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Erikson: Stages of psychosocial personality development (Abstract)

The Epigenetic Psychosexual Stages

Erikson believed that childhood is very important in personality development. He accepted many of Freud’s theories, including the id, ego, and superego, and Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality. But Erikson rejected Freud’s attempt to describe personality solely on the basis of sexuality, and, unlike Freud, felt that personality continued to develop beyond five years of age.

All of the stages in Erikson’s epigenetic theory are implicitly present at birth (at least in latent form), but unfold according to both an innate scheme and one’s up-bringing in a family that expresses the values of a culture. Each stage builds on the preceding stages, and paves the way for subsequent stages. Each stage is characterized by a psychosocial crisis, which is based on physiological development, but also on demands put on the individual by parents and/or society. Ideally, the crisis in each stage should be resolved by the ego in that stage, in order for development to proceed correctly. The outcome of one stage is not permanent, but can be altered by later experiences. Everyone has a mixture of the traits attained at each stage, but personality development is considered successful if the individual has more of the “good” traits than the “bad” traits.

Ego Psychology

Erikson’s theory of ego psychology holds certain tenets that differentiate his theory from Freud’s. Some of these include:

The ego is of utmost importance. Part of the ego is able to operate independently of the id and the superego. The ego is a powerful agent that can adapt to situations, thereby promoting mental health. Social and sexual factors both play a role in personality development.

Erikson’s theory was more comprehensive than Freud’s, and included information about “normal” personality as well as neurotics. He also broadened the scope of personality to incorporate society and culture, not just sexuality. Criticisms of his theories, in addition to the factors discussed in class, have noted that he did no statistical research to generate his theories, and it is very hard to test his theories in order to validate them.

Stage 1 – Basic Trust vs. Mistrust

Developing trust is the first task of the ego, and it is never complete.
The child will let mother out of sight without anxiety and rage because she has become an inner certainty as well as an outer predictability.
The balance of trust with mistrust depends largely on the quality of maternal relationship.

Stage 2 – Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

If denied autonomy, the child will turn against him/herself urges to manipulate and discriminate.
Shame develops with the child’s self-consciousness.
Doubt has to do with having a front and back — a “behind” subject to its own rules. Left over doubt may become paranoia.
The sense of autonomy fostered in the child and modified as life progresses serves the preservation in economic and political life of a sense of justice.

Stage 3 – Initiative vs. Guilt

Initiative adds to autonomy the quality of undertaking, planning, and attacking a task for the sake of being active and on the move.
The child feels guilt over the goals contemplated and the acts initiated in exuberant enjoyment of new locomoter and mental powers.
The castration complex occuring in this stage is due to the child’s erotic fantasies.
A residual conflict over initiative may be expressed as hysterical denial, which may cause the repression of the wish or the abrogation of the child’s ego: paralysis and inhibition, or overcompensation and showing off.

The Oedipal stage results not only in oppressive establishment of a moral sense restricting the horizon of the permissible, but also sets the direction towards the possible and the tangible which permits dreams of early childhood to be attached to goals of an active adult life.
After Stage 3, one may use the whole repetoire of previous modalities, modes, and zones for industrious, identity-maintaining, intimate, legacy-producing, dispair-countering purposes.

Stage 4 – Industry vs. Inferiority

To bring a productive situation to completion is an aim which gradually supersedes the whims and wishes of play. The fundamentals of technology are developed To lose the hope of such “industrious” association may pull the child back to the more isolated, less conscious familial rivalry of the Oedipal time. The child can become a conformist and thoughtless slave whom others exploit.

Stage 5 – Identity vs. Role Confusion (or “Diffusion”)

The adolescent is newly concerned with how they appear to others.
Ego identity is the accrued confidence that the inner sameness and continuity prepared in the past are matched by the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for others, as evidenced in the promise of a career.
The inability to settle on a school or occupational identity is disturbing.

Stage 6 – Intimacy vs. Isolation

Body and ego must be masters of organ modes and of the other nuclear conflicts in order to face the fear of ego loss in situations which call for self-abandon. The avoidance of these experiences leads to isolation and self-absorption. The counterpart of intimacy is distantiation, which is the readiness to isolate and destroy forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to one’s own. Now true genitality can fully develop.

The danger at this stage is isolation which can lead to sever character problems.
Erikson’s listed criteria for “genital utopia” illustrate his insistence on the role of many modes and modalities in harmony:

mutuality of orgasm with a loved partner of opposite sex with whom one is willing and able to share a trust, and with whom one is willing and able to regulate the cycles of work, procreation, and recreation so as to secure to the offspring all the stages of satisfactory development.

Stage 7 – Generativity vs. Stagnation

Generativity is the concern in establishing and guiding the next generation.
Simply having or wanting children doesn’t achieve generativity. Socially-valued work and disciples are also expressions of generativity.

Stage 8 – Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Ego integrity is the ego’s accumulated assurance of its capacity for order and meaning.
Despair is signified by a fear of one’s own death, as well as the loss of self-sufficiency, and of loved partners and friends. Healthy children, Erikson tells us, won’t fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.


Killing kuffars for the ‘good’ cause

Good deeds are extra rewarded during Ramadan, the holy month. This year, the Islamic State jihadists’ chief propagandist, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, took the occasion of Ramadan at heart to wish for death and disaster and the holy month to become “a calamity for kuffars”. Almost as a birthday wish. ‘Kuffar’ is a highly derogatory Arabic term used to refer to non-Muslims. With Ramadan coming to an end and terror attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait, an old question emerges again: ‘How do being good and violent go together?’

Questions of ‘how’ and ‘why’ have tormented witnesses of violence of all times. Although anger and disgust make it very tempting to demonise the offenders all together, regardless of whether they are Nazis or jihadists, this response won’t further our understanding and won’t make any change at all. Informed communication across cultures might be more helpful to change, but depends on our ability to stand back, observe and understand before jumping to conclusions in order to get a more comprehensive picture. Many explanations may exist of why normal people keep turning into (normal) beasts, time and time again… below you will find another one.

In spite of what people tend to believe (especially about themselves), life`s complexity is barely understood. Human intelligence, even in its most brilliant form, simply lacks the capacity to come even close to understanding life`s complexity. Too many questions simply remain unasked and therefore unanswered. Similarly, psychodynamic processes within a person involve many contradictions and aspects that do not appear to make sense. Preserving blind spots and an unawareness of what we don’t know may take the edge off, but does not diminish the glowing source of existential uncertainty in the end.

In spite of and perhaps exactly because of this confusion, achieving feelings of ‘purity’ and ‘consistency’ are much valued yet very difficult to achieve. A ‘Truth’ one can believe in provides existence with a feeling of structure and meaning. Achieving such a state requires an armoury of distorted perceptual and cognitive processes, rooted in personal and cultural backgrounds that help to maintain the inner balance and consistent sense of self.

As a patient once explained: “I know what I believe must be right, because it feels right. If what I believed in was wrong, it also would feel wrong. It couldn’t feel “right”, if it wasn’t right. As simple as that but totally spot on. Phenomena are put into an order and every feeling of right or wrong indicates that a side is chosen and a view confirmed. Of course, the feeling is based on an assumption, but why would you bother if it feels right?

The human operating system is well able to contain tolerate confusion. However, the problem starts when life comes in between while we were having other expectations. Especially when people are still wondering about the answers to life’s questions, as every rebellious youngster does, then persistent probing will readily surface the many contradictions involved in life’s game. If a challenging but sensible peer then shows interest in who you are and try to be, then marketing psychology provides an answer where life doesn’t. The more unsure a potential customer feels about which product to choose, the more his preference will steer toward the common brand.

Choosing sides is one way to escape confusion and contradiction. In the words of the ‘shadada’, the Islamic State printed on their flag: “Islam is a monotheistic religion and Muhammad was its one true prophet”. Committing to one ‘Truth’ can be a trusted way out with prescribed recipes against potential doubt and contradiction. “Say to them: ignorant people do you bid me to worship others than God?” (‘Ibn Jarir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Tabarani’ – Surah 109). Lingering in disturbing nothingness would seem a bit silly, right after you suddenly see a path uncovered that gives you the answer to the confusion, doesn’t it? 

Also puritan Christian monks had their way of dealing with doubt and life`s contradictions. Some monks even chastised themselves for having ‘impure thoughts’, like feeling physically attracted to someone else. Proactively taking responsibility and punishing yourself for thoughts that distract you from purity and Truth, serves multiple benefits:

  • God may not punish you anymore after you already did so yourself.
  • You might discourage your mind from having more impure thoughts.

The pain of punishment may further distract and out rule the intense negative emotions they may experience as a result of “crossing the line”, similar to contemporary self mutilators. In modern times, people usually beat themselves up with harsh self-criticism over their mistakes.

The process of choosing sides, passionately accompanied by a pinch of disgust, piercing eyes, pointing fingers and the use of words like ‘normal’, ‘never’ or ‘crazy’ may look aggressive and independent, but it isn’t. Opponents have to choose or be made to choose another side in order to complete a complementary relationship.

Nazis needed Untermenschen and Jihadists cannot do without kuffars like a see-saw cannot do without its counterweight. In order to rise to a (self-acclaimed) superior status, a single and elevated truth is relied on as a strong anchoring point. A ‘bad’ side is needed as a counterweight to feel superior to.

People like to become better persons, better than themselves and better than others. The prettiest princess in the country cannot accept a second queen who is just as pretty in order to be undisputed number one. Although there can only be one prettiest princess, the presence of the little princesses loosing the competition and ending up disappointedly standing in her shadow is required and appreciated. In this stage, life`s inconsistencies are projected onto the others out there, like the kuffars of today.

As soon as the challenge is levelled over to others, the conflict no longer lives within. Taking your frustration and anger out of yourself and out on to others, then becomes a justified, purifying, and self-sacrificing act. Jihadists, just like other gangsters, need violence for love to exist. Developing the self-compassion that people need to stop inviting everyday violence to return into their life is one answer to a phenomenon as complex as life itself.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

By Peter Muijres –

“Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things”

In 1989, Stephen published his #1 best-seller: ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’. The book sold over 15 million copies and is became a classic in management literature.

Covey presents his teachings in a series of habits. The habits build onto each other and are expected to become an integrated part of one’s character, manifested as a progression from dependence via independence to interdependence.

  1. Dependence: the paradigm under which we are born, relying upon others to take care of us.
  2. Independence: the paradigm under which we can make our own decisions and take care of ourselves.
  3. Interdependence: the paradigm under which we cooperate to achieve something that cannot be achieved independently.

The first three habits focus on self‐mastery, that is, achieving the private victories required to move from dependence to independence. The second three habits focus achieving public victory, aimed at realising effective interdependence. The seventh habit is one of renewal and continual improvement, that is, of building one’s personal ‘production capability’ or the ability to produce. 

Habit 1: Be Proactive Focus on the things you can actually do something about. Change starts from within, and highly effective people make the decision to improve their lives through the things that they can influence rather than by simply reacting to external forces.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind Begin everything you do with a clear picture of your ultimate goal. Develop a principle‐centered personal mission statement. Extend the mission statement into long‐term goals based on personal principles.

Habit 3: Put First Things First Manage your life according to your needs and priorities. Spend time doing what fits into your personal mission, observing the proper balance between production and building production capacity. Identify the key roles that you take on in life, and make time for each of them.

Habit 4: Think Win‐Win Integrity: Stick with your true feelings, values, and commitments Maturity: Be considerate of the feelings of others Abundance Mentality: Believe there is plenty for everyone. Seek agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial. In cases where a “win/win” deal cannot be achieved, accept the fact that agreeing to make “no deal” may be the best alternative. In developing an organizational culture, be sure to reward win/win behaviour among employees and avoid inadvertantly rewarding win/lose behaviour.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood Learn how to communicate clearly and listen to others. Stephen Covey presents this habit as the most important principle of interpersonal relations. Effective listening is not simply echoing what the other person has said through the lens of one’s own experience. Rather, it is putting oneself in the perspective of the other person, listening empathically for both feeling and meaning.

Habit 6: Synergize “Two heads are better than one.” Through trustful communication, find ways to leverage individual differences to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Through mutual trust and understanding, one often can solve conflicts and find a better solution than would have been obtained through either person’s own solution.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw Allow yourself to grow by maintaining a balanced program in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Take time out from production to build production capacity through personal renewal of the physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual dimensions.

To be effective, one must find the proper balance between actually producing and improving one’s capability to produce. Covey illustrates this point with the fable of the goose and the golden egg. In the fable, a poor farmer’s goose began laying a solid gold egg every day. The farmer soon became rich and greedy. In order to obtain all of the eggs immediately, he killed the goose and cut her open. By attempting to maximise immediate production with no regard to the production capability, the capability will be lost.

Although very interesting, Covey’s paradigm also raises some questions. Are conditions for character development as universal and as timeless as he suggests, always and for everyone? The book has been written in 1989 and the world has seen a revolution in communication technology during the last 25+ years. It could be argued that personality (how you come across), has become more important, than character (who you are) in online communication. Also, being able to change the sails and adapt your working model to fit cultural terms and conditions is giving international business managers the competitive edge today.

Covey already notes himself that much of the success literature tends to overvalue independence, to ‘realise and be yourself’ at all costs. The independent model is not optimal for use in an interdependent environment that requires both leaders and team players. The meaning of and approaches to achieving effectiveness already varied greatly between people and organisations and time has added additional changes. Where, with whom and how information is shared, decisions are made, and identities are negotiated has also dramatically changed.  In fact, big changes have happened so rapidly that the majority of people haven’t had time to come to terms yet with what has actually been going on and what has been left behind – let alone what to prepare for.

Covey’s book ‘The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness’ (2004) addresses how some of the changes that have taken place may have outdated some of the ideas behind the seven habits. He claims that effectiveness does not suffice in what he calls “The Knowledge Worker Age”. He proclaims that “the challenges and complexity we face today are of a different order of magnitude.” So, according to Covey, becoming great has become dependent on finding your voice and inspiring others to do the same. | Training and personal development  

The creative process

By Peter Muijres

The creative process involves five phases or states of mind. Although each phase feeds into another and the process as a whole, they do not need to happen in a sequential order.

Inspiration – Generate a large number of ideas

This is the research or idea-generation phase. The process is uninhibited and characterised by spontaneity, experimentation, intuition, and risk-taking. Many people wonder where creative people find their good ideas. The answer is, in amongst a huge pile of bad ones. Creativity is like mining for diamonds, most of what you dig is thrown away, but that does not make the digging a waste of time. If you ‘cannot think of anything’ you are having difficulty with this inspiration phase, perhaps because you are too self-critical, or expect good ideas to come too quickly. In the field of the creative arts the inspiration phase is often associated with a search for an individual voice, and with an attempt to conjure up deep feelings of (for example) empathy, spirituality, or an intense identification with the subject matter. This is not a phase in which to be negative or worried about form, practicality, rhyme or quality. You should be rejecting at least 90% of your initial ideas. Let yourself off the leash! If most of the ideas you create are workable, then you did not take enough risks. This phase is like brainstorming.

Clarification In which you focus on your goals.

Key questions are:

  • What am I trying to achieve here?
  • What am I trying to say?
  • What exactly is the problem I am trying to solve?
  • What would I like the finished work to be like?

And in more open ended work:

  • How could I exploit the ideas I have had?
  • Where could this idea take me – what could I make of it?

The aim here is to clarify the purpose or objective of the work. It is easy to lose your sense of direction while dealing with detailed difficulties in creative work. So you need occasionally to disengage from these obstacles and ask “what exactly am I trying to do?”

If you ‘get stuck’ in the middle of a project, then rather than dreaming up a stream of alternatives you need to clarify where exactly you want to go. How to get there is then often straight-forward, or even blindingly obvious. Clarification gets you out of the mire, but it is also required when say, an artist or designer agonises between two or more equally attractive approaches. Such decisions require a clear sense of purpose. If you feel lost, stuck, bogged down, confused, or uncertain about how to proceed, then clarification is what you need. In this clarification phase you have your eye on the ball, you are being strategic and logical, focussing on how the finished work will look. It is very common for those inexperienced in creative work to fail to clarify. Clarification is a process, not an event. It should take place at frequent intervals while you work.

Evaluation – A review phase in which you look back over your work in progress. 

In the evaluation phase you examine your work for strengths and weaknesses. Then you need to consider how the work could be improved, by removing weaknesses but also by capitalising on its strengths. Then there will probably need to be another perspiration phase to respond positively to the suggestions for improvement. Perspiration and evaluation phases often alternate to form a cycle.

Hardly anyone gets things perfect first time. Creative people adapt to improve. Many people dislike the evaluation phase at first. However, highly creative people are nearly always inveterate revisers. They tinker with work that would make others gape in delight. Actually this evaluation phase can be very rewarding, and no work of real merit will be produced without it. If Shakespeare and Picasso found they had to revise their efforts, then I expect even you will need to!

Distillation – In which you decide which ideas to work on.

Here ideas from the inspiration phase are sifted through and evaluated usually in the light of the findings of a clarification phase. The best ideas are chosen for further development, or are combined into even better ideas. This is a self-critical phase. It requires cool analysis and judgment rather than slap-happy spontaneity. However it should not be so critical as to inhibit productivity entirely. Remember, the ideas you have had are only ideas, not complete solutions – you must not expect too much of them. It is where the ideas can take you that counts, not the ideas themselves.

Incubation – Leave the work alone, though you still ponder about it occasionally, leaving it ‘on the surface of your mind’.

Many brilliant ideas have occurred in the bath, or in traffic jams. If you are able to stop work on a project for a few days, perhaps to work on other things, this will give your subconscious time to work on any problems encountered, it will also distance you somewhat from your ideas so that you are better able to evaluate them. ‘Incubation’ is particularly useful after an ‘inspiration’ or a ‘perspiration’ phase, or if a problem has been encountered. Creative people are often surprisingly patient and untidy, and are content to let half-baked ideas, loose ends and inconsistencies brew away in their sub-conscious until ‘something turns up’.

Whenever Sir Isaac Newton had a particularly thorny problem he always worked on it just before he went to sleep. He said “I invariably woke up with the solution”.

Perspiration – In which you work determinedly on your best ideas.

This is where the real work is done. You are involved in determined and persistent effort towards your goal, this will usually involve further ‘inspiration’ ‘distillation’ and ‘clarification’ phases.

Perspiration usually involves a number of drafts separated with clarification and evaluation phases. Uncreative people often accept the first draft as completion. Very creative people often go over and over a piece until it is too their liking. Matisse for example produced over 20 versions of his ‘Pink Nude’. The end result is child like simple, and paradoxically spontaneous looking. It is surprising to people who do not understand the creative process that a talented person like Matisse should need so many ‘drafts’. But such strategies are common in very creative people.

Determinants of expatriate adjustment – a 1985 vintage version

By Peter Muijres

What are the determinants of expatriate adjustment in a cross-cultural setting? The researchers Black, Mendenhall and Oddou suggested a ‘comprehensive’ model of international adjustment in 1991 based on a review of empirical studies on ‘overseas’ adjustment of expatriate managers by the latter two (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985).

Eight years later, Shaffer et al. (1999) adapted the model by adding some new factors, including language fluency, and making a bunch of other changes. However, the 1985 review and the original 1991 model, displayed in the featuring image, included some useful handles that may help expats out there in their adjustment process. These individual and the ‘non-work factors’ in specific will be given full attention at the expense of all the rest.

The authors differentiated three sorts of ‘international adjustment’: (1) adjustment to work, (2) adjustment to interacting with host nationals, and (3) adjustment to the general environment. Good adjustment in one area spills over into another, as you might expect from anything having to do with people, motives and mental health.

The individual factors have been divided into a self-efficacy (self-oriented), relational skills (other-oriented) and perception skills. The self-oriented individual skill includes at least three subsets of skills:

(1) Reinforcement substitution: the ability to find replacing interests and joys.

This entails finding an alternative to fill the gap left by the loss of a cherished passtime that you cannot continue after relocation. If skiing is no longer an option, but photograpyhy is, perhaps that might develop into your new passion with a similar effect.

(2) Stress reduction: the ability to recuperate from stress.

Being exposed to an environment that is sometimes difficult to understand or predict is stressful. Some expats reduce that stress by regularly taking a time out for themselves to limit their exposure to external stressors and recuperate from stress, for example by engaging in a comforting activity like writing, yoga, or a cigarette break outside.

(3) Technical competence: on the job functionioning with good results.

Expats who are tuned into their sociocultural environment, perform better. Good performance promotes a positive attitude and successful adaptation and vice versa. However, HR people often wrongly assume that performance abroad will be as it has been at home and base the selection of future expats on their track record only.

The other-oriented individual skills has been relabelled ‘relation skills’. It involves the ability to develop new relationships and a willingness to communicate. Having host national friends (or indeed: lovers) may greatly benefit your intercultural adjustment in various ways.

Having local friends may not only enhance your opportunities to interact with host nationals, they may also introduce you to their way of life and help you to recognise, understand and appreciate the cultural differences. You might be introduced to their families or be taken to non-touristic places where you witness how things are done and people treated when undisturbed by office formalities and social expectations.

Even showing an interest in the non-expat population often earns you credits, as is learning the local language. However, beware of quick solutions and culturally insensitive approaches. Yelling local jokes out loud, reciting the tong twister of the local language (and pronunciating it wrongly), intruding into people’s breathing space and laughing hysterically at whatever one may say or do, doesn’t necessarily attract friends.

The perception based individual skills purport having a non-evaluative attitude and the ability to make correct intercultural attributions. Learned cultural differences in perceptions and evaluations of social behaviour often lead people from different cultures to misinterpret each other. Understanding the motives of host nationals also helps the foreigner to predict how their opinions and behaviour will be received.

The non-work factors affect the degree or extent of international adjustment, not how it happens. ‘Cultural novelty’, still called ‘cultural toughness’ in 1985, reflects the country specific variables that facilitate acculturation to a particular setting. Hofstede (1980) has made this dimension better known as ‘cultural distance’. Being in host countries with similar features as your home culture makes the whole process of settling in much easier.

Another non-work factor is ‘Adjustment of Family-Spouse’. Less exposure to and needs to come to terms with cultural differences make it less urgent adapt your mindset and personal life. Cultural restrictions in a male dominated society make adapting for western wives even extra challenging. Unsatisfied social and emotional needs of poorly adapted family members, and perhaps the associated consequences, may lead partners or dads to cut their assignment short and return back home.

Besides Individual and nonwork factors, also job factors, organisation culture and organisation socialization factors affect mode and/or degree of adjustment. The job dimension contain factors related to job clarity, job discretion, job novelty and job conflict. The ‘organisation culture’ dimension addresses the novelty of the organisation culture, social support and logistical help experienced by the expat. ‘Organisation socialisation’ entails tactics and content that only affects the mode, not the degree of expatriate adjustment. All these dimensions affecting in-country adjustment, are precipitated by Anticipatory adjustment factors. Intercultural training and previous experience affect ‘accurate expectations’ on an individual dimension. Selection mechanisms and criteria on an organisational level predict the mode and degree of in-country adjustment.

Although expatriate adjustment wasn’t much of a concern until the late 1970s and the research still in a very early phase in 1985, the research tradition has never changed much. Many different models of intercultural adjustment have been offered during the last four decades. Just like people or eras in time, each has its own pros, cons and particularities. Mostly, attention is paid to how individuals move around as actively processing centers of awareness, but less to the parts played in multiple systems. The transcultural dynamics involving the locally available social groups, the home front and virtual communities for example, as well as the adaptation process as an often emotion based process that takes time do not always receive the attention they deserve. | Training and Development

Culture Class provides training in personal effectiveness, culture and communication skills

The importance of intercultural training for expats

 By Peter Muijres – Culture Class

Increased global activity has led companies around the world to seek new markets for their products, new sources of raw materials, as well as new, more cost-effective locations for manufacturing. According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2006, transnational collaboration will be of decisive importance in an increasingly global competition. Expatriates are employed for reasons such as transfer of expertise, facilitating entry into new markets, or development of international management competencies.

Some of these foreign ventures succeed, but many do not. A high percentage of expats fails to meet expected standards of performance abroad. Studies have found that as much as 40 to 55% of expats ‘fail’ to adjust to living and working abroad and many cut their assignment short. Out of the American expats who stay at their international assignments, approximately 30 to 50% are considered ineffective or marginally effective by their firms and do more harm than good.

The costs of expatriate ineffectiveness and turnover are intimidating. Studies on American companies have shown that every early return of a manager costs companies as much as $250,000 to $1 million per individual, depending on the level of the manager and the urgency of their replacement. The direct costs of failed expatriate assignments to U.S. firms are estimated at over $2 billion a year, the costs of psychological suffering, damaged corporate reputations and lost business opportunities not taken into account.

The multiple and sudden losses and challenges that expats are faced with make them a particularly vulnerable group. Challenges may include a loss of language, social support network, possessions, knowledge of laws and rules, and of geographical orientation. Expats who feel out of touch with local customs and conduct, and who are unaware of culturally accepted styles of communication and problem solving may feel unable to prevent embarrassing or frustrating incidents with host nationals whilst living and working abroad. The inability of expats to adjust to the demands of an international business environment has been identified as a primary cause of international business failures.

Intercultural training addresses the demand for an interculturally competent workforce. It makes sure that expats set off and return with realistic expectations and it provides them with the knowledge, skills and attitude they need to develop rewarding collaborative relationships and to meet standards of functioning abroad.

Various independent studies have confirmed the effectiveness of intercultural training. Empirical evidence has shown that intercultural training helps expats to develop important intercultural skills, to facilitate intercultural adjustment, and it improves their professional performance and their well-being. Intercultural training is an indispensable prerequisite for the return on investment that organisations increasingly seek in international ventures and an expatration of their staff and provides a bedrock they can rely on in times of global opportunities and change.

Culture Class develops and provides intercultural training and coaching for expats

What’s in a word: Culture in context.

Written by Peter Muijres –

The last blog post was about the question how the availability of words in different languages facilitates people to express things. Right now, this emphasis will shift towards the question whether a language is able to express cultural uniqueness and what implications this would have for cross-cultural communication. ‘Intranslatable’ foreign words are often quoted and explained to show there is nothing special about the culture that generated them.

The Swedish word Mångata, is popular for example, meaning: the road-like reflection of the moon on the water. Next one; the Spanish sobremesa is the leisurely time spent at the table together after people have finished eating. Easy. Next, one: utepils means enjoying a beer outside in the sun. Next one in line is the Japanese Komorebi. English language might need several words to describe the effect of sunlight filtering through leaves where the Japanese need only one, but in the end we are talking about the same thing, aren’t we?

That remains the question. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that words that exist only in one language expresses an unique experience particular to that culture, because the meaning of words determines what we are capable of thinking of. At the other hand, the structuralist approach in linguistics, proposes that the words in a language are like the holes in a fishing net. Each language group throws the fishing net in its own way over a surface, which represents reality. Although the net and the holes will always fall differently, and different words cover different aspects and dimensions, the reality underneath stays basically the same. The methaphor is used to illustrate that people all have a similar experience of reality, although the words they use to catch this reality may differ.

What does this mean to cross-cultural communication? Structuralists might argue: ‘communication between cultures is possible because people understand the words they use in the same way‘. Cultural differences are superficial and no experience is exclusive to people in one culture, the structuralist view holds. At the other hand, cultural relativists, like Sapir and Whorf, might argue that ‘communication between cultures goes wrong all the time, because people understanding the words they use in different ways’. The latter suggests that people from different cultures make sense of reality differently and should therefore be understood in their own terms.

An abilty to explain something (‘erklaeren’) and having an interpretative understanding (‘verstehen’) are two different things, Max Weber once explained. By now, you might have a notion of what utepils is. However you still have no idea what it means to live through a long, dark Scandinavian winter and the mindset, social setting and joyful expectations of spring and summer that the Norwegians tend to associate with ‘enjoying a beer in the sun’. Understanding the meaning of a word means something different than understanding that meaning in its cultural context. Let’s sink our teeth into two examples.

The German word ‘Fingerspitzengefuehl’ literally translates as ‘fingertips feeling’. The concept describes a certain strategic awareness, tact and intuition that allows for a quick responding to situational changes. The description might have drafted a picture by now, but it probably won’t include the almost geek-like joy and satisfaction that fingertips feelers may derive from observing how all particles in an incomprehensible scheme ingeniously work together to produce the tangible, hoped for result. A commitment to understand what needs to be done, why and in what way fosters a carefully cultivated mindset of punctuality, discipline and critical curiousity on a level where skills turn into art. Famous for their attention to detail, planning and punctuality, a missing cultural context would fail to make understandable why Germans were among the first to come up with a word for ‘Fingerspitzengefuehl’.

The opposite of planning is delicately caught by a word the Portuguese came up with: desenrascanço. Literally meaning “disentanglement”, desenrascanço refers to improvised, ad hoc solutions that prevent the problem from getting completely out of control and without a solution. So, that be a serious reason for concern?

Although you may have an idea of the translation of desenrascanço, developing cultural sensitivity requires a context. Desenrascanço is normally used to express an ability to solve a problem without having the knowledge or the adequate tools to do so, by use of imaginative resources or by applying knowledge to new situations. Portuguese people are said to strongly believe it to be one of their most valued virtues and a living part of their culture. There is a distinct pride and pleasure involved in the resourcefulness associated with the ability to handle unexpected situations and is not to be confused with an endorsement of amateurism, irresponsibility and lack of planning.

This brings us back to the original question: is a language able to express cultural uniqueness and what implications would that have for cross-cultural communication? The purpose of raising questions such as these is not to end up with a final answer that should be copied and applied across situations indifferently.

One post on cultureclassblog mentioned that picking up easily on new languages indicates cultural intelligence, because it shows an ability to recognize and apply subtle culture specific meanings in communication. What did the American expat, who refused to speak anything but English, communicate by stating : “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s surely good enough for me!”? That speaking in the same language is no guarantee for being on the same page.

More important than the content of words is your view of self, others, your relation to others and the world that you communicate. Relationships depend on communication and over 80% of it happens non-verbally. Attending to mind whether another person really understands and feels understood may not seem necessary at times, but may contribute something else  within a context where borders are crossed and opportunities created together. provides training in cross-cultural personal and communication skills.

Cultural Intelligence

Written by: Peter Muijres

Around a decade ago a few people spearheaded the introduction of anew concept: ‘cultural intelligence’, also called ‘cultural quotient’ or ‘CQ’. Ang, van Dyne, Earley and Livermore were among these people and introduced CQ to help understand and predict why some expats adjust better than others to communicating with people from different cultures and living in a new environments.

CQ is more concerned with the personal potential to adapt, not merely with the outcomes in terms of cultural competencies. Therefore, proponents claim that CQ is able to measure and predict expatriate performance more precisely1 than cultural competence based measures. The concept of CQ seeks to line up with cognitive, social and emotional forms of intelligence . However, the differential CQ is different because it is not confined by specific cultural borders.1,2 In fact, CQ is concerned with the capability to identify and reconcile cultural differences.

CQ comprises four parts: cognitive (CQ knowledge), metacognitive (CQ strategy), motivational (CQ motivation) and behavioural (CQ action).

Cognition and meta-cognition are concerned with what information is collected and how it is processed. For example, a woman with a well-developed CQ knowledge, is aware of her personal and interpersonal experiences during everyday interactions, when they happen and how she responds. Sensitive to the responses of others and her effectiveness, she might then use information to adjust her learning strategy or her communication or problem solving style to fit the demands of the situation.

An American tourist who did not show this behaviour, was once spotted with his wife in a quiet backstreet bar in Amsterdam. He was very happy and excited about being in Holland and really felt like making some new friends on the spot. However, his loud and expressive communication style, considered obnoxious and disruptive by the Dutch visitors, only met with resistance. However, he did not reconsider and trying something else but decided not to give up. Instead, he became louder and more enthusiastic in increasingly desperate attempts to win the interest of his potential new friends.

As a part of CQ, ‘motivation’ describes a person’s level of initiative and effort: how much does he or she try to adjust to his or her new environment? Persistence, efficacy, self-confidence, affinity with the new culture, personal objectives, goals and the level of effort required, are all players in the motivation to engage with people from different cultures. Although the strategy of the American tourist did not render any new Dutch friends, he definitely deserved credits for his motivation.

CQ behaviour describes the ability to develop culturally appropriate behaviour and responses. Observing and imitating the behaviour of local role models (social mimicry) is a powerful method to acquire the culturally appropriate behaviour that facilitates effective communication. Picking up easily on new languages is considered a good indicator of culturally intelligent behaviour1, because it demonstrates an ability to recognize subtle culture specific meanings and use that in communication.

Although CQ does not provide a unique and exciting new perspective model, it has several positive sides. One of the most powerful ones is that the CQ model seeks to answer the training needs and connects with other models and theories. Many frameworks within the intercultural field, especially those developed before the 1980s, did not consider other theoretical models, research findings, field experiences or training needs.

CQ takes notions of cultural psychology and cognitive psychology into account by paying attention to how information is selected and processed and affecting the self-concept. The influence of Bandura’s social learning theory, for example, is visible in the attention for social mimicry as a social learning strategy. CQ might further complement our understanding of human intelligence by including the ability to think ‘outside the box’, including the reinvention of problem solving and communication strategies under different conditions.

The association of CQ with other types of intelligence provides a familiar reference that may foster general acceptance, but CQ seems a pretty mainstream and hardly innovative model nonetheless. In spite of an interest in other models and practical applications, the concept sticks with determining traits and capabilities of the individual. Host national views, expat experiences, the steps and stages in the process, the dynamics at play during the process receive less or no attention.

CQ makes a constructive step towards connecting theories, HR interests, and outside the box survival. Then again, the model itself makes sure to stay within the comfort zone of an established Western science. Perhaps it’s the lack of something new, bold and thought provoking, the ‘out of the box’ model seems to promise but not make true. – Cultureclass provides training and coaching that helps in- and expats develop the personal and intercultural skills they need to succeed today.

Suggested reading:

(1) Earley, P. C. (2002). Redefining interactions across cultures and organizations: Moving forward with cultural intelligence. Research in organizational behavior, 24, 271-299.

(2) Earley, P. C. & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: An analysis of individual interactions across cultures. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

(3) Earley, P. C., Ang, S., & Tan, J. S. (2006). CQ: Developing cultural intelligence at work. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


The compassionate mind

By: Peter Muijres – Culture Class 

During a speech at an international business seminar in South Africa, the following text was projected on the screen behind the keynote speaker:

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, … when the sun comes up, you better be running.”

This quote might make a competitive and thrill-seeking lifestyle sound exciting, but according to the compassionate mind theory this attitude may actually lower both your performance and the satisfaction you get from your achievements.

In Western and other societies marked by competitiveness, a sliding scale indicating ‘who has more’ differentiates the winners from the losers. The elegance of this relative scale is that everyone can feel either a loser or winner at any time. You are always better, faster, richer, or prettier than someone else and so is someone else in comparison to you. So, would you expect people to be more inclined to feeling better or worse off in comparison to other people?

Indeed, people have a tendency to compare themselves with those higher in the hierarchy, because in societies based on competitiveness, only being the best is considered “good enough”. Obviously, not everyone can always be the best at everything.

Based on Mahayana Buddhism, the compassionate mind theory (Gilbert, 2009) provides a powerful tool that helps people to feel satisfied and valued by others in a competitive society without having to be “the best” all the time. This theory explains how animals and humans share three ancient emotion regulation systems:

  • the threat/ protection system,
  • the incentive/ resource seeking drive system, and
  • the soothing/contentment system.

Only in humans, these systems interfere and clash with the young, resourceful, and self-aware human intellect. Gilbert (2009) calls this unique human capacity for self-awareness and creative imagery ‘the new brain/mind’. A consequence of intelligent self-awareness is that only humans may feel like losers.

Of the three systems, the threat/ protection system is responsible for the preservation of yourself and the group you belong to. It is able to override the other two systems and feelings of joy and safety at once in the face of a sudden threat. The ‘safety first’ system is associated with the release of the stress hormone cortisol. A detected threat calls the body for action by switching into a fight or flight (or freeze) mode associated with feelings of anxiety, anger, or disgust, as well as acting on impulse.

Because of its ability to temporarily push away undesirable feelings of fear and frustration, the incentive/ resource seeking drive system is constantly used in today’s society where glamour and power are idealised by many. With every new victory, success, or orgasm, an endorphin fuelled hormone injection produces the ‘yeah baby!’ feeling that helps you to forget illness , grief or other inevitable flipsides of life. However, in a quick fix approach, the lion and the gazelle have to keep outrunning each other without having a chance to enjoy your life or work and  your achievements. This is not only exhausting in the long-term, it is also bound to lead to a looser: either on the side of the gazelle or the lion someone will die eventually. Not being able to always be on the side of the winners activates the threat / protection system and makes people angry, anxious, and sad.

The soothing/contentment system can help you tackle negative feelings associated with the threat/protection system, as well as with frustrations based on not always being “the best”. This system makes you feel connected with and care for yourself, others, and the world you are a part of. New parents experience the activation of this system, when they hold their baby for the first time. Associated with the love hormone oxytocin, a sense of peacefulness, safety, self-appreciation, and feeling valued by others are the result. Being able to sooth yourself allows you to tolerate high levels of group pressure, to remain collected and resourceful during stressful situations, and to tackle destructive self-blame or self-pity.

Some people find it more difficult than others to sooth themselves. Fortunately self-soothing can be trained, for example, by compassionate self-talk, compassionate imagery (an image of a compassionate other or self) or meditative exercises. Activation of the soothing/contentment system allows us to look objectively at our weaknesses and failures without being carried away by negative emotions around it. By looking at the bigger picture, the soothing / contentment system acknowledges that strengths and weaknesses, failures and successes are all sides belonging to  the same coin.

Five ways in which a compassionate mind may improve your performance are:

  1. Anxiety, anger, or depression may be rightful gut reactions to truly problematic situations you ought to solve, but keep avoiding or suppressing. A compassionate mind allows you to deal with these issues without being carried away by the feelings entailed.
  2. An increased ability to tolerate social pressure helps you to keep your head clear, and improves your courage, resourcefulness, and negotiation skills even under extremely stressful conditions.
  3. A sense of balance, openness, and inner peace is a human resource tool helping you to see opportunities and talents in others. A positive and inviting attitude tends to be easily picked up and reciprocated by others, working wonders for individual and team performance.
  4. Human attitudes and decision-making are highly subject to group influences and our need for social approval. A compassionate mind helps you to identify and assert your opinion in spite of what others may prefer you to do or say.
  5. A compassionate mind also allows you to set aside your personal views and expectations in order to make it easier to tune into the motives, values and feelings of others. This mindset facilitates effective communication, and enhances sensitivity and adaptation skills across cultural borders.

Self-compassion makes people feel better, accepting and in harmony with themselves. If stress and feelings of anger, anxiety and disgust are still alarming you, a compassionate mind helps you come off complicating feelings of self-pity or self-blame and take on the issues at stake for what they are.

Culture Class provides compassionate mind training suited to the needs and conditions of for parents,  business people, mental health care and other professionals.