A look in the mirror

Reading many articles on personal development and leadership, I recently noticed a pattern in blogs and articles that bothered me. The author of an article usually has something to present: an opinion, a model or a solution to a problem. He wants to share this inisght with others, generally with the ai mto attract new business, directly or indirectly. The set-up of many of these articles is predictable:

  1. All views are wrong or outdated
  2. My views are new and much needed, so
  3. Buy my product or services

This pattern in fact is similar to the pattern that often emerges in my intercultural trainings. It’s a fascinating parallel. Intercultural problems come up when two people of different backgrounds and values communicate, and do not speak about their expectations of each other. What happens in this conversation is that one of the two thinks:

  1. The other person is wrong (he does not have the expertise, wisdom or experience that I have, or he is simply communicating in an odd and unprofessional way)
  2. I am reasonable and right here: what is needed here is to adopt my point of view (simply because I’m better informed, know how things should be done and if only people would work the way I do, we wouldn’t have any problems here)
  3. Buy my services: the solution here is that you should adopt my view and work in my way

The above 3 steps in this intercultural example say one thing: I am right. The other person is the problem here. We often forget to look in the mirror.

Jan. 20, 2009 ÒPresident-elect Barack Obama was about to walk out to take the oath of office. Backstage at the U.S. Capitol, he took one last look at his appearance in the mirror.Ó (Official White House photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
Jan. 20, 2009
President-elect Barack Obama was about to walk out to take the oath of office. Backstage at the U.S. Capitol, he took one last look at his appearance in the mirror.

In this limited view of the world, all nuance is gone. We think in black and white. I am right, so the other one must be wrong. I know how things should be done (because I’m from headquarters, or because I have experience with this way of working), so you should work according to my way. And in spite of our good intentions, we put ourselves in a superior position and judge the behavior of the other person in a negative way.

What is often forgotten in this situation is to ask questions. We are so convinced of our superior position, that we don’t ask anymore for the other point of view. We advocate our own view and forget to inquire with the other person for their point of view, and how they came tot his view. That’s why in trainings I spend a lot of time on this aspect. Rather than going into the do’s and dont’s of working with other cultures, I help participants to look in the mirror. What’s the effect you have on others? Could it be that you are at fault, not well informed or simply too biased. I teach people how to let go of bias, look at the world in a more nuanced way where different points-of-view are welcomed and help them open up their mind and get communication back on track.

This is also the point of view that I take in my book Managing through a Mirror: the title says it all. Effectiveness in working with people from other cultures is achieved when first looking at your own behavior and the impact you have on others. Only then will you be able to constructively engage in conversation with the other person. The mirror is a useful tool in my workshops.


Now that we have arrived at this stage of this article, I want to ask you to go back to the start of this article, and realise what happened. I criticised the way articles and blogs are usually built up, as these always seem to follow the same pattern. Exactly the pattern that I used myself in this blog, promoting my own intercultural work:

1. My colleagues usually take the wrong approach in intercultural work; their views are incomplete

2. My point of view is better: I help people look in the mirror first, adn that leads tob better results

3. Consequently you should work with me, hire me for lectures and workshops, and buy my book.


I see this pattern too often in blogs. Including my own.

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