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Shame Leadership – Communicating Across Cultural Boundaries

Understanding culture and its values aids the communicator in dealing with conflict resolution. Elmer (1993) posits there are ways we can be more culturally sensitive in handling conflict (p 46). The goal of conflict resolution within a given culture is to understand that everyone has a vested interest and those who gain awareness and understanding of such interest can creatively manage the situation as to protect the dignity of those involved (Elmer, 1993, p 59). Understanding values helps the communicator understand why a culture will attempt to preserve itself when threatened (Foster, 2012). Cultural barriers in language restrict the communicator’s ability to listen, understand and approach the culture with sensitivity to those who operate within the culture (Foster, 2012). Such disconnect may hinder any emotional connection with those within the culture (Black et al., 1999, p 120). While Westerners prefer and default to a more direct approach to communication without taking it personal, shame based cultures prefer more indirect approaches to conflict. Individuals are not singled and problems are seen as a communal affair (Elmer, 1993, p 46). While language in North America supports directness and holds some distinct advantages, such language might alienate those within a more indirect culture (Elmer, 1993, p 46). Elmer (1993) argues most people see directness in communication as crude, harsh, uncultured and certainly disrespectful if not cruel (p 50). Global leaders grow to understand that forcing someone to change from their cultural experience means the leader is avoiding their own awkwardness of changing and thus expecting someone to be more like them (Elmer, 1993, p 53). Global leadership understand that each individual has a vested interest and how they protect the dignity of those within the culture builds openness and trust in the relationship the leader has with his followers (Elmer, 1993, p 59).


Elmer, Duane (1993). Cross-Cultural Conflict. Building Relationships for Effective Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Foster, Philip (2012). Retrieved from his posting: Blackboard Dialogues for Doctorate in Strategic Leadership, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.

Black, J.S., Morrison, A.J. and Gregersen, H.B. (1999). Global Explorers. The Next Generation of Leaders. New York, NY: Routledge.


Philip A Foster, MA is Founder/CEO of Maximum Change Inc. Elevating leaders and their organizations to the next level since 2005. Master Certified Coach, Philip A Foster, MA and his associates facilitate effective positive change by helping organizations, leaders and individuals in high demand — design and implement strategies that maximize focus and deliver results. Specializing in Organization and Strategic Leadership.

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