Ep. 025: Dean Foster: Crossing Cultures
Exciting News! We have a new feel, rhythm and sound to The Peacebuilding Podcast. Please check it out in this episode.
In this next podcast conversation, Susan talks with Dean Foster whose name is synonymous with building intercultural competency. Dean has worked in almost 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? Who am I culturally speaking? Those are questions that are almost always salient to any conflict resolution or peacebuilding process. Groups get easily polarized around identity and culture when conflict is handled in an adversarial way. And many of the biggest conflicts on the planet today have a strong component of cultural misunderstanding. As the world get’s increasingly more-crowded, it’s important that all of us build both our ability to deal with difference in constructive ways and also our understanding of how we differ culturally speaking. Susan likes to say “culture is to a group what personality is to an individual. It’s a group’s personality, the unique way that a group has devised to deal with our common human challenge of staying alive on the planet.”
Susan caught up with Dean somewhere between a trip to Prague and New York. Early on in the interview, Dean says: “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 globalization over the last twenty-five, thirty years. The conventional wisdom in the multinational world when Coleman and Foster got started in their professional work was that we have a global multi-national culture now that transcends any individual culture. Dean says that while there is some truth to this, it is far from accurate. He sees in millennials a greater acceptance that cultural differences exist, but not necessarily a real increase in understanding about what those differences are.
Foster talks 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.
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