move to be politically correct/inclusive/multi-cultural that they can now not take on that (part of) identity. We then engage in ‘othering‘ ourselves for the purpose of highlighting that the external (skin, clothes, ceremonies) are part of a deeper underlying system of shared values (culture). It takes a bit of conscious thinking and lower gear shifting to fully understand the hurt. As Bill Withers sang in the 1970s “who is he and what is he to you?” applied to a 2015 context.

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Work in progress

The recent UK election results made me decide to sit on the fence before any comments are made on what lies ahead. I am concerned about a BREXIT and the Human Rights Act. I worry about zero-hour contracts and wonder how we can support small/medium business entrepreneurs in the next five years. I’m currently working on a set of papers (co-authored with two very talented people, both former students from Middlesex University) about work in this interconnected world.

One of the main conclusions from these papers (abstracts below) is that PERCEPTION is very important. It’s a skill that we may take for granted, especially if we occupy managerial and/or leadership roles. Being mindful of one’s position and how this impacts others and how others perceive us is a talent but it can be cultivated. I hope these papers will contribute towards that. And isn’t it odd that some of us are ‘expatriates’ whereas others are ‘immigrants’?

Below it you can see an image from the campaign “I am an immigrant”. I went to the launch and it was great – so much positivity around the idea that we’re all international now. See more here Movement Against Xenophobia

Paper 1

Working title: How can we help you, Odysseus and Odessa? An investigation of the effects of personal characteristics and of organisational support, family support and support from host country nationals on the cross-cultural adjustment of international expatriates

As a consequence of the globalisation in today’s markets, organisations frequently use expatriate business managers to maintain their position and competitiveness across borders. With increased transfers of expatriates follows the consideration of how the assignee may be successful in the assignment. The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of three forms of support, namely support from the organisation, family support and the support from host country nationals, on cross-cultural adjustment with a qualitative approach to increase the in-depth understanding of the relationships. Findings from semi-structured interviews conducted with 24 expatriates transferred to eight different host countries point to a relationship between all forms of support and general, interaction and work adjustment. Expatriates’ personality also had an impact, with three additional antecedents for adjustment emerging through the interview process: previous experience, cultural novelty and self-effort to acquire knowledge. We suggest that organisations should aim to pursue a more holistic selection process, taking into account support available additional to skills and abilities to work towards to higher performance abroad.

Paper 2

Working title: The Influence of Transferring HRM Practices on Employee Commitment and Intention to Leave: A Study of Hybridity within British MNCs in Saudi Arabia.

The awareness of context within which Human Resources Management (HRM) practices are managed in Multinational Corporations (MNCs) has become a critical issue, especially in unfamiliar territories. The present study explores how MNCs adopt transferred models of HRM by examining hybridization in Saudi Arabia. Qualitative data from two British MNCs in Saudi Arabia showed that the hybridization process and faith have a distinct influence on local employees’ organizational commitment and intention to leave. These results are explored in the macro-level context (World Bank, Hofstede, 2001) to propose practical and theoretical contributions of the study in terms HRM hybridity.


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Too many of us?

When I travel on the London underground and take an escalator up or down, I watch the faces of the people across going into the opposite direction. Usually, these faces are expressionless, on their way to something that will require some engagement but for now, on this metal vertical carpet ride, they’re in rest. I see people ahead of me getting off and I wonder about their lives, their goals and how that face is meaningful to someone somewhere. Then, forgive the morose thought, I sometimes wonder about the impact of a terrorist attack. In one blast, 100s of peoples’ lives would be ended or forever changed. I wonder how this would have an impact on those nearest to them and how community or government leaders (have to) respond. But there are so many of us. 7 billion in fact. What exactly is the impact of such a loss?

When the Charlie Hebdo illustrators were killed, discussions flared up about a value of a life. For some we hold vigils, for others we just read the headline and move on. Much of this is about proximity – we care about those similar to us, near us and less so about those further away. It’s an ingroup/outgroup phenomenon that is much studied in social psychology.

My work, in part, is to understand when and how people sense a belonging as part of their nation (Person Nation Fit). I’m currently analysing qualitative and quantitative data from people from a range of backgrounds and asked them questions about their own citizenship but also when they think someone else becomes a citizen and when the other should lose his/her citizenship. When international students were asked “When you hear the word ‘citizenship’ do you think of a person who is a member of a community or someone who has rights and duties’, the 107 who answered the question were split down the middle.

citizenship rights duties MDX

When asked to explain their answer, the replies varied but one respondent who opted for ‘member’ said “More than just being in the community residing and spectating, a citizen is an active member of the community” and one of the respondents who opted for ‘rights’ said “citizen is someone who have a right in voting and sharing the benefit with other citizen [sic] within the country”. Some felt it was a combination of both: “Actually I think about both. As a citizen, a person not only belongs to a community but also has the right and duties.” For now, I’m hypothesizing that the former (member of a community) definition is more tribal, linked to a sense of belonging whereas the latter (rights & duties) is transactional.

In our globalised world, migration is a hot topic, despite the fact that humans have been moving around for as long as we can track back records. Perhaps we are more bothered now, since the volumes of people have grown. Yet, I doubt many of the people who ride the escalator up or down think about their citizenship much, unless they’re in the process of pledging their allegiance, if they’re a refugee/asylum seeker or if they’re about to migrate elsewhere. I’m unsure the majority can remain ‘laissez faire’ about migration, in that, if we’re not opposed to it, we cannot choose to remain neutral. If I invite you to my home, I show you where the kitchen and bathroom is. I don’t let you get on with it and figure it out so you make mistakes and then I get annoyed, especially if you brought your husband and parents too. One needs to invite the other to the proverbial fire, sit with them, share with them. The rules of pragmatic multiculturalism have changed and that requires engaged and culturally intelligent management.

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