How a cross-cultural pyramid showed me I wasn’t weird.

“You could nip out this afternoon and say goodbye to your friend,” I encouraged my husband on a sunny Saturday morning.

Even though we had other friends visiting our home that afternoon, I didn’t think it was a problem if he left for a couple of hours. Especially as they were staying overnight and his friend was leaving the country that day. We could also invite his friend to join us all.

«I’d rather not,” he replied, «I’ll just do the one thing this afternoon.”

There it was, in a nutshell.

Our two different ways of doing life. A typical example of what Richard Lewis calls Multi-Actives and Linears.

The Lewis Model was articulated by Richard Lewis in his book When Cultures Collide (1996). Lewis came to the conclusion that humans can be divided into 3 clear categories based on BEHAVIOUR. The study is based on data drawn from 50,000 executives taking residential courses and more than 150,000 online questionnaires to 68 different nationalities.

While the three types are distinctive, each possesses behavioural elements from the other two categories. It is a question of which one is dominant.

Determining national characteristics is treading a minefield of inaccurate assessment and surprising exception,” Lewis wrote. “There is, however, such a thing as a national norm.” Richard Lewis

Linear-Active: Talks half the time. Polite but direct. Partly conceals feelings. Rarely interrupts. Sticks to facts. Truth before diplomacy. Limited body language. Confronts with logic. Does one thing at a time. Plans ahead step by step. Dislikes losing face. Job-oriented. Sometimes impatient. Respects officialdom. Separates the social and the professional.

Multi-Active: Talks most of the time. Emotional. Displays emotions. Often interrupts. Feelings before facts. Flexible Truth. Unlimited body language. Confronts emotionally. Does several things at once, Plans grand outline only. Has good excuses. People-oriented. Impatient. Seeks out key person. Mixes the social and professional.

Reactive: Listens most of the time. Polite. Indirect. Conceals feelings. Doesn’t interrupt. Statements are promises. Diplomacy over Truth. Subtle body language. Never confronts. Reacts to partner’s reaction. Looks at general principles. Must not lose face. Very people-oriented. Patient. Uses connections. Connects the social and professional.

As a person, you will place yourself somewhere at the intersection of the three sides of that pyramid.

I was raised in a country on the left side, my dad is from the base and my mum is from the right side.

My husband was raised in a country from the left side with parents from that country.

We were facing two different cultural norms that morning.

When I showed the pyramid to my sister, her immediate and first reaction was to cry out: “So I’m not weird!”. Tada! A prime example of how this pyramid can help people who are multicultural.

Now YOUR turn

Make a list of all the countries that are (or have been) a part of your life and write down in which part of your life they belong (Mother, Father, Raised in, Lived in, Partner)

Just for fun😊

Count how many countries/cultures have contributed to shaping who you are.

Now take a moment to locate on the pyramid each country on your list and see where you would place yourself and others. If your country is not in the table, then look at the descriptions and see if you can place it. Remember, we are not looking at individual differences but country norms.

You will realise why sometimes your life might seem erratic 😊 and/or in the words of my dear sister exclaim: “Oh, so I’m not that weird!”


This is also tremendously helpful if you are raising children from more than one side of the pyramid. It struck me the other day how school is enforcing the linear culture into our kids’ lives. Doing more than one thing at a time is definitely NOT encouraged in our current location and, dare I say it, seen as a character flaw.

Has this helped shine a light on the different cultural aspects of your life?

Pyramid Used with Permission

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Rhoda Bangerter

Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.

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