Four Lessons on Cross-Cultural Communication and Democracy

Today, at the U.S. Mission to the EU in Brussels, a selection of 15 lucky Leadarisers enjoyed an intimate lunchtime discussion on cross-cultural negotiation, dispute resolution and cultural bridge building with leading public diplomacy and international relations expert Akram R. Elias. Leadarise participants represented the public, political, security, hospitality and communications sectors leading to a rich and interesting discussion on the challenge of using cultural intelligence for better negotiation, societal integration and democracy. Mr Elias’s passion for the subject is infectious and we were delighted to gain insights from his deep understanding of American culture. In the diverse landscape of Europe, it is cultural intelligence that will ultimately bring us closer, but first we must understand ourselves, and our common values, in order to better relate to those around us.

Akram R. Elias, Laura Hemmati and Leadarise participants
Akram R. Elias, Laura Hemmati and Leadarise participants

Our four “take aways” from a man who knows cultural intelligence and public diplomacy like no other:


Our ability to relate to and communicate effectively with others all starts with our own self-confidence. We must first be the leaders of our own lives before we can confidently engage in society, learning from those around us in an culturally intelligent way.

Cultural Intelligence & Negotiation

Cultural knowledge will get you so far, but cultural intelligence is about understanding and respecting the values of the person sitting opposite you at the negotiation table. Mr Elias advised that for an effective negotiation you must first of all set a clear goal. What is it you want to get out of this discussion? Then step back and consider all of the emotions that the prospect of reaching this goal might cause in the person your negotiating with. Will their culture lead them to be flattered, honoured, saddened or insulted? Having taken these emotions into consideration, then create a negotiation strategy that is respectful of the values of the person you are engaging with. They may not have the same understanding as you do when you say “No”, “Next time” or “We’ll see”, but a culturally intelligent negotiation ends well for everyone, whatever their perspectives on life and human interaction.

Failure is not Failure

“In the United States failure is not taboo.
How can you learn without failure?”
Akram R. Elias

Mr Elias informed that cultural intelligence should enable you to negotiate in such a way that no party walks away with a sense of failure. Within clear lines of negotiation, it should be possible to adapt your responses in a way that sends a clear message, but without anyone losing face. At the same time, failing at achieving a personal goal shouldn’t be a cause for great distress. Rather it is the perfect opportunity to learn how to do things better next time.

Creating a European Identity

Uniting a great diversity of peoples and religions under one flag is perhaps the greatest legacy of the United States of America and its cultural intelligence, but what can we learn from the U.S. when it comes to fostering a sense of common European identity? Mr Elias pointed out that American identity essentially comes from the fundamental values behind American citizenship. This, he says, is a two-way process. First of all the citizen should be welcomed to engage in civil society, political processes and policymaking at grassroots level, regardless of their nationality or belief systems. Secondly, that citizen should embrace their duty to lead their own destiny by engaging with society in a spirit of respect. The aim, Mr Elias says, must be integration and not assimilation. Europe must find the common values that unite all its peoples and start from there.


Akram R. Elias has over 27 years of professional experience as a consultant in the areas of public diplomacy, cross-cultural training, and communication. He has worked extensively with the U.S. Department of State and numerous private and international organisations to provide public diplomacy, cross-cultural analysis and training. He is the founder and President of Capital Communications Group, Inc., a Washington D.C. based firm that provides services in public diplomacy, cross-cultural communication, and international business networking. In the area of cross-cultural communication, Mr. Elias organises training and seminars to assist foreign dignitaries and executives in communicating more effectively with their American counterparts.

Article by: Laura Hemmati

Laura Hemmati, Brussels
Laura Hemmati, Brussels

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Reblogged this on Leadership Licks and commented:
    Excellent blog on cultural integration…

  2. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for sharing this thought provoking perspective – an excellent blog!
    Regards Nick

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