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Crossing Cultures: Best Fit or How we do things…..in Egypt

 

Article published in "Typeface" Vol. 22, No. 1, Winter 2011

 

When working with people new to type, we may mislead them into believing that type explains all behaviour; yet we know that there are plenty of other influences on behaviour, including culture; the purpose of this article is to clarify and disentangle the cultural influences on behaviour from personality preferences.

 

Definitions of culture state that it is learned from other people:

"a pattern of basic assumptions, invented, discovered or developed by a given group to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel" (Schein, 1990)

This contrasts with the definition of type as something inborn:

"psychological type is a theory of personality…..differences in behaviour result from people’s inborn tendencies to use their minds in different ways. As people act on these tendencies, they develop patterns of behaviour…." (Introduction to Type 6th edition).


So, both culture and personality are expressed in behaviour, but one is inborn, the other learned: how do we know what is driving a particular behaviour? For example, people who have worked in Africa often mention the elaborate greetings (How are you? How is your family? How is your village? How is everything...?). Is this an expression of EF preferences or an expression of culture?

 

The models of culture developed by Trompenaars, Hofstede, Hickson and Pugh, and others are helpful. Keeping these models in mind when working with people from other cultures enables us to explore with clients the range of acceptable behaviours for their type in their culture. For example, extravert behaviours in Italy, will have a different range from those in Britain or Finland. Indeed, an extravert in Finland may well behave like in introvert in Italy. The frameworks provide a starting point to disentangle the cultural influences on individual behaviour from personality preferences.

 

Hickson & Pugh

Hofstede/GLOBE

Trompenaars

Authority

High/low power distance

Performance orientation

Achievement vs ascription

Relationships

Individualist/collectivist

Humane orientation

Individualist/collectivist

Specific vs diffuse

Self

Gender egalitarianism

Assertiveness

Neutral vs affective

Uncertainty

High/low uncertainty avoidance

Universalist vs particularist

Time

High/low future orientation

Sequential vs synchronic

 

Some of the problematic areas that I came across when using the MBTI with Egyptians are outlined below, together with some strategies for establishing best fit, which are also applicable to other cultures.

Extraversion/Introversion
Egyptians spend a lot of time in the company of others; they expect to see and speak to friends and family often; they communicate to maintain the relationship rather than for a specific purpose. These behaviours reflect the collectivist, relationship orientated culture rather than individual personality preference; to assess best fit, we need to explore other aspects of this preference pair, such as sources of energy, whether they speak first or listen first etc. We need to encourage clients to assess themselves compared with other people from their own culture, rather than ours.

Sensing/Intuition
Egyptian culture values tradition and conformity, there is respect for the past and a belief that you cannot control the future (everything is “insha’allah”/god willing). Therefore, the questions on the indicator concerning whether you do things “in the accepted way or invent a way of your own” and whether you “prefer to be original or conventional” are likely to be answered according to cultural values rather than individual preference, leading to a preponderance of reported S types. In order to allow Intuition preferences to surface, it is helpful to focus on the essence of the type preferences, by looking at whether the client’s perception is focused on detail and evidence, or on patterns and meanings.

Thinking/Feeling
Egyptians express their emotions more openly than is common in the UK. The indicator question “do you show your feelings freely or keep them to yourself” may be answered from the cultural perspective. Similarly, the desire for harmony and avoidance of conflict, important in a relationship orientated culture, are surface behaviours and the personal values driving the behaviour could be either concern for others (F preference) or a logical weighing up of the consequences of conflict (T preference). The underlying preferences can be explored in the best-fit discussion.

Judging/Perceiving
We associate Judging preferences with getting work done in good time, having a planned and orderly lifestyle, and making early decisions. In Egypt, there is less respect for deadlines, life is less predictable, meetings often start late and are interrupted, and decisions feel negotiable. These different attitudes to time and planning are primarily culturally driven, rather than reflecting individual preferences for J or P.
The exercise many of us use for clarifying J/P preferences (“I can play before I work” vs “I like to work before I play”) may not be useful in this culture. One way that Tim and Anne Marsden use to distinguish J and P preferences in Africa, is to explore whether a plan feels comfortable or restrictive and whether an unexpected visitor is a welcome diversion or causes a groan and a quick reschedule.

Conclusions
It seems that type concepts are universal, but in order to use type successfully cross culturally, we need to:
• Be aware of how cultures vary and therefore how the expression of type varies;
• Take time to establish best fit, using culturally relevant examples;
• Be conscious of our own type and culture biases.

And, of course, we need to be aware of all the other influences on behaviour apart from personality and culture!

References
Hofstede, g. (1991) Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind. London, McGraw-Hill.
Trompenaars, F. (1993) Riding the Waves of Culture.
Hickson, D. & Pugh, D. (1995) Management Worldwide: the Impact of Societal Culture on Organisations around the Globe. Penguin, London.
Linda K. Kirby, Elizabeth Kendall, Nancy J. Barger (2007) Type and Culture: using the MBTI Instrument in International Applications CPP, California
Isabel Briggs Myers, (2000) Introduction to Type. CPP, California.
Kendall, Betsy (2004) “Fish out of Water”, Australian Psychological Type Review, Vol. 6, No. 1.

Biographical Note
Catherine Stothart, (INTP) is a Coach and Team Facilitator, working with clients to help them manage change and develop high performance ways of working. She has lived in Egypt and Brazil.
www.essenwood.co.ukCatherine@essenwood.co.uk 07966 785869