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Saudi Mentoring and the Three Colors of Worldview

Updated: May 25, 2023

Part 2 of 2

How to Get Results by Framing Issues in terms of Honor and Respect.

This article continues our series of short stories related to Inter-Cultural Intelligence. Questions and discussion points follow a series of short stories to highlight areas where the Three Colors of Worldview and 12 Dimensions of Culture frameworks are involved.

This story continues the experience of one consultant working in learning and development for an oil company in Saudi Arabia. Our previous article looked at power in employee relations and a mismatch between training and needs as he trained a group of thirty people between the ages of forty-one and fifty-five. This article will look at how he dealt with challenges.

Respect and Communication in an Honor/Shame Culture

After we had a great discussion on power and the Three Colors of Worldview, they came in the next day, were all late, and disrespectful in the sessions! So after a day of this, I had had enough. When they came in again I stood silently at front of the room and didn’t say a word, until they were all looking awkwardly at me and it was dead silent.

I said, “Would you see yourselves as most influenced by Power/Fear, Innocence/Guilt, or Honor/Shame, in this situation?

They said, "Uh. . . Honor/Shame."

So I said, "That makes sense. You don't have any conscience about coming late, so Innocence/Guilt doesn't bother you. And you're not worried about Power/Fear because you've been in the company for so long that nothing that happens here will affect your standing, so the only thing left is Honor/Shame. But you haven't honored me at all! I feel like you really don't care about me. You're not interested in me. You must not like me at all.”

At this point one of the older men in the room jumped up and shouted, "NO! We weren't late! We have been here the whole time, and we respect you…” He just started arguing and fighting with me, defending the honor of the group. He was really angry!

So I said, “Out of all the group you've been the best student so far. (It was true.) You've always been respectful to me, always been kind to me, and I thank you for that. You are one of the best participants, but what you're doing now is not necessary. You know that my company won't know if I let you leave early. Innocence/Guilt and Power/Fear have absolutely no interest in keeping you here. I am here because I care about you and because I want you to learn. You are disrespecting that. I'm here because I value you as a person. I value each of you as people, and I'm honoring you as people. But you are not honoring me: you're treating me like you treat the street sweeper. You don't greet the street sweeper, you don't complement him; you don't respect him at all. And you're treating me exactly the same way you treat him. If that’s how you see me, carry on, but I don't appreciate it.”

That really got them. They all started saying, “No, we don’t see you like that! We didn't mean to treat you that way!”

That whole debate took over an hour, but from then on the whole group showed up for the sessions on time. If anyone was late, someone from the group would go get them and drag them in. It was a total day and night difference.

Discussion Questions:

What are some examples of Honor/Shame perspectives displayed in these stories?

Example 1: The participants tried to defend their honor, when they jumped up and said, “We weren’t late, we respect you!” And by focusing on honor in his discussion of their tardiness and disruptiveness, the consultant was able to bring about the desired result in a way that he would not have if he approached it from an Innocence/Guilt perspective by saying that they were breaking “rules” or from a Power/Fear perspective by threatening them.

Example 2: The consultant brought to the participant’s attention a gap between their worldview and their behavior, in pointing out where he did not feel honored in their treatment of him.

What are some examples of Innocence/Guilt displayed in these stories?

Example 1: The consultant may have a subtle Innocence/Guilt subtext when he or she talks about the way the participants would interact with a street sweeper, as egalitarianism is often associated with Innocence/Guilt societies where everyone is considered “equal before the law.” It is important to note that equality is also something that would tend to be defended in many Honor/Shame oriented cultures, but there are situations in which it could be against a person’s honor to associate with someone from a lower status.


This Series: Part 1 Part 2


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