Trump – What Now? An Opinion Piece by Matthew Hill

Conflict Theory applied to the White House

Having returned from New York last week after the Inauguration and the Women’s Marches, I have digested some of the conversations we had over there and wanted to note a couple of observations from a cultural and conflict resolution point of view.

The White House, US president's residence, in Washington DC

It’s not him

The incongruence between DJT’s place in the White House and his level of communication (enthusiastic schoolboy) proves that he did not get there by merit of his ideas or solutions alone. Let us remember he is result of a large group of Americans who have lost a lot in reality and even more in their imagined mythical version of 1950’s America. Their frustration at the inability of any political party to do anything for them, to listen to them or to understand them is why they voted against politics and why we are here today.

Labels

The most frequent diagnosis of DJT I heard whilst in New York was “Psychopath”. A couple of Facebook posts have supplied compelling arguments for a label of Narcissistic Personality Disorder – Upgraded this week to Malignant Narcissist by one leading psychiatrist.

My issues with labels are that they excuse behaviours. They dissociate the conscious person and the decisions they make from accountability. To take the cultural community view of helping someone with difficulties is not a promising start for the next 4 years – as that person has the nuclear codes.

Macchiavelli

The author of the Prince – the ultimate cynical leader’s handbook would have advised sweeping away the old guard and launching a Blitzkrieg of radical policies that will have everyone reeling in their seats. Job done. The acting Attorney General is on her way and the Ambassadors around the world are packing up too and the intellectuals are failing to process the torrent of proposals leaving the White House.

Statue of Niccolo Macchiavelli in Florence

Niccolò Macchiavelli – The Cynic’s Guide to Leadership

Let us side step the shock and awe phase, get over our feelings of outrage and insult and attempt to be consequent.

Protest

Meeting and talking with the Marchers was the highlight of the trip – The atmosphere was one of an optimistic and loving community validating and celebrating the existence of a vast collection of people with healthy values and a positive spirit. Values based more on love and less on fear.

More on the problem with protest in a moment (1.7 million people in the UK signed a petition this week to reverse the Queen of England’s invitation to DJT for a State visit to the UK with golden carriages, full military honours and the rolling out of the great and the good of Blighty to put in a show for the new leader of the free world.)

Racism

DJT’s bizarre Black History Month breakfast was an historical denial on a grand scale as well as being a denial of DJT’s own baggage. His spinning of the contribution of African Americans – that their hard work laid down the foundations of modern America missed the point by many a mile. They were enslaved.

The point here is that there is no dialogue to be had. No numbers, facts, logic or reason will work against someone with zero interest in empowering the oppressed or curbing the dominance of the dominant. No argument will succeed. This is beyond debate, dialogue and exchange.

Conflict

From the perspective of Conflict Theory, we have moved passed dialogue and beyond cold conflict and are heading towards bipolar antipathy where exchanges are no longer listened to, reason has been thrown out of the window by both parties and negative emotions are triggered by simply seeing the other side or hearing their voice.

There is only one advantage to the HOT conflict phase – it gets dealt with – passive aggression can rumble on for years but when the furniture begins to fly then action is not far behind.

What is to be done?

Classical work on conflict suggests a starting point where energy is spent and attention is focused on the most leveraged areas where change is achievable and victories can be attained.

The post-election wounds are now healing and some brave commentators have uttered the bitter and necessary truth. The educated group who waged intellectual battle have missed the key point – it is not the content of the campaign, it is not the content of new policy – it is the cultural cause of our current situation that must be addressed.

We must give up the right to be right. We must come down from the hill of moral superiority – nothing will be heard from that altitude. It is about acting locally and moving beyond the facts (in Post-Truth America, facts are soooo last year.)

It is about new norms – America gets it political opinions from Netflix, Amazon Prime and Fox News. It is about creating stories, of creating characters with values that mean something. It is about starting an exciting narrative through the medium of drama / faction / story telling. That is the way, over time to tackle the fear that is driving the current political agenda and to move the majority toward a position of hope again.

Travel Ban

Shopping

A tragic example of this fear is the travel ban – with no statistics to back it up an overnight moratorium came in banning Muslims travelling to the US from the 7 Middle Eastern countries – The point is this – The move has the approval of the majority of Americans. They have swallowed it whole. They have heard the messages of fear and most currently choose to believe them. It is not true, but for them in this instance, action beats inaction – This myth provides a little comfort for them in dark times where their own personal reality seems so bleak and unending.

(The ban has been reversed by the courts and is being appealed now by DJT.)

Comment form Milton J. Bennett – Hello Mathew. Writing from the US, where I’ve been since Jan. 20., I’d like to comment on the purpose of the “psychopath” label regarding President Trump. People I have spoken with post shock are seriously considering two things: 1) how to keep the embers of a progressive agenda glowing during what will be a concerted move to the right (beyond the mandate of that slim electoral college win), and 2) how to mitigate the diplomatic credibility damage that is already being done by impetuous executive action. For instance, Khamanei has just said that Trump shows the “true face” of the US. The allegation of mental instability is an attempt to separate Trump from the US image. Some people I’ve talked to who supported Trump (either actively or by inaction), hoping that he would change or that that he would be restrained by “the system,” are now joining in the labeling. The move to the right will continue, but I guess there will be increasingly serious attempts to isolate or remove Trump

 

SIETAR Europa Congress – Valencia – Observations

This year’s congress felt large, professional and inclusive. Set in the city, drama and history of Valencia almost 400 people gathered to experience the breadth and depth of some of the best presentations we’ve experienced in recent times.

Panorama of  Placa del Ajuntament with City Hall  in evening. Valencia, Spain

Panorama of Placa del Ajuntament  –  City Hall

At some points, the delegate’s choice was what to MISS across an array of talent filling 7 parallel presentation steams.

Highlights for me were Dr. Sonsoles Morales and her witty and powerful introduction to Unconscious Bias, Dr. Jackie van der Kroft with her exploration of Non Violent Communication and Dr. Noor Azizan-Gardner’s insightful overview of diversity and inclusion within an American university setting. I felt busy rushing to 14 presentations but that meant not seeing more than 90 other contributions in a packed and varied schedule.

Of the key notes – Thiagi held our attention with his humble authority, present wit and his naughty truths.

On a personal note, seeing the documentary about Dr. Geert Hofstede went some way to reconcile the range of strong feelings about the man and his work. Films were presented at the Rialto Cinema in the Ajuntament Plaza as part of the film festival organised by Dr. Marianne Van Eldik Thieme.

The ADEIT Fundacion Universitat-Empressa de Valencia provided an impressive learning space with modern facilities and a wonderful outdoor patio for breaks and the cocktail party.

There is always a little moaning to be heard at any Congress. This time it was about the use of more than one site for the presentations, the lunch and a little drama at the Gala dinner. For me this adds flavour to the story and is to be expected when 400 paying customers attend an event organised by volunteers.

On a personal note, the appointment of Manuel Garcia Ochando has enabled SIETAR Europa to gain a new level of quality and the dynamic committees seemed to have successfully focused the varied voluntary contributions into concrete Congress results. Notable hard workers amongst many hard workers include; Pari Namazie, Barbara Covarrubias Venegas and Joe Kearns.

SIETAR Europa Congress Gala Venue

SIETAR Europa Congress Gala Venue

Praise and thanks go to Dr. Livi Thompson for the unenviable task of “herding cats” and bringing together the opinions and ideas of more than 50 volunteers.

The sad feeling of leaving Valencia and the SIETAR family was softened by meeting so many delegates at the airport and sharing a plane back to London in the company of Richard Lewis – that man is never dull!

There are calls for a different SIETAR Europa event to occur before the Congress in Dublin May 2017. Let us see what emerges…

“Are you for REAL?” Language as a window to our soul – Matthew Hill

bubble of communicationLast month marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of the Iron Curtain. This year I found myself in many training rooms with people whose parents were most affected by these changes.

A common legacy from those times is an abundance of negative language, even from the mouths of employees in dynamic global companies. I thought it pertinent to revisit negative language and ask, “What’s really going on?”

  1. Stress test

From my time in the Czech Republic a generation ago I finally worked out what the excess of questioning, pessimism and doubtful language really signified. The Soviet context had been one of low expectations, cynicism and a constant diet of untruths disseminated via radio, television and newspaper. When the new country invaders from Germany, France UK and America arrived, their language of promises, short-term sacrifice and future riches must have sounded sickeningly familiar.

Over time it became clearer that the doubting questions, the need for proof and the hesitation were intended to stress test the foreigner’s promises. So the reframe for negative language heard in those times was a simple question, “Are you for REAL?”

  1. Science

Entropy describes the universe in its inexorable journey towards chaos and randomness. Pessimists are often closer to the mark with predictions of the future than their optimistic counterparts. The second reframe of negative language can be to see it as the pure and selfless pursuit of accurate forecasting!

  1. Change

I was working with a large group of people from Central and Eastern Europe recently and, as we began an American open form group exercise, I was hit by a wave of resistant language, critical questions and dire predictions. These individuals were subject matter experts and had been ripped out of their home environment and resettled in downtown London.

The context is important. Their reluctance to perform this random task was a reflection of their hesitation to embrace the change that they faced. They were cautious, fearful and their language betrayed their inhabiting something like a childlike state of not knowing.

  1. A good old moan

There is comfort and a bonding warmth to be found in having a moan, gossiping or whinging about shared circumstances. It is a large part of British small talk and I encounter it frequently when travelling to a new country and meeting a new training group. This seems to be a social attempt to unify diversity through articulating common themes and so building a temporary harmony that fosters the conditions in which a relationship can form. This of course comes with the caveat that it is frequently used for political ends in economically challenging times to unify disparate people to hate one minority, foreigners in general or the government of the day.

  1. Forced positivity

If I were to control your working hours communication with the directive that all of your words have to be optimistic, positive and upbeat, would you comply? For a lot of people this is a reality and their answer is yes. A couple of years ago I used to meet socially with a group of guys from a very famous American pharmaceutical company that pursued this linguistic policy.

What struck me as funny and a little tragic was that, under social circumstances in a Twickenham pub, the other side of their lexicon came out in a torrent. It’s as if, for every forced positive phrase, one negative phrase had to be uttered later to restore their inner peaceful balance.

  1. Permitted negativity.

There are 2 examples that stick in my mind. The first are some famous fictional detective figures that have full permission from society to be grumpy old men. Their surly belligerence is portrayed as a essential part of sleuthing genius and their tortuous ability to always get their man.

The second example is much more dangerous. In my UK trainings it is the overtly racist exchanges between English and French executives or the permitted taunts between groups of men and groups of women. The third horror is to be found in the inter-departmental jibes as, for instance, between sales and marketing.

Under the guise of banter, badinage and permitted cheek, these exchanges seem intended as proof of a trusting in-group bond but feel sadly like a rain of micro-inequities and acts of aggression.

Conclusion

Negative phrases provide a fabulous opportunity to ask, “What lies beneath the surface conversation?” Certainly from my time in the Czech Republic it was possible to separate the human from their words and the human’s intention from their deeper fears.

Rising to the Challenge of the Challenging Delegate Cathy Wellings

Part 4 in the series How to Be an Excellent Intercultural Trainer by Intercultural Trainer Cathy Wellings

This month, Cathy looks at the various breeds of difficult delegate and asks, how can we best manage them during our intercultural training programmes?

Let’s be honest, we have all met those delegates who don’t seem to want to be in the room with us, or who try to dominate every discussion, interrupting their colleagues with their own personal stories or those who say absolutely nothing at all. We can meet these delegates on pretty much any training programme but here we are going to look at some of the challenging behaviours peculiar to intercultural training.

‘Been there, done that, know it all, impress me if you can’

You will meet delegates who have many years of international experience, perhaps they have more experience than you or they have studied cross-cultural management as part of an MBA programme, or perhaps they even grew up in the country you are training on. Most will be humble, keen to extend their knowledge even further and develop new skills and we shouldn’t feel daunted by this experience in itself. However, occasionally these experienced delegates may be waiting for the opportunity to catch you out, disagree with what you say or simply demonstrate their superior knowledge. A key point here is to know and to acknowledge this experience from the outset and to ask for permission to draw on it throughout the day. Make sure you do an individual needs analysis before your training so that you already know what experience you will have in the room and at the start of the training ask each delegate to share what they hope to get from being there so that even the most experienced are pushed to think about gaps they have or new perspectives that might help them. Capitalise on their experience but make sure you also add value through your own expertise – you might also gently challenge some of their assumptions or ask them to think about different approaches to the situations they recount.

‘It depends’

Undoubtedly you will stress the importance of not stereotyping or making sweeping generalisations about cultural groups but you may encounter the delegate who is disinclined to see any kind of cultural norm and can only focus on individuality and exceptions. When asked ‘How might this play out, would this be acceptable, what might be a typical response to this situation in your culture?‘ the response will always be the same: ‘It depends.’ This can be a tricky one to manage as the last thing we want to do is to encourage simplification or over-generalisation but of course when we are talking about culture, particularly on short corporate programmes we do need to make generalisations. Culture is something shared after all. It can help to probe a bit deeper with your questions, to turn them around and perhaps ask what response would be likely when people are stressed or under pressure.

‘When in Rome ok, but this isn’t Rome’

If you are training delegates who work with an international client base or are part of a multicultural workforce but are sat very firmly in their own country you may occasionally hear: ‘Of course I would adapt if I went to visit them in their country but they are here in mine so why should I change the way I normally do things?’ Or perhaps they work for the head office of an organisation that has made an overseas acquisition and feel that; ‘they work for us now and so should adapt to the way we do things.’ It can be helpful to respond to this kind of statement to by asking about desired outcomes. Of course, it’s absolutely fine not to adapt and to do things the way you usually do but what to do you want to get from this particular encounter and how might a slight adaptation in your behaviour help move you both towards a more successful outcome?

‘I’m authentic, take me as you find me’

Sooner or later you will come across the delegate who tells you that it’s much more important to be authentic, to be true to themselves than to try and adjust their behaviour or adapt to the different styles of colleagues or customers from different backgrounds. ‘I prefer to communicate directly, I like to tell it like it is, that’s just me, it’s the way I’ve always been and everyone knows that’s how I am.’   As with the previous example it can be helpful to ask this delegate about desired outcomes and personal impact. Introducing Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity might help them to see the benefits of taking different perspectives.

So be ready for these delegates because at some point you will no doubt encounter them. Allow them space and give them options but if things start to become heated have a private word with them during the coffee break to try and limit their impact on other delegates. Above all else, never take it personally, don’t become defensive and don’t enter into arguments with the difficult delegate.Profile_professional

How to Be an Excellent Intercultural Trainer – Part 1 by Cathy Wellings

The little girl and booksHere is the first in a series of articles on how to be an excellent intercultural trainer. Cathy has worked in the field of intercultural training for over ten years collaborating with numerous global corporate and public sector organisations. As well as delivering training herself, Cathy has worked closely with client decision makers to establish training needs and has also hired and observed many, many intercultural trainers worldwide.

Part 1 – Have a Healthy Relationship with the Theory

  • Know your stuff – it goes without saying that to be an expert in your field you need to have a solid understanding of the academic research and literature. Know the value and as well as the limitations of the models. Then you can make your own call as to if or when you use these models. Long gone are the days when intercultural training could be based purely on personal experience and anecdote but, if like many trainers, you are not convinced by the universal validity of the well known dimensional models, explore more recent research and bring in models from other disciplines if and where appropriate.
  • Use the theory wisely and sparingly – remember that this might be all new for your clients so a visual representation of a model that seems tired and clichéd to you could be a helpful eye-opener to participants in your training room. No model has all the answers and many may be flawed but they can still act as a useful springboard for discussion and debate.
  • Be eclectic – never rely on one lone model or theorist but take a pragmatic approach and bring in what works for you and what may help your client from a range of theories, models and disciplines – without overwhelming them with detail.
  • Be careful of jargon – we need to speak our clients’ language so be mindful of using too much intercultural terminology. Using expressions such as high context, specific versus diffuse or linear active risks confusing your participants and cost you valuable time in defining these complex terms and concepts.
  • Make it relevant and practical – most clients want the ‘so what?’ or ‘the what’s in it for me?’ factors and so avoid giving lengthy theoretical explanations. Instead, introduce appropriate examples that bring the models to life.
  • Know the limitations – Be prepared to show both sides of the coin by highlighting the criticisms of any theory you use as well as offering the counter-arguments. Managing antithesis effectively is one sign of an excellent intercultural trainer.
  • Keep learning – Don’t rest on your laurels and think that because you know about Hall, Hofstede and Trompenaars you are an expert. We all know that intercultural interactions are rarely as straightforward as person from culture A interacting with person from culture B and so more recent, more complex models and theories might serve you and your clients better.

In a nutshell

Treat your relationship with intercultural theory as you would any other close relationship. Be aware of its weaknesses but always be ready to defend it when it’s under attack. Don’t become over-dependent and don’t turn your back on them completely either. Keep reading, be active on social media, attend events when you can and share ideas with other intercultural trainers. Finally, be prepared to experiment with new theories and approaches and challenge them yourself.