Fons Trompenaars

Interview with Fons Trompenaars

10th Dec 2019

Our renowned advisory board member answers cross-cultural comms questions with years of experience and key insights.

Creative Culture is very proud to count Fons Trompenaars as one of its Advisory Board members. He is one of the leading figures in the world when it comes to cross-cultural management.

He has spent over 30 years helping Fortune 500 leaders solve and manage their business and cultural dilemmas to increase global effectiveness and performance. Fons is internationally recognised for his work as a consultant, trainer and motivational speaker. He is the author of various books, including “Riding the Waves of Culture, Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business” which sold over 120,000 copies and has been translated into 16 languages.

Fons is regularly listed as one of the world’s most influential management speakers and has been awarded various prestigious international prizes for his work. He has been featured in Thinkers50, the well-known global ranking of management thinkers, since 2011 and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2017. This Hall of Fame salutes people who have made a lasting and vital impact on how organisations are led and managed. Today, Fons is sharing his thoughts on cross-cultural communications.

Looking at the next ten years, what do you see as the key cultural challenges multinational companies will face in the future?

I see two major challenges:

  1. There are ever-increasing definitions of diversity. Once, diversity could easily be categorized by nation, religion, gender, age groups. Here’s an example: I was in Miami a couple of weeks ago and I saw a sign that read “We speak English here”. However, this isn’t true, as plenty of people in Miami speak Spanish. Another example: 52% of people living in Amsterdam don’t have Dutch parents. We need to know these things and approach them appropriately to avoid all the wars we have around us – wars of religion, wars of cultural differentiation, gender, and generation. We have ways to digitally support cross-cultural communications. It is a complex challenge; for example, if a young Ghanaian male is talking to an older American female – what might cause a problem within their communications? We need to reveal the dynamics between national culture, generation and gender. We need greater insights as to how to deal with those different categories and identities around the globe. We can’t do this with a ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ mentality. Instead, we need to pay attention to segmenting target audiences and better understanding their behaviours.
  2. We need to get rid of the idea that opposite value sets are mutually exclusive. They can co-exist provided that multicultural teams know how to understand various values and perspectives. Dilemma thinking and learning to combine these sets of values is the future. While it can be perceived as counter-intuitive because it challenges our instincts, it is very effective in the multi-cultural environments that we have created.

Why did you decide to join the Advisory Board of CC?

The Advisory Board is composed of really interesting people, with great experience at an international level. I was also keen to offer some of my insights and experience to a younger player in the cross-cultural communications field. The more we are to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities in the market, the better multinational companies will handle these subjects in the future.

When you look at your own industry, organisation, career or clients – where do you feel the greatest potential lies to improve the understanding of cross-cultural communications?

We need to be further aware of how much we are tunnelling ourselves in culturally biased models and paradigms. We need to go beyond them and apply dilemma thinking to all disciplines in which cultural differences play a role.

What would you like to see the Advisory Board develop further and how might it add more value?

A keen interest in developing CC as applying new ways of thinking in the international marketing and communication arena.

From your own perspective, what would be the 3 do’s and don’ts of cross cultural communications?


  1. Self-awareness: we are all full of cultural biases and it is only by being conscious of them that we can be successful in a cross-cultural environment
  2. Intercultural competence development based on dilemma reconciliation (and combining opposite sets of values)
  3. Implementing implicit processes in organisations in order to communicate at a higher level (like combinations of high and low context approaches)


  1. One-way communication: sharing opposite values and points of view are the key to successful relationships
  2. Keeping cross-cultural intelligence at the conceptual level: practice makes perfect
  3. Practicing based on gut feel and ignoring basic theories

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