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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.


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.

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.

Words on words 

Written by: Peter Muijres –

Everyone who speaks more than one language surely has experienced the feeling of being ‘lost in translation’. In one language, you may know exactly what you want to say, but the very same expression just doesn’t translate from one language into another. Those who have to translate struggle with this on a daily basis. People sometimes say a language is ‘rich’ when it has a great vocabulary to pick from, but what does ‘rich’ actually mean? How do numbers of words and their meaning enable people in a specific context to piece together a message in different languages? The next two blogs seek for answers to these questions.

Some languages may count more words than others, but cultural factors skew the interpretation of those numbers. Cultures differ in what people consider and accept as ‘official’ language. For example, to be included in an English dictionary, a word like ‘LOL’ (Laughing Out Loud) simply has to exist. Russians, however, feel that dictionaries should reflect only ‘proper’ words representative of the official language. Dictionaries are one of the main resources of people learning about a language. Not including words in a dictionary means limiting access to a number of words and their meaning and makes a language appear less voluminous or ‘rich’ than it actually is or should be.

Does a considerable amount of words with the same or a similar meaning indicate some meaningful hotspot in a given culture?Researchers supporting the hypothesis of linguistic relativity, introduced by Sapir and Whorff, say it does. The language we speak and the words that are part of it or not reflect and affect our view of the world. The many words Eskimos have for ‘snow’ is well known cliché, we owe to the work of anthropologist Franz Boas (1911). Also, the 300 Arabic words for ‘love’ are sometimes brought up to suggest that the entire group of native speakers is more inclined towards poetry and love. ­ However, one critical question is how you define a ‘word’.

Some Eskimo languages have different words and word endings to differentiate between where the snow is, how much it is or where it goes. Frans Boaz (1911) provides examples: Aput means ‘snow on the ground’; qana means ‘falling snow’, and qimiqsuq means ‘drifting snow’. Other languages simply add an adjective or few describing words to say what the snow is doing, rather than coining a different word. More differential words do not necessarily add more meaning than word combinations.

But sometimes having many words , does reflect and foster a bigger awareness of the nuances entailed in whatever that concept is. Those among us who have learned to identify and appreciate snow in all its varieties and settings, are more likely to know and use specific words to describe those differences as well, adding depth to conversation.

Consider the variations in meaning of the synonyms of the adjective ‘mean’ offered by Merriam-Webster online. ‘Mean’ suggests small-mindedness, ill temper, or cupidity <mean and petty satire>. Ignoble suggests a loss or lack of some essential high quality of mind or spirit <an ignoble scramble after material possessions>. Abject may imply degradation, debasement, or servility <abject poverty>. Sordid is stronger than all of these in stressing physical or spiritual degradation and abjectness <a sordid story of murder and revenge>. Provided your conversational partner is able to grasp the subtle meaning you are trying to convey to the same extent, the more different synonyms may help to communicate the subtle nuances of a message to others who understand too.

Having more words at your disposal does entail a psychological advantage by enabling wordplay. Wordplay lets air into messages that might otherwise become overly earnest. The English, well known for difficulties with earnestness, employ wordplay in almost every other heading in the British tabloids. A play of word also facilitates rephrasing of points of view, which is a powerful therapeutical tool to help people take a different perspective at things. Words are such powerful precision tools that it doesn’t hurt to have more of them – provided that you know how to use them and others still understand you. However, especially when words travel across cultural borders, the meaning of words is at risk. The next blog will concentrate on the impact of culture on the creation, context and export of words.

Literature: Boas, F. (1911). Handbook of American Indian languages, pp. 25-26. Whorf, B.L. (1949). “Science and Linguistics” Reprinted in Carroll 1956.

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.

Ramadan Kareem!




By Peter Muijres – Culture Class

Getting sloppy with your daily prayers? Do sexy bikini girls make you sigh and your eyes wander off? Do feelings of greed, envy, anger or other sinful thoughts clutter your mind? The month of Ramadan offers Muslims a tailored opportunity to get their  spiritual, moral, social and psychological ducks in a row again. However, many people who are not Islamic only have a faint idea what it involves and why Muslims do it.

Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, because they have to and/or choose or want to. Opting out of fasting without having a good reason means inviting severe critique and social rejection and is therefor hardly an option. At the other hand, Muslims are self-motivated to fast. Fasting is a religious obligation because one of the five pillars in Islam (#4) commands that all adult Muslims have to fast during the month of Ramadan. The other four pillars are: #1: Accept God as the only god and Muhammad as his messenger (Shahadah). #2) Pray at least five times a day (Tarawih). #3) Spend 2,5 % or more of your savings to the poor and needy (Zakat). #5) Make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life (Hajj).

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Arabic calendar during which the fasting takes place between sunrise (suhoor) and sunset (iftar). The Ramadan month is holy, because the first revelation of the Qur’an was sent down by God to Muhammed during Ramadan. During the holy month, the ‘thawab‘ for being good or bad are multiplied. ‘Thawab’, entails a sort of religious credits associated with being virtuous as a Muslim. The sight of the crescent moon marks the start of the Ramadan and the break-of-fasting party (Eid-al-fitr) 30 days later marks the end. This year, in 2014, Ramadan starts today on the 28th of June and ends on the 27th of July.

Muslims who are exempted from fasting include children, and adults who are travelling, menstruating, breast-feeding, busy with a Jihad (holy war), ill or pregnant. Who is fasting and who is not has always been an inspiring source of conversation. Modern days have complicated the cut-off line, because it is harder to determine who is travelling, for example. Are first generation Muslims who are temporarily living abroad travelling? Also, are people with mental disorders ill and thus exempted, so they can continue taking their prescribed medication? Even if they are, the ‘spiritual medicine’ and healing effect that the sense of ‘social belonging’ has to offer, motivates many to participate nevertheless. When circumstances force a person to miss one or more days of fasting, these can usually be compensated with fasting extra days after the Ramadan month.

Fasting is associated with religious, cultural, social and psychological benefits:

– Religious benefits: Ramadan offers a great window of opportunity to please God, repent your sins and save your soul because the thawab are multiplied during the holy month. It is a time of reflecting on your belief and reconnect with God, repent your sins. The five prayers a day and recitation of the Qur’an help you remind how you ought to behave.
– Benefits for cultural identity: During Ramadan, all Muslims are doing and focusing on the same thing. That has a strong bonding effect within the ‘umma’, the transnational Muslim community, and strengthens to the cultural identity of Muslims.
– Social benefits: During Ramadan, Muslims try to be nice to each other, not to get upset and avoid feelings like envy, greed, lust, anger and such. They try to keep their coolness and avoid swearing and fighting. This creates a great opportunity to restore social ties, get in touch with people you haven’t seen for a while, settle old conflicts or make new arrangements. Family and friends visit each other after sunset and organise buffet style dinner parties with delicious traditional dishes and drinks in abundance. The charity resulting from observance of the third pillar helps out the poor and needy.
– Psychological benefits: To fast for 30 days during the daytime requires an effort and shows that you are capable of self-restraint and self-discipline. Abstinence, poetically worded ‘dying before you die’ (Rumi), will help you:
(a) regain appreciation for the luxuries you have,
(b) free yourself from the value and dependency you may have attached to wordly goods, and
(c) prepare you to sacrifice yourself and your possesions for a higher goal when necessary.

So, although fasting is in effect a religious and social obligation, in many Islamic countries enforced by rules and laws and an facilitated by an adaptation of daily life, many Muslims consider it a choice to fast. Pickthall illustrates that element of choice in a speech in 1920. He points out that God does not require people to fast, because God does not want or need anything from us creatures. Instead, Muslims themselves decide to fast because in the end the self-disciplinary effort of pleasing God and all social side effects include are to their own benefit. The fasting before and the feasting after sunset brings Muslims closer together and to God, and works as a source of self-respect, social restoration and the acknowledgement of others.

Culture Class is a group of trainers, therapists and performers who train and coach people to realise their potential beyond personal and cultural limits.