Working Across Cultures

Posted 23 August 2023 by
Melissa Summer, The Myers-Briggs Company

1 minute read

What are the biggest challenges when it comes to working across cultures? Between different time zones, language barriers, and differences in regional and country cultures, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Luckily, common conflicts and communication barriers can often be resolved with a little forethought, training and psychological insight.

In this episode of The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast, we’re joined by Frank Garten, an accomplished author, speaker, and consultant known for his expertise in cross-cultural management and global leadership. 

Scroll down for episode transcript

In this episode, Garten highlights the most common challenges for teams working across cultures and what to do about them. 

“When we talk about country culture, there are a few different elements that come in,” explains Garten during the interview. “For example, does the culture communicate directly, like we’re doing in this podcast? More than 80% of cultures around the world have indirect communication patterns. But if you come from a direct communicating culture, like the USA or the Netherlands, to you their communication patterns sound vague.”

By listening, you’ll gain insights into working across countries and cultures, and learn how to better prepare your leaders and teams to communicate effectively with people and teams of different cultures.

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Intro: Welcome to The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast, where we bring together thought leaders, psychologists, and personality experts from around the world to talk about work life, home life, and how to get the best from life. 


MS Summer (MS): With the help of technology and the rise of flat organizational structure, people are more likely than ever to be working across time zones and cultures. In this episode, we're talking with cross-cultural management expert, Frank Garten, to explore the challenges and solutions related to working in cross-cultural teams.

We'll discuss the common conflicts working cross-culturally and the benefits of using tools like the MBTI assessment to foster collaboration. You'll get real-life examples, learn about communication barriers, trust, and hear practical strategies for cross-cultural teams to be more effective. So welcome Frank Garten.

FG Garten (FG): Hi Melissa. Nice to speak to you.

MS: Nice to speak to you too. I know from your website that you're an accomplished author, speaker, consultant, and you're known for your expertise in cross-cultural management and global leadership. You have a deep understanding of cultural dynamics and you've helped organizations navigate the complexities of international business.

I'm really excited to talk to you about this because there are not many people out there who I feel like can say that they are cross-cultural experts when it comes to international business and communication. What are the most common challenges you see working in teams across cultures?

FG: Well, there's many, I mean, first of all, any team these days is a cross-cultural team. Almost wherever you go, you find people from various nationalities, various backgrounds. And even if that wouldn't be the case, you know, even if it wouldn't be different countries, then still, I would call any team a cross-cultural team, because we simply bring a lot of other cultures – we bring our country culture, but we also bring our own family culture, our own personality. And different personalities bring about the same dynamics, I think, as different countries.

There's of course some common denominators you can use when you talk about country culture that are quite influential. But in the basics, it's all about, ‘Am I able to bridge differences I come across when working in a team?’ And yeah, many teams I work with in various companies, they are cross-cultural teams. The most common problem, if people come to me, it's always because there's an issue on the team and that usually relates to communication. 80% of the time it's communication. 

And then what we very quickly do is we blame the communication problem on culture. We say, ‘Oh, it must be because there's a group of Dutch and a group of Chinese [people] so it must be the problem we're facing [is] with China as a culture.’ And so the request comes for a cross-cultural workshop. I would say in the remaining 80% of the cases – it’s again in 80% -- that the solution is not in knowing more about China. It's not about a lack of knowledge about another culture. The real issues, people don't talk about it. 

So I could easily as well call myself a communication expert, as most of the work I do with teams are really to improve communication. And that starts with opening up yourself to different points of view to difference, backgrounds. Of course, country culture then is one of the denominators and when we talk about country culture there's a few additional elements that come in. For example, are we used to a very hierarchical backgrounds or are we used to a very flat egalitarian organizational culture, just to name one. 

How do we communicate? Do we do this very directly, like in this podcast? I mean, I hear an American accent. I'm Dutch. Those are two cultures that are very direct, very to the point. Low context communication, we call it. Most cultures in the world though – more than 80% – have indirect communication and like to go around the central issue to explain their point of view. And if you come from the US or the Netherlands, you can label that as vague. You can say, ‘They don't say what they mean.’ And we get annoyed, and that's of course not the crux. The crux is to start to understand where they come from and build bridges. And then the most common issue –  that's where you started with on cross-cultural teams – is that we know that.

Many people in cross-cultural teams know that. They know that communication in some part of the world is direct, some parts indirect. At the moment, we're in a classroom or we're sitting in a nice offsite, we know all of that. But once we're at work and there's the daily pressure, there's timelines, there's milestones that need to be met, there's things that we don't succeed in. Then we get stressed.

And what we do under stress is we fall back into our normal patterns. For me, that normal pattern is, I'm Dutch. And if you don't do what the Dutch do, I'm surprised. So yeah, I think that's one of the most common issues in cross-cultural teams that, we know rationally speaking that there's differences, but bridging these differences is not common to most of us.

MS: Yeah. it's interesting when you're talking specifically about how people communicate that made me think of the language barriers that people might have as far as someone saying from my perspective, someone else might come across as vague. But I've heard things like, ‘Don't use analogies, or don't use jargon because that's not helpful when it comes to language barriers.’
Do you have any other tips as far as if you're talking to someone who might speak the same language, but maybe it's not their first language, or maybe they're from a different culture. How do you approach that language barrier? 

FG: The most important thing is – sounds like a no brainer – but it’s really what I'm doing now: is to slow down. Because when we, when we are not communicating in our native language, when it's English or we often underestimate how hard it is for people to speak in that language, in English, all day. Certainly if the basic structure of their only language in which they were raised is very different.

I'm Dutch. I've grown up from a very early age with English on TV, on the radio, et cetera. I'm very much used to it. I've worked all my life in English. You can hear I'm not a native English speaker, but it's fine. But last week, I did a workshop with a lot of Finnish people and the structure of the Fin, the Finnish language is very different from English. For them, it's usually very hard work to express themselves the whole day in that language.

India is a very well-known example. Many companies have outsourced their IT, their back office services to India. And I'm sure you've come across that moment that you call one of these back offices, voluntarily or not. And you get this person on the phone who's very rapidly speaking. And it's English, but it doesn't sound like English to you. 

The main advice is slow down. And in training, strange enough, but we spent quite some time on that. Think about your answer. Slow down considerably. And that makes it so much easier for French, for Finnish, for Asian people to adapt to English, which is not their first language.

MS: That's a good tip. 

FG: And of course there's other things, like you said. Jargon is a very- it's great that you mentioned that. Yeah. Jargon is something to avoid, although it's hard because we don't realize we're using jargon. To us it's normal language. But still, to be consciously aware of that is a big step.

MS: And I hadn't thought about until you said it – the fact that someone who may be speaking in English all day, like in a training seminar who's not used to it, that would get really tiring and that could cause some stress. And make them maybe not communicate in their best way because then they're tired, they're worn out, they're stressed from having to communicate in a language that's not their first language most of the time.

FG: Yeah. It's exactly like you say. And usually when I realize it, I really admire it and I think, ‘Wow, I don't think I would be able to so much concentrate in a language that's not my own.’ The other week, [there was] a Japanese participant in a leadership development program that ran from early morning till late in the evening and what you're asking of them is to speak English – which is a hard language for them – at breakfast, whole morning session and at lunch, the whole afternoon session. And that, like you say, it’s hard. 

MS: And how do you use tools like the MBTI in your work, whether it's cross-culturally or for teams or leadership development? Can you tell us a little bit about your work with it and how you use it?

FG: Yeah. First of all, I really like how you asked the question. You're talking about tools like MBTI, and I think that’s how you should always approach it. It's a tool. It's not reality. It's not the truth. But I find MBTI, for example, very helpful. I've been trained in it a long time ago – both MBTI Step One and Two. And I think what it does is, exactly what we started this interview with. 

On cross-cultural teams, or on any team, we find differences between two persons. And if you want to work together effectively, you need to bridge these differences. And what's the first step you need in order to bridge that difference? It’s to be aware, first of all, of what you do yourself. In this conversation, probably if things wouldn't be going well, I would need to reflect on, ‘What is it that I'm doing? How do I come across to you? What's the perception that you have of me?’ And the other way around.

And the MBTI helped me an awful lot. I see it with participants in trainings that, for me, is a very effective tool to start to reflect on what's happening when I communicate with somebody else. How do people see me? Oh, they see me as extremely talkative. They see me as, well, we can label that Extraversion. That's great. But that's only your first step and MBTI helps you to start thinking about, well, if it's my preference to express myself all day and if I get energy and inspiration out of talking to others, then how do I display that normally in my work? And is this always effective, or are there maybe moments that I would more benefit from behaviors that we these days call Introverted? Bluntly speaking, should I shut up every now and then and start listening to somebody else? And it's these kinds of realizations and talks that I find extremely valuable.

I know you've discussed this many times on the podcast and I will repeat it: MBTI has nothing to do with 16 boxes in which you want to put humankind and say, ‘Oh, there's only 2% of ISFJs or whatever.’ That’s not relevant. Putting people in boxes is a useless exercise. And we both know also that you never fit in a box because for some of these dichotomies, you're between two boxes. But it's so valuable to start realizing what you're made up of, what’s normal for you, what's preferred for you and which behaviors are out of preference. And for that reason, you should borrow every now and then.

So yeah, that's where I find it very, very helpful. And I would say it's that thing also – that's the crux of it – when I'm working with a team and we’re using MBTI, it's not so much about team dynamics that I focus on how many I’s [Introverts] and how many E's [Extraverts] do we have? What I've noticed is that it starts to be much more valuable for people to individually reflect on, ‘What's my contribution to the team? How do I like to communicate?’ And get feedback on that. 

MS: And then probably, ‘How do I like to communicate, but how might that be different from other people on the team and maybe from [my] manager?’

FG: Yeah, exactly. And you know, again, here in a podcast or in a training room, we talk about that and we find it pretty straightforward of course. I mean, if you want to connect to other people and you want to work with them, then you better straighten out your communication. It's very obvious, but we don't always do it. And we don't often talk about our communication differences. 

And that's what I find in my workshops or interventions with teams, very powerful. You bring people to speak about, well, sometimes the things they don't want to speak about. What is it that makes you uncomfortable in a conversation about a topic? Let's take inclusion. I do a lot of work on diversity and inclusion these days. It's always sensitive topics. It's not easy to communicate about that for teams.

People can easily take offense. It’s a topic to which there are so many angles. You can quickly do it wrong. And in that kind of conversation, it's so valuable to start talking about, well, ‘Why do we find it difficult and what can happen?’ Suppose I say something that offends you. Can we talk about it then, rather than walk away and blame me for being so offensive? 

So in real conversations, you can make improvements and yeah, somebody needs to start putting it on the table. And for that, it often helps to have an external [sic]. It's not mandatory. I mean, teams can do a lot themselves, but it always requires you to take that step, to display the courage really, that you need to put it on the table and say, ‘We're talking now for 25 minutes. We [didn’t] find a solution. Don't you think we should start talking about how we talk with each other rather than the topic at hand?’

MS: Do you mind sharing what your MBTI preferences are? 

FG: No, not at all. When I start with MBTI in teams, it's usually a fun moment because I usually tell them if you guess my MBTI type, then I have a bottle of wine for you. And in my whole career, it has cost me only two bottles of wine. So that says something. But for the ones who know MBTI very well, they now know that I'm an I for sure. I mean, if people can't easily guess your type, it's more likely that you're an I than an E. I'm an ISFJ very strongly on all four preferences.

I remember the first time I got my report, it was almost frightening how consistent I scored and how extremes the scores were. But yeah, that's what it is. It's usually interesting you know – people start with saying, ‘But you're a trainer, you're in front of a group.”

MS: Right. That was going to be what I've heard before. And I was guessing that those two or three bottles of wine, more than likely someone knew something about that and said, ‘Okay, people will probably assume that you have a preference for Extraversion because you're out and you're talking to people during these sessions and doing this training.’

FG: Yeah, exactly. And that's a great vehicle then to talk to them about what MBTI is not. And it's not what we do all day, you know. We both know, and most of the listeners to this podast know that it's not about what you do all day. It's about a deep preference you hold inside. And yeah, my deep preference is Introversion. It’s really taking the time to think about a topic before I answer. I usually find two people speaking at the same time very annoying, let alone a whole group. I often find myself not being heard in big groups because everybody else is talking so much. I can go on about that. So I've learned to do something that's out of preference. And over time, I've become much more comfortable with that. But the deeper preference for sure is there, yeah.

MS: When you were mentioning too about the teams that you had talking about those conversations that are difficult to have, what challenges do you see around maybe cultural differences and teams, and just establishing that trust or psychological safety? How do you get people to that point of trusting each other where they're okay with having those difficult conversations? 

FG: That's a great question. 

MS: It's a big question, I know. [laughter]

FG: [laughter] Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned an essential word there. You mentioned the word trust. And often when I start talking to teams, I say, ‘What's needed here in order to all feel safe to express ourselves?’ And it's trust. People say that very quickly. It's trust. 

But then you say, ‘Okay, well, let's start the conversation there. I mean, what do you mean with trust?’ And if you go deeper into that, then it's suddenly you find out many people have different explanations of what trust means to them. And that's culturally determined, partially. For example, in Western cultures – in Northwestern Europe, in Anglo Saxon cultures, like the US, Canada, Australia – people have a very- what they mean with trust is general reliability. If you say you're going to be here at four and you're going to be here at four, then I can trust you. 

MS: You're doing what you say you’ll do.

FG: Yeah, exactly. You're doing what you say you'll do. If you speak to people from a lot of Asian cultures – but also here in Europe, much closer to home at the Mediterranean Sea, so when you go more to the South – people start to come with a different definition of trust. Latin America also. The Middle East also. There, it's a much more deep personal feeling. It's not a rational concept. It's a deep personal feeling of, ‘Are we okay with each other?’ And we can only know if you start to know each other personally. So, in these countries, when you want to do business, you better build up a relationship first.

And that means you do small talk, but also you engage in dinners, in drinks, in all kinds of activities where you learn to know other people better. And already, that different definition of trust tells you that psychological safety is not easy to establish because for some people it means, ‘Am I free to speak up, whatever my opinion is?’ For other people, it means something else. 

And even there, you know, a second example, even if you talk about feeling free to express yourself and to give your opinion, it's very culturally determined if you do that or not. In egalitarian cultures, we're taught in high school that we should speak up. Our education system is based on that, on getting confident in presenting ourselves. It's good if you have your own opinion and you can reason about it, et cetera. 

In many other cultures, which are more hierarchical and, in our own language, we then say the power distance is bigger. In these cultures, it’s certainly not a given that you speak up about your own opinion in the presence of somebody who has more power than you. And in some cultures, it would be even annoying if you do that, or insulting. Suppose the boss says we go left and you say, ‘No I think right is a much better alternative.’ In our cultures, that’s great. Let’s have a debate about it. But in Japan, it would be considered very inappropriate to start arguing for right if the boss has confirmed we go left. 

So is that psychological safety? I don't know. But I think psychological safety in itself already is a very Western concept that we try to enroll. And I think often it’s not- people don't know exactly what you mean with it in many parts of the world.


MS: How do trainings look different, knowing that you've trained businesses that have different international segments and cross-culturally? The example that you gave about the Japanese culture and the boss saying, ‘Let's go left’ and someone else, you know, maybe not speaking up because it's a more hierarchical culture, not as egalitarian. How do trainings look different than if you're asking people, ‘Okay well, if you're willing to share parts of your personality or share your opinion’ and it's in that culture where that might not be okay – how do you handle that as someone who trains in the MBTI or in [team-building] tools.

FG: Yeah. Great question Melissa because that's, I think, the heart of my work and not always easy. But over the years I've found my tips and tricks, let's say. But yeah, you need to do counterintuitive things sometimes. It means sometimes you have to, let's take an example: Suppose in the training or workshop, you want to do a brainstorm- In the western world, we all walk to the flip chart and start putting these post notes with our wild ideas and put them up. 

MS: Yeah. Very Extraverted brainstorming in the Western world. We love our Extraverted brainstorming. [laughter]

FG: Absolutely. Yeah. That's what we do, yeah. In a culture where people are used to follow[ing] the line of hierarchy, not show a lot of our own initiative, where people rely on a boss to give clear instructions for what they need to do rather than leave the power with them, it’s hard. It's very hard for people to say, ‘Now come with five great ideas how to work differently here.’ Because first of all, they will see it as criticism on the way we work now. Doesn't work easily. Oh yeah, absolutely. 
‘Give me five ideas on how we can structure the apartment differently.’ And giving these ideas would mean that you indirectly criticize the way we've organized the departments now. So you're already going to be more careful. Depends on who is in the room if you say that or not. So yeah, you need to do a lot of extra things. And if people don't feel comfortable speaking up, sometimes you have to use the culture aspects.

In Asia, it works very well if you order them, almost, to brainstorm. So you're going to say, ‘I expect from everybody within the next half hour, three notes with one concrete suggestion on each, on how to work differently in this department. Don't write your name down. We're not interested in the names. Just put them all on the table here and we're going to see what diversity of thought we have in the room.’ If you introduced it like that, it becomes much safer for people to join the exercise. But yeah, they have to know that there's a certain safety, whether it's psychological safety or not, to do that.

And we also have to realize that all that out-of-the-box thinking that we promote, that we love so much – and in the US we give each other feedback, ‘Oh, you're very proactive.’ – that's a good thing. Proactiveness is a thing that's by definition not good in India or in many other cultures because they’re used to get[ing] very clear instructions for what they need to do. And the clearer the instructions, the better they will able to carry out the task. So all that out-of-the-box thinking that we love so much is not so common for them. So you need to spend more time on involving them in a different way.

MS: Yeah, and it sounds like what you're saying is almost using that knowledge of culture to be able to change the message and using the words that you're communicating that will better fit with that culture that you're training in. 

FG: Absolutely. Yeah, what you're saying is exactly like you would work on teams if it's not about culture. But on MBTI, on personal differences, you would do the same in fact. I mean, sometimes you realize that your own way of working simply doesn't work for others. 

If I started training in my typical S [Sensing] way, I will put up a slide and minute-to-minute almost, describe what we're going to do today and which time block, et cetera. Then if I get questions about what this all will lead to, it doesn't help if I start explaining again what we're going to do five minutes after lunch has finished. I need to go in a different frame of mind – which is the end frame – and describe to people the general vision behind the design why it is so important that we're going to work on this and how the future could look different if we would do that.

Is it my natural response? No, it's not. And that's also what you do with other cultures. Quite often you need to realize that your own way of working is simply only, it's only one way. But if you want to catch the hearts of others, then you need to reach out to a different way of working.

MS: I have preferences for Intuition. So that example of telling you step-by-step what you're going to do each five minutes and then knowing what you're going to lead to. I'm like, oh that would be me. I'd be at the back of the room, ‘Hey, that's my question.’ [laughter]

FG: [laughter] Exactly. Yeah. That's funny you used that example. It’s one of my first living memories of MBTI really, when I was working on a team in Phillips a long time ago. And together with my boss at that time, a very nice woman from the UK, we were working on a tender. We were selecting training providers for a leadership development program. And we got offers from several companies, you know, and all these offers were on the table and we were pretending that a tender is an objective process, so we were using criteria. 

The funny thing was that when I had a discussion with my boss about which proposals we liked, we both couldn't understand what the hell was going on. I mean, the proposals she loved were to me the worst I'd ever seen. And the other way around. The proposals I loved, she said, ‘Yeah, but there's nothing behind it.’ And we analyzed it for a while and we came to realize that that was pure MBTI at work. That was, really, my very strong preference for S [Sensing].

So I was looking at these proposals for, ‘What is it exactly that you're going to do? Which models do you use? In what way are you going to engage our target audience?’ I had all these kinds of questions. The way she had looked at the proposals was, ‘Does it fit our vision? Do they have their own big dreams about leadership development and do they put that down in the proposal?’ And when training providers did it, she loved it, while I was thinking, ‘This is bollocks. This is fake language. It doesn't mean a thing, this sentence.’ [laughter] So, yeah, that was big fun. 

MS: [laughter] Oh, that's funny. 

FG: It's a moment I still carry around and have good memories of. But I think what we did there is, and I never realized that at the time, there was irritation on both sides of the table at that time. But looking back on it afterwards, I realized that that's what we did was the only thing you can do when you work with human differences, is to put it at the table and say, ‘Hey, apparently we look at two of the same proposals in a completely different way. Can we find out why?’ And every now and then I had to say to her, ‘Well, could you give me some time to explain my point of view? Because you're pushing now for the solution you prefer.’ And the other way around. Once you know that of each other, spend time on that. That was very good.

MS: You're talking about your personal example, but then you were also talking the hierarchical structure in different cultures. What level in the organization do you typically use tools like the MBTI, or the MBTI specifically. Is it mostly with like upper management or, where have you found the most success with it?

FG: I think the way I would answer it is to bring some nuance to that. I would use it at all levels. I've used it at all levels quite frequently, but the outcome is different, I would say.

MS: Oh, interesting. How so?

FG: So at the lower levels, you're typically asked by a manager to come in and help the team to improve their communication. So then we're working with the team and we're looking into individual differences, and we make people reflect on their role in the team. We have a lot of conversations about that. I usually find at a higher level in organizations that people are less open to this. They say, ‘No, I’ve done MBTI 20 years ago. That's fine for me. But what's really important here is . . .’ And they come with something else. 

The challenge then is to bring it back to them and to say, ‘Well, let's not blame MBTI or whatever tool you want to use, but let's look into what is it that you need? Why did you call me in?’ The discussion that you hope to get with MBTI is, in the end, to bridge human differences. And in lower level teams, that's easier. You can easier relate to the direct work they do.

The higher up in companies you go, the less willingness is there, to look into their own communication. There's usually more willingness to look into the communication of the team or the organization of the department. Which sometimes is good, you know. Often that's used. And with a lot of managers, that's the case. You need to say, ‘Yeah, this is not about you. It's about your organization.’ 

But quite often also, you start to realize, wait a second, the behavior you show here is exactly what you want to change in your organization. It’s a stereotypical example of a manager who says, ‘Yeah, want my team to [make] more decisions themselves. We need to start [making] decisions at the lower level in the organization.’ And you say, ‘Oh that's interesting. How do you want to do that?’ And they say, ‘Well, I've organized a workshop in three weeks and all of them come and then I will instruct them on how to do it.’ Which is exactly what you don't want to achieve in the end. What you wanted is to give them more initiative. 

And I use that analogy to talk about MBTI. You want the team to talk about their differences and whether we can communicate effectively across these differences. Well, it's probably more effective as manager to give an example of what you're struggling with yourself, and to go first for that. But I think and I guess that was the background of your question is. In the end, MBTI, I find it's very powerful whatever level of the organization because in the end, it's about human differences.

MS: What about [MBTI] Step Two? I don't think in most of the episodes that we did last year – because this is the second season that we're recording for The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast – I don't think that we've talked much about MBTI Step Two. I would love to hear from you how you use it, what value you find in it, why you use it. Does it help with cross-cultural communication at all or with international business?

FG: Not much more, no. But it helps you understand your own preferences much deeper. If the stereotypical MBTI is putting people in 16 boxes. Then in MBTI Step Two, you start to realize, no it's not about that. It's really about understanding at a deeper level, how your own preferences work out.

MS: Because there are different facets within each. So within Extraversion and Introversion, for example, there are like- I forget how many.

FG: Yeah, so for every letter combination, for every dichotomy in MBTI – so for Extraversion, Introversion, Judging, Perceiving, we have five subscales or five facets as we call them. And they are not exactly- it's not the case that if you add up these five facets, then you have your letter. No, it's different orientations within that main letter. 

For example, what happened for me when I did it, and really learned a lot from it, is that the T [Thinking] versus F [Feeling] dichotomy- I find myself puzzled often. I mean, all the questionnaires told me that I was a clear F, I have a clear F preference. And I recognize that in many situations, I really recognized that I look at the impact of my decisions first before defending my decisions. I usually find it hard to go for the unpopular decision in a larger group. I'm sensitive to that. 

But there was also something about it, which I really didn't understand, which is that often in a company setting or when I'm working in a team or whatever, I'm in the end, the voice of the tough approach rather than the soft approach. So although I use MBTI a lot and I work a lot with teams on their communication, in the end, I'm a very practical-oriented person. And once we've discussed this for half an hour, I want to get to a decision and say, ‘Okay, enough talk now. This is what we're going to do.’ And it's not me who has to say that. I don't care about that, but I want clarity at the end.

That's when I started to do MBTI Step Two on the T versus F dichotomy. Four out of five were really in preference. Clear F, extreme. But the tough versus tender facet, that for me was strongly out of preference. There I had the T preference for the tough [Thinking] approach. That for me explained so much because that's what's happening for me I work in a company. And I've worked at management levels in the earlier stages of my career, I was often seen as the one [making] the tough decisions. And I didn't mind. I thought that was really needed to do that. That's not what you expect from an F type preference.

It helped me tremendously to understand that. So I wouldn't say it's necessary in every situation to use the Step Two immediately. I mean, the Step One is usually a very good start. And for most work with teams, what you want is an open discussion about communication preferences. And whether you use Step One or Step Two or DISC or whatever – you look for a tool to enable that conversation. But certainly in leadership development programs that I'm running now for middle management, for higher management, then I usually prefer [Step] Two, simply because it gets much more.

MS: Do you find that if you're working with the Step Two and either middle management or upper management that they're surprised that it's more, if they say, ‘Oh, it's the MBTI and you say, ‘Well, it's the MBTI, but it's MBTI Step Two’ that they feel that that it gives more depth to it? Or are they usually still like, ‘Oh no, we've done this. We don't need to do this. We've done this before.’

FG: Yeah. Exactly. ‘We’ve done this before. I roughly remember my four letters, so let's move on.’ No, I think what you're saying is correct. Quite often you have to deal with perception about a tool like MBTI first. Many organizations that I get into have worked at one stage in their life with MBTI. 

We both know that MBTI has been criticized heavily also. I mean, it's a great tool. I love it for the rigorousness at which it has been used. There's so much data available, such a rich background. You can enter the debate whether it's scientifically correct or not, and that debate will never stop. But in the end, I find it very valuable. Nevertheless, there is a perception in society that MBTI is simply putting people in 16 boxes. Putting people in boxes is never a good idea. And if you hang on to that school of thought, then yeah, you have an aversion against the MBTI.
And I think that's where Step Two helps a lot. I often send people a [sample] report or I even send them my own report and I say, ‘Here, come and have a look and this is how it looks like.’

MS: Oh, interesting.

FG: Yeah, I don’t mind. 

MS: And I feel like too, that would probably establish some trust that might not have been there before if you're saying, ‘I'm willing to share all of my MBTI information.’ Especially Step Two, which gets a little deeper versus sharing a sample report. But that's a good tip. I'm going to keep that one. 

FG: Yeah, it's a tip I often give because that's what it is in the end, right? It's preferences. I mean, it's not a deep personality report that says, here's what you're good at and here's what you're not good at. Which is why we never use MBTI in [hiring] assessments. And the danger is if you use it for that, you've completely misunderstood what it's about, I think. 

But yeah, it often works and it builds trust, as you say. You show them something of yourself. And it often – no, I should say more often than not – it leads to a funny discussion because they pick up on one aspect they see in this report and say, ‘Oh, you’re a T. I didn't realize that. Okay, what are you?’ You know, it’s just one way to build a rapport, but it works very well.

And I would definitely recommend, even if it's not your own reports, take a [sample] report. Show people how you work with it, rather than enable them to rely on their perceptions of MBTI because that's only one part of the story. 

MS: Yeah. I also work in public relations for The Myers-Briggs Company. I know there's so much misinformation out there on The Myers-Briggs [Type Indicator], but also information that hasn't, a lot of the critics keep referencing the same initial point that was based on like form G. Or not based on the most updated validity and reliability statistics, not based on the global MBTI. They haven't looked at the manual, even though the supplement is available online – it has all that information. 

FG: Yeah, exactly. You're absolutely right. Rather than tell people ‘You're not informed enough about MBTI,’ that will never work. That makes people defensive. I think what’s much better do is simply say, ‘Well, there's different opinions out there and that's fine. But I love using it and let me show you why.’ Which works much better than defending the tool. 

By the way, that's another parallel you're making here to my work cross-culturally. There's fantastic models about culture – the Hofstede model is most known. Hofstede is one of the first people who brought country cultures to apply the model with and made it very visible. And I find myself at some point in trainings defending Hofstede rather than working with teams you know. I use Hofstede model and then I find myself defending the model because people say, ‘Yeah but in Japan it’s different.’ And these days I say, ‘Yeah you’re correct. It’s just a model. Let’s talk about how you should usually . . .” And for me, MBTI is a clear example of that.

MS: Interesting. Well this has been a very fascinating conversation from my side, and hopefully our listeners have gotten a lot out of it as well. Before we wrap up, are there any other tips or anything else you want to share about managing cross-cultural teams or managing individuals cross-culturally?

FG: Well, the question most often get when it's about cross-cultural teams is, ‘Isn't this a bit outdated? Will we not go to a model where all cultures of the world are equal?’ Because everybody's traveling these days and, you know, for many people, you can't say anymore, whether they're Chinese or German, because they've lived in Germany for 20 years after being raised in China, these kinds of things.

And the answer to that is usually no, because we all keep our own preferences. And when you've been born and raised in China, you have some preferences that probably are related to Chinese culture. They're still in you. Did you learn to behave differently? Yes you did. But your deeper preferences are still there.

And that's a beautiful parallel to MBTI where our basic preferences are still there, although we learned to work across them and to use these insights. So the world of cross-cultural work on teams will not disappear. Just like working with people of different backgrounds and personalities will not disappear. It will only get stronger. I mean, every company is struggling these days with diversity and inclusion. My new topic, really, that I spent a lot of time on now. I'm writing a book about inclusion and inclusive leadership. 

MS: When can we expect that one? 

FG: Early next year, it will be there. So it's a bit of hard work still for me. 

MS: That’s exciting. Congratulations. 

FG: Yeah, it's a fascinating topic because it's so difficult. And most companies have difficulty to attack it in the correct way. I mean, we all know it needs to be done for whatever reason. You know, every company is saying, ‘Yeah, we're working very hard on that.’ The reality is that we often really don't know what to do. We organize another day where we put rainbow flags in all corners of the office and we do the right things. We communicate about it in the right way, but the real challenge of making our work teams and our work environment more inclusive starts at the work floor, not with the flags that you put up in the canteen or whatever one day. And it's hard. 

For me, the topic is exactly the same as what I've done in cross-cultural work and what you would do with MBTI when you talk about communication. In the end, inclusion is also about differences between people. And are we willing to confront that? Are we willing to really understand each other's perspectives? and I don't think you can solve that with corporate initiatives, with a Chief Diversity Officer, who's going to start with all kinds of great initiatives. Great intentions, but the reality of where it needs to happen is in a simple conversation like this. I mean, the talk between the two of us today or the talk I have in the factory with one of the team managers – that conversation, it needs to happen. And that's my new topic. 

MS: Where can people find this book? I know by the time this episode comes out, it will not be quite early 2024 yet. So the book won't be out, but if people want to go find it, where is the best place for them to find it? 

FG: The best is to Google my name because at this moment, I don't know. I will not work through a publisher. I will publish myself. So the book will be available through all the regular distribution channels and it will be everywhere, but I don't know what will be the best way to promote it yet.

MS: Ok, so Google Frank Garten. Find his website. And more than likely, you will find the book. 

FG: It's quite easy. It's or Both work. And that's where you find the information. But yeah, Google is your friend. 

MS: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for being on this podcast episode. I know I learned a ton. I really enjoyed this conversation, and I appreciate your time so much and sharing everything that you did on this episode and with everyone who's listening.

FG: Thanks a lot, Melissa. I really enjoyed it. It's always fun to be forced to talk about a subject that you're so passionate about. And learn yourself from it as well, because you're forced to articulate your answers better, so thanks for learning [sic] me something today.


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