Ep. 025:  Dean Foster

Dean Foster (portrait).jpg

Show Notes

Update on SusaN

  • Susan suggests looking into a play she has seen recently call Oslo about former Israeli and Palestinian leaders coming together and how often, bureaucratic structures get in the way of the human interactions that can build more peaceful societies
  • Antiquated way to engage– podcast about creating new methods/processes
  • Delivering a speech in Shanghai, China
  • International Elite Women’s Summit (Check out The Peacebuilding Podcast on Facebook for photos from the event!)
  • Speaking to 1.000 women
  • More courage, more strength
  • Susan’s speech entitled: Igniting women: The Pathway to Planetary Peace
  • Empowering women across the planet will bring the change we need to build more peaceful world

Dean Foster

  • Name synonymous with international training and consulting
  • Teaches about cross cultural communications and cultural differences
  • Worked with Susan training people in intercultural negotiation
  • Quote from Dean:

“When faced with something we don’t understand or we find mystifying, we always have a choice. We can decide to approach this as an opportunity for growth and learning, a positive approach to working with this issue. Or, we can approach it fearfully, as something that is dangerous to us.”

Globalization has had huge impact on his work

  • People were saying that the globalized world had created one culture, but Susan disagrees with this. This is why intercultural communications work is so important.
  • Dean says that the millennial generation has been made more aware that many different cultures exist, but has yet to fully understand what kinds of differences this creates

What planted the seeds in you for this kind of work?

  • Really bad at math as a kid but very interested in the sciences– decided to go into the social sciences
  • Had a very good opportunity in multicultural Brooklyn (a borough in New York City)
  • Incredible mix of people from all over the world in his apartment building. Would celebrate holidays he was unfamiliar with neighbors
  • Learned that things that are different can be a lot of fun and are nothing to be afraid of. Very interesting and should be embraced; approached with openness and positiveness

Were there time when you felt afraid?

  • No, never afraid. Maybe lost or not understanding, but not afraid
  • When faced with something we don’t understand, we can think positively or negatively (see quote above)
  • Build his career off trying to get professionals to approach cultural differences from a positive perspective

When you scan from childhood to now, how as the world changed?

  • Themes: Globalization (25-30 years has increased awareness of cultural difference
  • Early in his career it was a struggle to get people to admit that cultural differences had to be discussed. Millennials now grow up aware of such cultural difference. We don’t have to do this as much anymore because of greater opportunity for travel and cultural interaction
  • This greater awareness does not necessarily mean that people understand these differences. How people react to, understand, and manage cultural differences has not dramatically changed.
  • We have to be sensitive to this difference because the world is not a homogenous place. This is a dangerous assumption to make.
  • Globalization has highlighted these cultural differences.
  • Susan: Personality is to an individual what culture is to a group. When Susan spent time in Latin America, this opened up new ways of seeing the world.

Have you changed as a cultural being?

  • … he’s still a kid from Brooklyn. He has learned to be more authentically himself. He has become more of who he always was.
  • He has done this with a greater understanding of what it means to be “himself” to the person that is NOT “himself”
  • Who I am has a meaning to someone who is not me. He needs to understand how other people view and interpret him. Build common ground from understanding the assumptions we make about other people

How do you think someone from China would see you?

Stereotypes are not valid generalizations. Generalizations are based on scientific study of groups. Analysis can tell us how a specific group of Chinese people will respond when meeting a person from Brooklyn, New York. It can also predict how a US American will respond to a Chinese person for the first time. If we understand these cultural assumptions, it allows people to come to understand each other more quickly. Understanding these norms allow us to put cultural difference behind us

Choose a few countries around the world and tell us how you think you would be perceived differently?

  • Stereotypes about US Americans: Have to assume that other people will stereotype him. He tries to support positive assumptions they will have about him while doing everything possible to dismiss the negative assumptions people will make.
  • Continental Europe Stereotype: Loud, over the top American who wants to tell us what to do. He will try to undermine that expectation. Indicate that he is here to listen and understand how they think things should be done. Dis-empower the stereotype and then you can move on to really knowing each other
  • Japan Stereotype: He will never fully be able to understand who the Japanese are as a people. He must always stay at arm’s length. Must indicate that he does understand their culture to a degree and wants to have a relationship that is closer than arms length

What has felt the most foreign?

  • Mother’s father’s culture: Russia
  • Emotionally allowing them to be who they are and positively and professionally responding has been difficult
  • It’s the content of difference, not only the degree of difference
  • Cultural norm differences, not psychological because he tries to stay objective
  • He was working with a US company in Moscow and they were negotiating terms of an agreement
  • Business had be having difficulty enforcing and coming up with agreements
  • Problem: No matter what we negotiated, it was also unreliable. There was no trust among this group. Difficult because he was working at level that was one step below where he needed to be. There were always people higher up that would undermine the negotiation and the Western team never had contact with these people. They could not form bonds of trust.
  • Susan: Relates because she has also faced issues to get to the “top.” If you can’t form relationships at the top, everything underneath is undermined.
  • Western norms in negotiating are usually pretty trustworthy. When we say yes, we mean it. When we sign an agreement it will be followed through. Negotiations can be carried out under Western norms. There is a contractual view versus a different worldview where contracts are not that meaningful, but interpersonal relationship will allow negotiations to go through. If a culture is going to negotiate and build trust not by contracts, but by personal trust and relationship, all negotiators must have access to the people that they need to build trust with, or the negotiation simply cannot happen. In Russia, Dean could not form trustworthy relationships due to lack of access. Ways to build relationships in Russia were unacceptable– had to make a decision about whether or not the US company would participate in graft (in American English, graft refers to political corruption, cheating or stealing for personal gain). That is the line he couldn’t cross so he couldn’t build those relationships.
  • Everything in this negotiation fell apart– it was unsuccessful.

Is this just Russia or it is rampant corruption around the world?

  • Dean doesn’t know if corruption is more prevalent in Russia, but rather he thinks that it is more of a determining factor in how things play out
  • Knowing that, negotiators need a different kind of strategy
  • Susan: relates this to the women she worked with in Afghanistan where women and full of integrity but are operating in a corrupt state
  • Dean agrees that this is a good point with many factors. Culture is one issue, and sometimes added onto this is needing to work in a failed state. Maybe managing a government that is highly corrupt needs to take precedence over managing cultural differences. He enjoys examining this issue… what are the biggest issues that need to be focused on? Why are certain systems more or less corrupt than others? Culture leads to answer about that.
  • When working with cultures like Russia and Afghanistan, we (Dean + Western organizations) should expect that we need to manage corrupt government because, historically, these countries have not had systems that value or support some of the structures Western parties might come to expect. We should go in expecting political issues in some contexts.

In what ways has cultural understanding led to more people coming together? Any stories about that?

  • He works with global teams where about 20 people around the world are working for the same company or organization but they have never met before. They work with each other virtually (email, occasional video conference, very rare occasion seeing each other in person) every day but may not have had introductions to culture before.
  • He wants to bring them through a 3 step process (see near end of notes for 3 steps)
  • Create awareness to the fact that culture is on the table and recognize how this will impact their work
  • Must understand our own culture first. Understand your own cultural being before you try to understand others.
  • There is a greater awareness than there was in the past about the realities of cultures outside one’s own, but people are, in general, not being in touch with themselves as cultural beings.
  • People know that there are differences. They do not know what those differences are. That’s the issue.
  • Susan: Society does seem to have this impression that we are single society and cultural differences don’t really matter (i.e. everybody speaks English). But Dean is saying that this is not true.
  • People aren’t really understanding how cultural differences play into our lives. Globalization is beginning to mask difference and “everyone is becoming the same”
  • At a superficial level, this may be true. In the global business world, this may be the case because of the development of similarities: working English, technology, business practices becoming more universal
  • This is a superficial level
  • One w get beyond this superficial level, cultural differences remain profound
  • Globalization has made these differences more visible and more of an “issue” as it has also created a superficially similar reality

What is some of the deeper stuff?


Dean explains the “iceberg” model of culture  -  the iceberg may represent completely different ways of valuing and understanding the world (see image).


  • The degree to which I need to build trust before I can feel comfortable with you.
  • Latin America = simpatico; need for great trust before working together
  • In the business world, we first due the job and the success of the transaction is what builds the trust
  • Knowing these cultural differences allows us to extrapolate what business behaviors to expect
  • Susan: In her experience, many more cultures build trust first than resort to the contract why of getting things done.
  • This has also been Dean’s experience. This is why Dean says that globalization, even though it has expended many business that prefer the contract style of getting work done, has not altered the fundamental elements of cultures that prefer to build relationships first.
  • Western business perspective is: Well after 30 years of globalization, can’t people just get it already? Just write the contract/get the thing done
  • So we live in a society that wants to get these big business deals made, but the culture of various countries does not support that, and this may cause frustration

Is cultural competence necessary to bring a group together?

  • Dean: I think you can even if all the participants are not at a desirable level of cultural competence
  • The fundamental issue is building common ground. This usually involves culture but it does have to. If we are trying to build common ground across culture, what we want to do is use cultural differences to foster common ground. We don’t want them to become problems or obstacles.
  • Susan: Recalls interview with Rabia Roberts and how her work with her husband was very much influenced by how they each saw different cultures from their own gendered perspective. They had a different world view and would see the same scenarios differently
  • Dean agrees. Gender is just one way of group cross cultural groups. There are many: gender, race, privilege level, class, etc.
  • How a particular culture responds to these groupings is the question at hand
  • In Myanmar, genders interact differently than they would in Sweden
  • Sweden is known as an egalitarian culture. The expectation is that women and men share equal responsibilities in most all aspects of society
  • In Myanmar, there is a more hierarchical structure where gender determines how men and women interact in society or whether they interact in certain circumstances at all
  • This question of gender becomes cultural when the culture has to decide how people are going to address these various identities

How do you define cultural competence?

Cultural competence is the ability to see how others see you and to understand what you can do about accelerating the achievement of a common goal. Do I know enough about this other culture to build common ground across the differences we may have? What is my ability to make that happen?

Role of culture in peacebuilding initiatives? Reflections on that?

  • Dean brings it back to his childhood in a multicultural environment and how safe it was and this is based on a certain degree of privilege. He was able to approach difference with excitement and know that things were going to be great and work themselves out. This would not hinder his ability to build close friendships across cultures.
  • This becomes a struggle when people are not used to approaching cultural difference with curiosity and excitement; when they dread intercultural relationships, when the mystery is a negative
  • In multicultural context when people don’t have a clear understanding of their own needs, culture becomes a reason why things won’t work out. The projection process occurs when I project my fears on your difference and your difference becomes the reason things don’t work out. But if we approach this more positively, where we understand our needs and the other’s needs, we can use the cultural differences as ways to achieving those needs. The first step (1) is figuring out who you are. Next (2), understand what the cultural differences are. (3) Then using those differences to give people what they need.
  • Susan: If there is not trust in the room, people begin to behave in “group centric” ways where certain identities begin to divide the room. When their is more trust in the room, the cultural differences are there, but they do not separate people. It is more likely that people will be tolerant and appreciative of difference
  • Dean absolutely agrees. He has seen this happen and he would like to see it happen more. He sees business groups enter negotiations with independent agendas and cultural differences simply become opportunities to blame the “other” group for the failure of the deal
  • If we are creating a more collaborative environment where everyone’s needs are at the table and if we can have both groups see these needs objectively and understand why the other culture group has these needs, we can begin to work with those differences and help them achieve the common ground that everyone is looking for.
  • Susan: Discusses Bob Stains episode where he emphasizes how important it is to set everything up prior to the negotiation and to work with each person and each group prior to them entering a space with “the other.” Is this permitted in business interactions?
  • Dean says that, to a degree, his team is able to do this. They want to help each side and each individual to reflect on what his/her/their needs are, what sort of agenda they are bringing to the table, what do they expect of others, etc. Always subject to the reality which does not always permit all this preparation.

Final words of wisdom? Particularly for younger listeners

  • We’re not all becoming the same even though we have greater cultural contact than ever before in human history. We have a choice due to this opportunity. We can see the differences that exist and acknowledge that they are profound and see them as ways to understand the world from ways we had not thought of before. We can find new answers to old problems. We can find new ways of thinking from other cultures. Or we can choose to see these differences as threats and choose not to see the opportunity presented to us. We can use this cultural difference to blame cultures we are unfamiliar with for whatever difficulty or failure we are encountering. This is a choice. History tells us that increased intercultural interaction does not create greater feelings of peace, brotherhood/sisterhood/siblinghood, kum-ba-ya. This is not automatic. Intercultural interactions to not automatically create the kind of peacebuilding we are looking to do. In fact, initially, it may create exactly the opposite. But this does not take into account the part about understanding culture and oneself as a cultural being. Knowledge about how to remain authentic while still understanding what others need. We have a gift right now to be able to interact with other cultures and learn about them and to learn about how we can accelerate building common ground.
  • Susan: Believes this understanding help her understand what it means to be truly human.
  • Dean: it also increases our sense of mystery and wonder which is what has kept him in this field for so long.


Dean Foster; Founder, DFA Intercultural Global Solutions, LLC
Executive Strategic Consultant, Dwellworks Intercultural

For over two decades, Dean Foster, has been involved in researching, writing about, and consulting on the nature of culture and its role in society, work and politics in a globalizing world. As founder and former Worldwide Director of Berlitz Cross-Cultural, DFA Intercultural Services, and currently Executive Strategic Consultant for Dwellworks Intercultural, Dean, based in NYC, has played a central role in the development of the field of cross-cultural training and consulting.

Dean works with most major Fortune 500 companies, national governments and NGOs (the United Nations and World Trade Institutes, among others), and as guest lecturer and faculty for a variety of premier educational institutions, such as Harvard Business School, Columbia University School of Business, NYU, Darden Business School, and others. His work has taken him to over 95 countries. He is the host on CNN of the nationwide “Doing Business in…” series. Dean is also a frequent guest commentator on culture, global work and social issues for CNN, CNBC, the BBC and other radio and TV shows; and has been interviewed in Newsweek, USA Today, the New York Times, and elsewhere.

Dean is a familiar presenter at major international conferences related to international cultural issues. He is an active member of and speaker at the annual international conferences of Worldwide ERC©, the National Foreign Trade Council, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), the International Institute for Human Resources (IIHR), and other organizations. In 2012 Dean was inducted in Worldwide ERC’s prestigious “Hall of Leaders”, and in 2013 received the Forum for Expatriate Management’s acclaimed Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dean has written many articles as well as the book, Bargaining Across Borders, published by McGraw-Hill and voted as one of the top ten business books of the year in 1994 by the American Library Association. Dean’s other books include The Global Etiquette Guide to Europe , The Global Etiquette Guide to Asia, The Global Etiquette Guide to Africa & The Middle East and The Global Etiquette Guide to Latin America. Dean was a Contributing Editor with National Geographic, writing the monthly “CultureWise” column, appearing in National Geographic Traveler Magazine. Dean is on the faculty of American University, Intercultural Management Institute, Washington, DC, and he received his Master’s degree in Sociology from the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, NYC.

Contact Dean

You can contact Dean via his email dean@deanfosterglobal.com.