Dean Foster: Crossing Cultures

Dear Subscribers,

Exciting news at The Peacebuilding Podcast!  We have a new feel, rythym and sound. Please check it out. You’re going to hear  a lot more of me -- which may or may or may not be a good thing :). Let’s see.

Because of our upgrading, we have been slow to get out this next episode. Scott Grunberg, my 28 year-old sound /producer has his finger on the pulse of younger listeners (a big user of podcasts) and had some great ideas of ways to make the show more magnetic.  Our goal -- 10,000 listeners.  So, we’ve mixed it up to make content both useful for people working in related professional fields -- but also those who know nothing about peacebuilding except that they live on the planet and want to hear some cool, hopeful stories in contrast to the daily, depressing media cycle.

I just came back from an amazing trip to Shanghai where I had the privilege of speaking to 1000 women. The theme of the conference was “More Courage, More Strength” and my particular focus “Igniting Women: The Pathway to Planetary Peace”.  This podcast has had me thinking about the best possible interventions to bring an end to the highly destructive military operations raging on the planet today. My conclusion? Empower women across the board, from the family system right up to the global level. So, stay tuned – in the next episode I will air the speech and give you highlights of the experience.

If you have a chance, check out the play “Oslo”. I went recently in New York City. It’s about a back-channel process orchestrated by a Norwegian diplomat, Mona Juul, who I hope to have on the podcast soon, and her husband, Terje Rød-Larsen, in secretly organizing talks that led to the Oslo Accords—an agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) that was signed in 1993. The play does a good job of showing how formal diplomatic structures can get in the way of creating real dialogue and, to my mind, just how antiquated the whole system of international relations is.  In juxtoposition to top down, “famous person” or “strong-man” interventions, the field of organization development has shown us many more “whole systems” approaches – a number of which we are exploring on this podcast.

My guest in this episode is someone I go way back with -- actually, to the beginning of my career in working in the negotiation and conflict resolution field. Dean Foster’s name has become kind of synonymous with building intercultural competency.  He has worked in just about 100 countries, has been a speaker at major business schools in the United States including Harvard and Columbia, is the host on CNN of the nationwide “Doing Business in…” series and is also a frequent guest commentator on culture, global work and social issues for global  media networks.

What is culture? I like to say culture is to a group what personality is to an individual. It’s a group’s personality, the unique way that that group has come up with of dealing with our common human challenge of staying alive on the planet.  Culture becomes a “problem” in conflict both when people have limited understanding about worldview differences and when conflict is handled in an adversarial way, which leads to quick polarization around culture and identity.

I caught up with Dean for this interview somewhere between a trip to Prague and New York. I like this quote from him early on in the episode: “When faced with something we don’t understand or that we find mystifying, we always have a choice.  We can decide to approach it as an opportunity for growth and learning. . .  or we can approach it fearfully -- as something dangerous”.

Dean talks about his early “cross-cultural education” growing up in Brooklyn, New York and reflects on the shift of globalisation over the last twenty-five, thirty years.  The conventional wisdom in the multinational world when he and I got started in our professional work was that we have a global multi-national culture now that transcends any individual culture. While there is some truth to this, it's far from reality. Dean says that he sees in millennials a greater acceptance that cultural differences exist, but not necessarily a real increase in understanding about what those differences are. 

Dean tells stories about some projects he did, supporting an American multi-national working with a Russian team, about China, and about multi-cultural teams where so much business is done these days.

More information about Dean Foster and his work can be found in the show notes.

Please enjoy the episode here

Thanks for reading this, thanks for listening.

I send you my warm regards,

Susan Coleman: Igniting Women - The Pathway to Planetary Peace

Bob Stains: The Public Conversations Project