There’ll be blood

Recently, I was alerted to a speech in which President Trump said: “I’m directing Department of Justice and Homeland Security to undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth and other people, many other people.”

The word that stands out is ‘blood’ but in combination with ‘destroying’. As if it’s contaminated.

In an extensive study on how Americans and British people feel about equal citizenship, Johnston Conover, Searing and Crewe (2004) argued that people may not be able to psychologically disconnect their community experiences from the political definition of citizenship, i.e., civil rights and that the law maybe more progressive than the people. Now, post Brexit and US 2016 elections, the world seems confused about what it means to belong in a nation.

Equal citizenship is “the doctrine that all human beings are of equal moral worth and that all citizens, including minorities… should be regarded as full and equal members of the community” (JC, S & C, 2004, p. 1036). Gutmann (1992, cited in JC, S & C, 2004) argued that equal citizenship can be achieved through two pathways. One is by separating citizenship from national identity and culture (be culture blind) and adhere to the ‘rule’ that no way of life has privilege (i.e., the legal path, in this paper argued to be the ‘liberal’ path from its Latin origin Liber). Or, on the other hand, through cultural pluralism, which seeks to assure minority groups equal standing among the majority culture (be aware of cultural differences).

A third path, Johnston Conover and colleagues argue, is the communitarian model, which postulates that citizenship is learned through experiences. Unlike the liberal (see also a discussion on the cross cultural confusion about this term) path or pluralist path, communitarianism rejects accounts of autonomous or interdependent individuals because the quality of community life depends on ‘relatedness and mutuality; i.e., a system of shared meanings.

Johnston Conover et al. asked US and UK individuals questions about their conceptualisation of citizenship (rights vs duties) and what makes someone a citizen (blood ties vs assimilation). They found a distinct difference between the US and the UK, in that a membership of a nation in the US was deemed determined by (rank 1-3) residency, socialization and birth, whereas for the British participants it was birth, blood and then born and bred. When they didn’t ask about citizenship but about ‘belonging’ – then both groups agreed that residency and socialization sufficed.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if Johnston Conover and colleagues would replicate their study now.

Similarly, Pehrson, Vignoles and Brown (2009) analysed existing ISPP data from 37,030 individuals in 31 countries about their national identification in terms of citizenship (civic definition), linguistic ability (cultural definition) and ancestry (ethnic definition). Among other results, they found a positive correlation between viewing national membership based on ancestry and prejudice. Just recently, The Economist shared the results of a poll of 15 nations on what defines identity and this research suggested a common language is the most important.

For my research, I used these various conceptualisations of citizenship to find out how people feel about citizenship and how an ‘other’ may attain it or lose it. There is data on Brexit, data from Dutch students and data from students in the UK. It’ll be interesting to explore the differences, especially in terms of how the ‘youth’ themselves feel about blood and, so called, destruction. Moreover, the studies contain a framework borrowed from business literature, Person-Environment Fit, which may shed more light on how varying conceptualisations of citizenship could be managed.

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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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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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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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Oh that’s why?

Cross cultural management is the ability to handle issues between people from different backgrounds effectively. In our current globalised environment, any individual with responsibility over or for others, i.e., a leader and decision maker, would do well to take heed of the cultural differences that exist but it can be a minefield . We are never neutral, and all that we perceive is through a filter coloured by our cultural background.

However, it is also often ignored by people in leadership roles because the benefits of training can be difficult to translate into a hard cost-benefit analysis and it goes against the general idea that we live in a global village, where modern people think similarly and where there is no need for understanding cultural differences.
In this report, I summarise the knowledge that I have taught to (MBA) students and researched over the years as an expert in Cross Cultural Management and Psychology. The report was developed with the aim to inform decision makers in businesses and organisations, who work in an international context. Since it is impossible to track who reads my blog, journal articles, chapters and lecture notes, I wrote this report for you, which I hope you will read but also actually use. I genuinely believe in ‘Evidence Based Management’, which is essentially the idea that people should manage by gaining some evidence to back up their decisions. So, if this report is useful to you and you implemented some of it in your working life, all I ask is for you to put that in writing and send this to me via

Identity Research for impact

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Under organizational wings

How the universal need for certainty in nations under socio-economic stress can be satisfied by greater formalization within organizations.

Addressing debates about a) the negative correlations between cultural values and practices and b) the controversial effect of formalization and bureaucracy on organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB), we developed a cross-level theory specifying that formalization at the organizational level buffers negative effects of uncertainty at the nation-level on OCB of individuals.  Drawing upon organizational and psychological literature, we argue that a universal need for certainty in nations characterized by high levels of uncertainty can be satisfied by greater formalization within organizations. A three-level hierarchical linear modelling analysis of data from 7,537 employees in 267 organizations across 17 countries supported our hypotheses. In nations with greater levels of uncertainty practices, formalization is positively associated with voice OCB. Our theory and findings open new avenues for re-addressing the debate around negative correlations between cultural values and practices and offers new insights into the complex role of bureaucracy in a global context.

This paper is accepted for the IACM conference in Leiden, The Netherlands July 2014


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Person-Nation Fit and group equality

If Multiculturalism ‘has failed’, then a better understanding of what concepts such as citizenship, tolerance and value congruence mean to society is required. Modern societies are hybrid versions of the traditional culture and new influences (Claeye & van Meurs, 2013) and within each society, in/out group dynamics among subcultures may cause ethnocentric tension (e.g,  Berry, 2009; Pratto et al, 1994). Johnston et al., (2004) found that respondents’ views on citizenship reflect complex mixtures of liberalism and communitarianism. This paper explored how individuals perceive themselves to fit in with their nation based on adapted work from the Person-Environment Fit theory in order to establish societal level Person-Nation Fit (P-N Fit). Citizenship, cultural intelligence and perceptions of intercultural encounters were linked to P-N Fit and belief in group equality. The qualitative study involved 16 participants from anti-fascist groups in Britain. Results showed a denouncement of national identity but a sense of citizenship based on proximal factors. For the quantitative study, 238 students were surveyed. Results showed that Demands-Abilities Fit and cultural intelligence positively predicted a belief in the equality of groups, whereas having experienced negative emotions when meeting people from other cultures linked negatively with beliefs of group equality. Having these negative emotions, low genetic essentialism and strong political leanings predicted citizenship as “A person who has legal rights and duties”. The results highlighted the complexity of communitarianism and liberalism in terms of views on citizenship, and a requirement to re-negotiate the conceptualisation of a multicultural society.

This abstract, titled “Person-Nation Fit and group equality: Defining an individual’s tolerance in a multicultural society“, has been accepted for the annual meeting of the International Association of Cross Cultural Psychology in Reims, France this summer.

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Becoming more business-like? Marketization and its impact on the construction of NPO identity in South Africa

We (Frederik Claeye and I) submitted a paper to Academy of Management that investigates the impact of the trend of managerialism on the construction of organizational identity in non-profit organizations in South Africa drawing on the more critical traditions within both Development and Management Studies. 35 semi-structured interviews were conducted with managers and team leaders from 15 NPOs. Using an interpretive framework, this study analysed the outcomes in light of two discourses (managerialism and Ubuntu) at the global/local interface. The data suggest that processes of sense-giving and sense-making shape the construction of organizational identity. Managers derive a sense of identity by internalizing the managerialist discourse and the ‘best practices’ that go with it in order to obtain legitimacy as ‘proper’ organizations. At the same time, however, they also wish to emphasize the distinctiveness of NPOs, which gives rise to an identity that centers on human interconnectedness that is in line with local cultural value orientations, such as Ubuntu, as the corner stone of organizational identity.

We aimed to illustrate how sense-giving structures are being mimicked under influence of isomorphic pressures and the quest for legitimacy. At the same time, however, processes of sense-making may be seen at work through the ways in which culture offers a lens through which the managerialist discourse can be translated, and aligned to local cultural values.

The paper’s main contributions are both theoretical as well as to development praxis. At the theoretical level, it offers critique that blends postcolonial, critical management and critical development approaches in order to build an understanding of the implications the dominance of managerialist modes of thinking may have on the construction of organizational identity. In this way it contributes to the debate on managerialism by offering a more fine-grained and empirical analysis of power and resistance underlying processes of sense-giving and sense-making in the construction of organizational identities in NPOs in a developing country. At the level of development praxis it highlights the need to allow room for the expression of the local cultural values in order to ensure staff commitment and thus enhance our current efforts to make aid more effective.


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Chinese whispers in Cross Cultural Perspectives

It’s January 2011. a good time for some reflection and action-taking. I certainly have resolutions and know, from the research that is done on the subject, that keeping a diary or at least plan my behaviour may help.


Since last year, I have been keen to evaluate if the materials that I teach actually affect the students’ thinking.  One of the challenges for this year is to convey the message I have intended for my students.  In order to evaluate this, I included a review exercise as part of the MBA assessment – students were required to evaluate the impact (or not) of the course ‘Cross Cultural Perspectives’ on their thinking and (potentially) practice. The course is part of ‘Management Perspectives’, which includes ethics, diversity, consultancy & entrepreneurship. It aims to add a philosophical perspective to the MBA experience.  The MBA is a great opportunity to take some time to reflect. MBA students often come in with an air of ‘you cannot tell me anything new’ (which makes me wonder why they’re there in the first place). But the whole point is to share experiences, reflect and discuss. This is their time to learn, reject/accept and evolve.

Unfortunately for me, the reviews mainly focused on a) the need to be aware that there are other nationalities and b) we all need to be politically correct/nice to one another. This wasn’t the lesson I intended. The five sessions focused on different aspects of management (economic crisis, marketing, negotiations, leadership) and the main topic throughout all of them was to encourage a) awareness of the subjectivity of best practice, b) critical thinking in terms of cognitive biases (mental short cuts like stereotyping) and c) the importance of cultural intelligence. As is evident, this doesn’t quite match the main themes from students’ reviews (despite that they were encouraged to think critically, feel comfortable to be critical and were given a template with an example). So, back to the drawing board.

Perhaps I am dealing with a cultural difference; the students (none were British/Western European/American) may not be familiar with the pedagogic practice of  criticising the facilitator. I’ll try again at the end of the year, when they almost finished their entire MBA to see if a) cross cultural perspectives made an impact (self reflection) and b) they retained the core 3 messages (do they incorporate the knowledge into the presentation on their project?). A bit like the Theory of Planned Behaviour with an intervention…

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A focused read for busy people

I developed a report that summarises the knowledge that I acquired over the years and have taught to (MBA) students as a researcher in Cross Cultural Management and Psychology. The report was developed with the aim to inform decision makers in businesses and organisations, who work in an international context. The Financial Times, in fact, stated recently that cross cultural management is a core aspect of leadership and management development. It’s available to you at no cost because a) it is important to build a bridge between the ‘real world’ and academic work as we face a challenging globalised future and b) research needs to have a practical impact. 

In terms of globalisation and our future, you are no doubt aware that the world’s regions and countries are mapped according to wealth (e.g., GNP), systems (i.e., political, economical and legal), and development (e.g., infrastructure, level of education). Indices and statistics of these concepts provide us with information about the differences that exist globally between countries. Governments, global organisations (e.g., Worldbank), and multi-national corporations (MNCs) may use it before deciding on investment, aid, and collaborations.

            At the individual level, we learn about cultural differences between people through travel, the media and day-to-day living, working, and interaction in a multicultural environment. People vary in terms of what they value and how they do things. We may inform ourselves about the how, what and where of people foreign to us out of necessity or out of interest of the anthropological aspects of (modern) human life.

            For some time, knowing the do’s and don’ts often sufficed for any substantial intercultural interaction. In the professional realm, cross cultural training before or during intercultural assignments, projects or mergers usually provided a ‘toolbox’ of these do’s and don’ts, such as how to greet, what (not) to discuss over dinner, and when to expect a definitive offer on a deal. However, due to globalisation, organisations function within diverse contexts across continents and the modern person has mixed identities (ethnic, national, religious), with x-number of years of experience abroad. This means that a simple do’s and don’ts list is not enough.

            Successful interaction requires intercultural insight. This constitutes the know-how as mentioned above but, moreover, it requires the ability to interpret the situation presented to us by being aware of our cultural lenses and keeping the other’s perspective in mind. It is an updated kind of toolbox, which is adapted to 21st Century working life.

            This briefing will address the three core aspects of effective intercultural engagement: Know-How, Cultural Self-Awareness, and Perspective. Each section will describe some important research in an accessible way, illustrated by practical examples. The briefing concludes with advise that can be implemented immediately. Check out the link on the top menu above or click here: Identity Research for Impact – A review for practitioners



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