Riding the Waves of Culture
Swedish Press|March 2018

Dr Fons Trompenaars is co-founder of the consultancy firm Trompenaars HampdenTurner, and is the author of the book Riding the Waves of Culture. This book, now in its third edition, has sold over 120,000 copies and has been translated into 16 languages. Two central themes in the book are the definitions of cultural norms and values, and how they translate into seven cultural dimensions (please see the companion article on page 12 – 13). Swedish Press spoke to Dr Trompenaars and his Australian business partner Sean Williams, co-founder and Commercial Director of Mundus International. Sean is currently living in Sweden and advises foreign diplomats and business executives on how to interpret Swedish culture, traditions and institutions.

Peter Berlin

Swedish Press: Can you please summarize how Cross-Cultural Awareness in general, and understanding the 7 dimensions in particular, will benefit the readers of Swedish Press?

Fons Trompenaars: In a nutshell, we distinguish between four levels of cross-cultural competence: Recognition, Respect, Reconciliation, and Realization. The 7 cultural dimensions are particularly relevant for the recognition level. For example, an American may feel intuitively that Swedes are more reserved than his own compatriots. A Swede, on the other hand, may think of American culture as being rather superficial. We find that people often use the 7 dimensions as convenient labels merely to recognize why they don’t like people from different cultures, so we try to make them also respect those differences. Once people have learned to both recognize and respect, they are still left with a dilemma, namely how to make something useful out of the differences. This is what we call reconciliation – the art of integrating opposites. So what specific action should one take to make all this happen? That is the realization part of the equation, and it is facilitated by understanding that there are scientific cross-cultural models underlying the 7 dimensions. This is why I think the dimensions are helpful for people who travel across different cultures.

SP: Swedes who come to live in America sometimes observe that Americans are welcoming and extroverted, allowing the newcomer to build up a network of superficial acquaintances relatively quickly. On the other hand the Swedes often feel that they have very few real friends, and so they end up feeling lonely. Can this be explained through cultural differences between Swedes and Americans?

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