4 Methods of Learning Culture

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“…the things we take for granted can trip us up and cause untold discomfort and frequently anger.” Edward Hall (“How Cultures Collide,” Psychology Today, July, 1976.)

It is generally acknowledged that it is important to understand one’s own cultural values before we can begin to understand another’s worldview, let alone develop intercultural competence. Cultural Detective Self Discovery offers a way to investigate our own values through a series of guided questions designed to help us discover more about ourselves. Below is an excerpt from Cultural Detective Self Discovery by Dianne Hofner Saphiere, George Simons, and Kate Berardo in which we address various approaches to culture learning.

Why learn about such a complex thing as culture? Certainly no one can learn everything about every other culture or even about one’s own, so why try at all?

At a very practical level, having the ability to work across cultures is a key skill in daily life and the workplace. When we think about “culture” as different organizational departments, communities, regions, companies, nations, genders, or religions, we realize that we cross cultures daily and constantly.

While we can never learn everything about every culture, what we can do is know our own values and how they affect us. We can be determined to go beyond auto-pilot thinking and to question our assumptions. We can approach working across cultures with curiosity and the intent to learn about others. Doing all this helps us to communicate more effectively and to avoid misunderstandings that lead to bad feelings and conflicts. In communities, this translates into greater cohesion. In the workplace, it means higher productivity, creativity, and synergy.

Encountering people who see the world differently, act differently, and speak differently challenges us to understand others and become more open and creative.

As Cultural Detectives, we want to understand what makes people tick. So where do we begin? There are a number of approaches to learning about cultures:

The Etiquette & Customs Approach
First of all, it is useful to know about people’s customs and habits, for example, when and how they greet others. There are many books on this topic, from professional studies to popular travel guides. There are videos and websites that help us know how to behave in everyday encounters with people who are different from us. Knowing what behavior is expected in particular situations can help us enormously—we can more quickly feel comfortable and blend in a bit, and we can prevent some unintentional insults. The downsides to this approach are that it is 1) difficult to memorize a long list of do’s and don’ts; 2) too easy to misunderstand which situations call for which behavior; 3) too easy to act stereotypically—in other words, the rules will not apply in all situations; and, of course, 4) most people do not expect outsiders to behave like insiders. Learning customs and habits is one way of getting to know others, but is not the only—nor necessarily the most effective—strategy.

The Language Learning Approach
We can also learn the language of our colleagues, clients, students, or neighbors. This could mean anything from learning their slang or TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) to mastering Arabic, Mandarin, or Verlan. Language is, of course, a key to understanding how people think, how they see the world, and what is important to them. It is supremely valuable for communicating across cultures. But, learning another tongue takes a long time. Learning their language may not be a step that you have time to take before interacting with people from another culture. Yet, you will certainly benefit from picking up that phrase book and learning at least a few polite words. So what then?

The Cultural Dimensions Approach
Another approach is to learn models of culture that help alert us to those areas where in our differences are likely to show up and where the differences will make a difference. For example, some people have a deep respect for authority and hierarchy—the boss is important and is to be treated accordingly, while other groups are very egalitarian—in meetings it is hard to tell who the boss is or even whether there is one. Or, you find that some people are likely to proceed on their own as individuals while others are inclined to act only when everybody in their group is in agreement.

To catch sight of the broad range of differences within which people think and act, it sometimes helps to use the dozen or so dimensions of difference developed by Western intercultural researchers. These models can help us recognize, classify, and respond appropriately to differences. They are categories of the ways in which people may be different. But they do not necessarily tell us why these differences work the way they do, or how these differences are viewed by our colleagues and neighbors.

Some of these categories of cultural difference ask us to look at ourselves and others to see whether…
  • We feel in control of our lives and our world, or if fate, destiny or other forces outside of us have a decisive impact on our lives.
  • We think deductively or inductively.
  • We focus, when we first work together, on taking action or on forming relationships.
  • We believe that rules and laws apply uniformly to everyone, everywhere, or that rules and laws need to be applied differently in different circumstances.

You can learn more about such categories from the work of Edward Hall and Geert Hofstede, who are among the pioneers of modern intercultural studies.

The Cultural Detective Approach
A powerful way to understand the motives of others and ourselves is by learning about core values. As a Cultural Detective we want to know what lies behind peoples’ many differences and what drives the gestures, words, and preferences of the people with whom we interact. What better way to learn than to have people themselves tell us what they value and how it motivates them to speak and act? The Cultural Detective Method begins by looking at a culture’s core values as they are seen by the people in that culture and by people who have experienced the culture deeply.

We encourage you to learn more about yourself and your core values via the Cultural Detective Self Discovery package. It has been used extensively by educational institutions, businesses, NGOs, and individuals throughout the world, and is currently available in a printable PDF format.

We are pleased to announce that Cultural Detective Self Discovery will soon be available as part of your subscription to Cultural Detective Online. Watch here for details in the coming months!

Are You Nice???

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This is a guest blog post by Carrie Cameron, co-author of Cultural Detective Russia.

Take the following quiz:

  1. Someone surprises you with a beautifully wrapped gift. You’re so appreciative! You…
    1. Tear it open enthusiastically and express great admiration for the object, whatever it is, and thank the giver.
    2. Accept the gift, warmly thank the giver for his or her thoughtfulness, and put the unwrapped gift, whatever it is, on the table behind you.
  2. You’re seated on the airplane next to someone of the same gender who looks nice. You…
    1. Strike up a friendly conversation.
    2. Quietly mind your own business.
  3. You’re at a reception where few people know one another. You…
    1. Approach someone, extend your hand, and introduce yourself.
    2. Find the host who will then make an introduction for you.
  4. A member of your office staff comes in one day looking upset, maybe they’ve even been crying. You…
    1. Approach them in the break room and say, “Are you okay?? Did something happen to you?”
    2. Pretend you don’t notice so they won’t feel embarrassed.

If you tended towards the “A” answers above, your cultural style might be one of “expressive” politeness. If you had more “B” answers, your cultural style may be one of “reserved” politeness. This dimension of culture was introduced by social scientists Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson, who termed these differences “positive” and “negative” politeness. (To avoid any confusion about the original terms, we use here the terms “expressive” and “reserved,” respectively.)

“Politeness strategies” are the customs, often unnoticed or unconscious, by which we express favorable attitudes toward others. But it is important to remember that not every culture uses the same strategies to do this.

Expressive-politeness cultures generally show good intentions by reaching out actively to others. They have a tendency to reveal emotions before knowing whether the approach is acceptable or not to the other person. Reserved-politeness cultures tend to show good intentions by never imposing themselves on another without first knowing the other person’s attitude.

Both of these cultural styles are polite, but they are different ways of demonstrating it. The same behavior that may be considered polite in one culture could be considered rude in another culture. Remember those examples in the quiz above?

Some cultures traditionally thought of as reserved are British, German, and Japanese, while characteristics of expressive cultures are found in US American culture (especially Southern and African American cultures), Australian, Mexican, and Italian. Which style resonates with you most?

It’s important to remember that not all expressive cultures are alike, and not all reserved cultures are alike. While each culture is unique in how it shows politeness, knowing something about this dynamic can help people be more accepting of unfamiliar styles. It may also help individuals become more aware of how their own behaviors and actions may appear to others. This additional cultural self-awareness allows the opportunity to adjust one’s behavior to actually be polite—from the viewpoint of someone culturally different from oneself.

Check out some of the critical incidents in Cultural Detective Online to see the cultural variations of politeness in action, and learn to navigate them more effectively. Use Cultural Detective Self Discovery to clarify your own values and styles, and develop a better ability to explain yourself to those who are different.

Brown, Penelope and Stephen C. Levinson. 1987. Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-31355-1

Lack of Diversity Correlates with Religious Hostility

world-religious-diversityQuick! What is the most religiously diverse area of the world? Not the Middle East—it’s primarily Muslim, and not Latin America—it’s primarily Christian.

It is, of course, the Asia Pacific region, home to a great diversity of religious traditions including Islam and Christianity, as well as Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and loads more. This is just one interesting tidbit from a report on world religions released this week by the Pew Research Center.

More noteworthy than this fact, however, is that some of the world’s least religiously diverse places are home to the highest rates of social violence involving religion. Of the five countries exhibiting the most religious violence:
  • Afghanistan and Somalia both rank in the bottom ten for religious diversity, with a “Religious Diversity Index” or RDI of 0.1.
  • Pakistan ranks as having “low diversity,” with an RDI of 0.8.
  • India (RDI 4.0) and Israel (RDI 4.5) are ranked as “moderately diverse.”

If diversity indeed correlates with lower violence, that is indeed good news for diversity and pluralism, and a desire to discourage violence and promote inclusion are good reasons to put Cultural Detective Islam and Cultural Detective Jewish Culture to good use! And please, help us create packages for other major world religions! Such tools are especially needed given that the Pew Research studies show huge increases in religious hostilities in nearly every world region.

increase in religious hostilities

How did this finding, correlating the lack of religious diversity and hostility, come about? In December 2012, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life published a report entitled, “The Global Religious Landscape,” based on data gathered in 2010. It found, in part, that:

“Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories … estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.”

01_groupsThen, in January 2014 Pew published the results of another study in its article, “Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High.” It involved data on 198 countries:

“A third (33%) of the countries and territories in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas.”

socialHostilitiesJust this month, April 4, 2014, the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world, published further analysis that it conducted on the 2010 data. They produced a very interesting index that ranks each country by its level of religious diversity—its RDI, or “Religious Diversity Index.” RDI was calculated based on the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to the eight major religious groups defined by Pew. The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on the 10-point index.

To quote from the report,

“In order to have data that were comparable across many countries, the study focused on five widely recognized world religions—Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism—that collectively account for roughly three-quarters of the world’s population. The remainder of the global population was consolidated into three additional groups: the religiously unaffiliated (those who say they are atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular); adherents of folk or traditional religions (including members of African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions); and adherents of other religions (such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism).”

This, of course, means that diversity within these larger religious sub-groups was not examined.

Linking the findings from phase two (social hostility) and phase three (religious diversity) shows the correlation between lack of religious diversity and social hostility.

I would emphasize that the link between lack of religious diversity and increased social violence does not appear to be a finding reported by Pew Research. Rather, it is an observation written by Emma Green in The Atlantic. The top five—and many others—of the most socially hostile countries do indeed have lower RDIs. However, there are countries with low religious diversity that also show low ratings for religious hostility: Namibia, Marshall Islands, Malta, Kiribati, Cambodia, Djibouti, Lesotho, and Grenada among them.

The research is definitely worth reading. The overall increase in religious hostility is driven by certain types of hostility, including abuse of religious minorities, harassment of women over religious dress, violence to enforce religious norms, mob violence related to religion, and religion-related terrorist violence. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Emma Green ends her article with an interesting thought:

“It may not be true everywhere, but these data suggest something remarkable: Religious pluralism can be, and often is, compatible with peaceful societies.”

What do you think? What is your experience? What successful efforts have you seen to bridge religious differences and increase tolerance and respect?

Another International Research Paper Supports the Cultural Detective Approach

Study coverBertelsmann Stiftung and Fondazione Cariplo Study*

Many of you ask us how you can make the case for and roll out a strategy for developing intercultural competence in your organizations and communities. Two of the world’s major philanthropic foundations, Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung and Italy’s Fondazione Cariplo (Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde), published a research and policy paper that may help a bit in this regard. The objectives of the study were to promote tolerance, integration and cultural dialogue within Europe and with non-European partners. The paper makes several key points that are important for Cultural Detectives to understand as we go about our work. They are points that underscore the value of the Cultural Detective® approach, namely:
  1. The danger of reifying culture. Cultures are not static entities but open, dynamic, complex systems.
  2. Intercultural competence requires a process orientation.
  3. Intercultural competence involves recognition of similarities as well as differences.
  4. Intercultural competence development processes must be the core of school curricula, revisited in different contexts repeatedly over time; they can not be appended as supplementary learning.

In this article I quote from the Bertelsmann-Cariplo study regarding each of these topics, and then make the link to the Cultural Detective approach. Let me begin, however, by quoting from the article on the need for intercultural competence in today’s world.

The Need for Intercultural Competence

“Given the process of pluralization that has resulted from internationalization, the ethnic, religious and cultural heterogeneity of our societies will increase, as will contacts between people of differing cultural values and norms. Thus, in the coming years, the ability to deal constructively on an interpersonal level with cultural diversity and a multitude of attitudes, values, norms, belief systems and ways of life will not only remain a key qualification required of business executives working in international settings; it will also be required generally of each individual as a key factor for contributing to social cohesion and reducing exclusion so that cultural diversity can be experienced positively.” (pp. 3-4)

1. The Danger of Reifying Culture

“By focusing on what was assumed to be an integrated, almost static whole of locality, group and culture … culture was considered (and is still considered by many) to be the way of life of a certain group of people in a specific setting, people who – because of their culture – consider themselves members of the same group and who – because of their culture – are different from other groups in other localities. This notion is often depicted as a global map with different discrete cultural groups, or as a mosaic, whose pieces are distinct individual cultures.

Since Ulf Hannerz (and others) formulated the ideas of “culture as flux” and the idea that cultures are open, dynamic and constantly changing ‘entities’ or ‘practices,’ many leading figures in social theory and cultural studies in the 1990s increasingly relinquished the viewpoint that culture can be understood as a closed and static, island-like entity. In addition internationalization and globalization processes have shown the previous notion – that locality, group and culture exist as one unit – to be false or oversimplifying.

The changed, process-oriented conception of culture as a dynamic entity therefore tries to accommodate the contradictions, the intermixing and the new diversity, which are based more on relationships than autonomy.” (pp. 5-6)

Link 1: Cultural Detective’s Approach to Culture as an Open and Complex System

There are several ways in which Cultural Detective helps users learn that a culture is not a static, definable entity, but a dynamic system. Each Cultural Detective package comes with a page entitled, “What is Culture?” The first words on the page are “culture is a complex …” Culture is said to affect how we do things, with further explanation that “common sense” is really a process of “cultural sense.” Readers are asked to think about central tendencies and patterns of a group of people, and that each individual is a composite of the influences of many cultures simultaneously (nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, spiritual tradition, sexual orientation, organizational culture, professional training).

The Cultural Detective Worksheet is an interactional analysis and planning tool, one that reinforces for the learner that the importance of culture is how it colors what we do, what we perceive, and how we want to proceed. Culture is not presented as some static, separate thing but as affecting individual people in real situations in complex but visible ways.

The Cultural Detective Values Lenses are positioned as a view of group norms or tendencies, a filter through which members of a culture are taught to view the world. The Lenses are used as clues: tools that may or may not prove helpful in unraveling the mystery of a given case study. Not all members of a culture will hold these values; in fact, some may have an almost allergic reaction to a society’s dominant values, even while recognizing the norm. It is also noteworthy that the same or similar values can provoke different or even contradictory behaviors, depending on the person and the context.

Thus, Cultural Detective, by its very nature, relates to cultures as open, dynamic and complex systems.

2. Intercultural Competence Requires a Process Orientation

““…This procedural understanding of culture as a dynamic flow and ongoing process of negotiation between norms, values and lifestyles only underlines the need for a conceptualization of intercultural competence which is in its turn able to take account of the changing nature of culture and the interactions it influences. Some existing models of intercultural competence, in fact, underscore the importance of a process-orientation.”

If the assumption is correct that culture is constantly in flux, then individuals must learn and master the ability to deal with ongoing processes. The development of intercultural competence is thus complex and multidimensional and, depending on the intercultural situation, can take on a variety of forms.” (pp. 6-7)

Link 2: Cultural Detective’s Process Approach to Intercultural Competence

The Cultural Detective Method is a process. It is to our knowledge one of (if not the only) intercultural competence tool available in the world today that is process-based. The approach looks at individuals in real situations, urging the learner to describe the facts of the situation, as would a good detective, filtering out biases and assumptions, and seeing what actually occurred or was said. The learner is then encouraged, at least temporarily, to set aside negative judgment and give benefit of the doubt. What could have been the possible positive intent underlying behavior in the situation? Once possible positive intentions have been formulated, the process asks the learner to discover or create methods in which the contributions of all involved can be most fully used. How might the people in the interaction behave, both to be fully themselves and to be cross-culturally effective? What steps could the organization or community take to encourage and reinforce intercultural competence?

One of the strengths of the Cultural Detective process is that it is not linear. Individuals or groups can jump around and between steps of the process, in a holistic manner, with powerful results.

We would like to caution that saying “culture is constantly in flux” can be as dangerous as the traditional boilerplate. Of course, everything is in flux; Heraclitus told us “you can’t step into the same river twice.” However, our questions can include what is changing, how fast, how much and where? We need to deal with the ongoing process, and we also need a standpoint from which to do this. Cultural Detective gives us exactly that.

3. Requisite Intercultural Competencies

“With regard to the definition [of intercultural competence], one may distinguish four dimensions, namely attitudes, comprehensive cultural knowledge and intercultural skills, an ability to reflect on intercultural issues as an internal outcome of intercultural competence [relativizing frames of reference and feeling empathy], and an ability to interact constructively as an external outcome of intercultural competence.

It is important to remember that the relevant cultural knowledge differs in each intercultural context and, as global knowledge, is potentially unlimited, i.e. too extensive to always be known in the intercultural context. Therefore, many experts attach much more importance to certain behavior related (conative) communication skills than to explicitly knowledge-related (cognitive) elements. According to the specialists, to the degree that comprehensive cultural knowledge cannot be definitively known, process-oriented skills on how to handle the situation grow in importance, skills that make it possible to acquire and process (explicit and implicit) knowledge about one’s own as well as foreign ways of life, cultural determinants and practices.”(pp. 7 and 9)

Link 3: Cultural Detective and the Requisite Competencies

The first two skills upon which Cultural Detective is premised “make it possible to acquire and process (explicit and implicit) knowledge about one’s own as well as foreign ways of life, cultural determinants and practices,” as described above. The first is Subjective Culture: knowing yourself, in context, as a product of personality and multiple cultural influences. Subjective Culture knowledge allows us to explain ourselves, what is important to us, and why we do what we do, to others. It also helps us to predict how we will respond in a given situation. Cultural Detective: Self Discovery is an entire package, approach, and tools for developing subjective culture understanding, and such understanding is developed and reinforced with every critical incident and Worksheet. When learners reflect on a critical incident and complete a CD Worksheet, they naturally reflect on their own values and behaviors: what they would do in a similar situation, how they would expect someone to behave, what would upset them? Analyzing incidents from diverse cultures and situations is an organic, intuitive way of getting to know ourselves, individually and as products of cultural influences.

The second Cultural Detective skill is Cultural Literacy: knowing others individually, in context, as a product of their personalities as well as the multiple cultural influences on them. Cultural Literacy helps us to understand others’ intentions and why we respond to them the way we do. It enables us to put culture “on the table” as a perspective to be used, rather than as something that we don’t recognize or talk about, but which reaches out to bite us when we least expect it. Every Cultural Detective package, critical incident and Values Lens helps the user to develop cultural literacy.

The third Cultural Detective skill goes farther than the Bertelsmann-Cariplo report. It is Cultural Bridge, the ability to leverage similarities and differences for interpersonal, organizational and community satisfaction, productivity and effectiveness. Cultural Bridges allow all parties to retain their authenticity, encourage all parties to develop intercultural competence. They involve processes, structures, and systems that sustain intercultural competence in the organization or community. Sustainable Cultural Bridges must be multi-directional; one-way Cultural Bridges may work in the short term, but are rarely if ever viable over the long term.

a. Specific attitudes (emotion), knowledge (cognition) and behaviors (conation)
One set of questions we are sometimes asked is, “Where does emotion fit within the Cultural Detective framework? By reporting facts and behaviors, are we to divorce ourselves from emotion?” On the contrary, emotions are crucial pieces of a Cultural Detective approach. Contemporary cognitive science is showing that what we consider emotion has cognitive content and vice versa. Evaluation and emotion are automatically present in nearly everything we do. The Cultural Detective Method helps the learner develop the capacity to see this, and the desire, as well as skills, to purposefully shift perspective in order to see a situation more thoroughly and accurately.

Heightened emotion can provide a “beeline” into the salient aspects of deep culture that make a difference in a situation. The things that most upset us are important clues to the underlying values and intent that drive perception and action.

Cognition and conation obviously come into play in the Cultural Detective Worksheet. The “Words and Actions” as well as the “Cultural Bridges” sections of the Worksheet involve behavior and conation. The Worksheet and the Values Lenses involve knowledge and cognition.

b. Internal “relativizing” of one’s frame of reference
The Cultural Detective process requires us to step into the perspective of other people, to shift our frames of reference. The Worksheet provides a visual illustration of such a shift of frame of reference. Each Values Lens, through its positive values and negative perception of those values, involves shifting perspective or frame of reference as well.

c. External performance, or constructive interaction
This final Bertelsmann-Cariplo skill is well represented in the Cultural Bridges portion of the Cultural Detective Worksheet, and is also the focus of the Cultural Detective: Bridging Cultures package.

4. Recognition of Similarities as well as Differences

“Perhaps the search for commonalities is as important in intercultural competence as the sensitivity and recognition of cultural differences that have been talked about so intensively in scientific, political and everyday-life discourses on intercultural competence during the last decades.” (page 13)

Link 4: Similarities, Differences, and Cultural Detective

As a process-based, interactional approach, Cultural Detective naturally encourages the learner to explore similarities as well as differences. When analyzing a critical incident using the Cultural Detective Worksheet, it may become apparent that multiple parties are motivated by similar or compatible values or desired outcomes. An effective Cultural Bridge may involve building upon this shared outlook or purpose, while also acknowledging and working with difference.

Values Lenses also encourage exploration of both similarities and differences. Whether we are discussing our Personal Values Lenses in an attempt to better collaborate, or comparing and contrasting national-culture Values Lenses, the ways in which we are similar and the ways in which we are different make themselves apparent.

5. Intercultural Competence Development Processes as Core of the Curriculum

”The multidimensional and process-oriented nature of the development of intercultural competence can hardly be appended as a supplementary learning module to existing school curricula. Instead, it is necessary to examine to what extent intercultural competence as an educational goal can be established in curricula as they are currently structured.” (page 10)

Link 5: Cultural Detective Process as Core

Herein lies one of the true beauties of the Cultural Detective toolset. Because it is a process, it can be used as a design backbone for nearly any type of curriculum, courseware, teambuilding, coaching, technology transfer, competence development program, mediation or conflict resolution, or merger and acquisition. Because it is so simple, it easily integrates with nearly any topic. It can be taught once, and the learner retains it, being able to use it again and again in different situations for ever deeper or broader learning, applying it both at home and at work, across disciplines, to continue developing knowledge of self, knowledge of others, and the ability to collaborate.

The key, as with any tool or important learning, is to integrate it as part of an ongoing spiral learning approach, revisiting and reusing it at periodic intervals in order to improve users’ facility with the tool and to deepen and broaden user ability and sophistication. A tool left on the shelf serves no purpose.Cultural Detective, as any tool or approach, is useful for certain purposes and not for others, and it can be used well or poorly. We trust your efforts towards intercultural competence will bear positive results.

*This is a reprint from a Cultural Detective Newsletter article originally published in June of 2010.

New Brain Study Illustrates Gender Differences

Top: male brain networks Bottom: female brain networks

Top: male brain networks • Bottom: female brain networks
Average findings from the University of Pennsylvania study
Images ©study authors

“At any given moment, a woman is likely to be using her whole brain while a man is using half of his. Men are more likely to be right-brained (more intuitive) or left-brained (more logical) than women.”
—Ruben Gur, neuropsychologist and one of the study authors

A just-published study of the brain functionality of 949 young people shows striking differences in brain wiring between men and women. The authors of the study suggest that male brains are biologically structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action (motor and spatial abilities), whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes (memory, social adeptness, multi-tasking).

The study of 428 males and 521 females aged 8-22 was conducted by ten colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They used a technique called “diffusion tensor imaging” (DTI), which scans the paths travelled by water molecules around the brain.

“The maps show us a stark difference in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks and women at others.”
—Ragini Verma, researcher

The story is making a big splash in the press and in social media. It is a notable study, however, the main interpretation the researchers and the media seem to be taking from the study is that gender differences are biologically determined. I found such a conclusion very puzzling, because the study results themselves show that differences in brain wiring are not congenital!

The study showed that boys and girls are born with similar connectivity, and that differences in brain pathways between the genders begin to manifest at about 13 years of age, and diverge even further at 17. The study authors attribute this to the time sex begins to become important in a person’s life. I suppose that means the time hormones begin to kick in? But, of course I wondered if the differences emerge during the teenage years because that is about the age that gender socialization really begins to manifest.

Then Kathryn Stillings, our editor, found this article by science writer of the year Robin McKie. Robin explains that the study’s findings actually disprove the authors’ interpretations and reinforce the view that gender differences are the result of acculturation.

“Yes, men and women probably do have differently wired brains, but there is little convincing evidence to suggest these variations are caused by anything other than cultural factors. Verma’s results showed that the neuronal connectivity differences between the sexes increased with the age of her subjects. Such a finding is entirely consistent with the idea that cultural factors are driving changes in the brain’s wiring. The longer we live, the more our intellectual biases are exaggerated and intensified by our culture, with cumulative effects on our neurons. In other words, the intellectual differences we observe between the sexes are not the result of different genetic birthrights but are a consequence of what we expect a boy or a girl to be.”
—Robin McKie, The Observer

I trust you’ll read the study and the various interpretations, and draw your own conclusions. Either way, via biological determinism, acculturation/socialization, or a mix of the two, Cultural Detective Women and Men is a terrific package that delves into gender differences in a practical, dynamic way. It combines beautifully with national, religious tradition or generational packages. We trust you will try it out in your work, to help ensure that the broadest spectrum of cognitive skills are accessed for innovation and effectiveness in our organizations and societies.

More on the New Brain Study

The study’s findings show that the dominant connections in the male cerebrum (top left image above) are within either the left or right hemisphere (blue lines), and the dominant connections for females are between hemispheres (bottom left image/orange lines).

In the cerebellum (right-hand images, lower part of brain) it is just the opposite: the average male brain shows connections between hemispheres while the average female brain has dominant connections within hemispheres.

“Forget right-brain or left-brain thinking. What may be more important from a gender standpoint is back-to-front or side-to-side thinking.”
—Stacey Burling, Philly.com

“The strong link with the cerebellum might make men more action oriented, better at tasks that require quick response time or an ‘I-see-and-then-I-do’ attitude. The side-to-side thinking likely boosts women’s memory and social skills and seems designed, the authors said, to combine analytical and intuitive thinking. Communication within the hemisphere facilitates connection between perception and coordinated action,” writes Stacey Burling in her online review of the study in philly.com. Women’s brains “more easily integrate the rational, logical, verbal mode of thinking and the more intuitive, spatial, holistic mode of thinking,” she quotes Gur as saying. “Women’s thinking is likely to be more contextual. Their brains are better connected between their decisions and their memories. For men, memories are memories. Decisions are decisions.”

It is noteworthy that DTI or diffusion tensor imaging provides only indirect measures of structural connectivity and is, therefore, different from the well validated microscopic techniques that show the real anatomy of axonal connections,” says Marco Catani, of London’s Institute of Psychiatry. “Images of the brain derived from diffusion tensor MRI should extreme caution.”

I am curious about the results we’d see of a similar brain study of people older than 22, as I feel we change significantly as we age. This point is echoed by Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg of Oxford University, who attacked the idea that brain connections should be considered as hard-wired. “Connections can change throughout life, in response to experience and learning.” Hopefully the next step of this work will include such a study.

Care to learn more? Click the link above to the abstract of the original study, or read this terrific article from The Atlantic.

Developmental Intercultural Competence Using Cultural Detective Online

CDO
Are you doing your best to develop cross-cultural effectiveness in your organization, and want better results? Quicker results? Longer lasting results? Or, maybe even just results—heightened productivity and satisfaction? Our clients have achieved amazing increases in cross-cultural effectiveness—their people improving two stages on the DMIS (the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity) in a few months, and customer satisfaction increasing 30%—using Cultural Detective developmentally. How did they do that?…

Index for This Post (jump ahead if you’d like)
The DMIS
The DMIS and Cultural Detective
How Customers Successfully Build Intercultural Competence
Additional Resources

Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity ©Dr. Milton J. Bennett, 1986 & 1993.

Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity ©Dr. Milton J. Bennett, 1986 & 1993.

The DMIS
Let me start by telling you about the DMIS. First published by Dr. Milton Bennett in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations in 1986, and more fully developed in Education for the Intercultural Experience in 1993, the DMIS has proven to be a key milestone in the intercultural field. It provides a roadmap for those of us who aim to develop intercultural competence.

A developmental model is a conceptual framework that helps us better understand a progressive process, as well as providing guides for continued development. Examples of a developmental model with which most parents are familiar are those charts that track the major milestones of an infant’s growth. Such models help us anticipate when our baby will smile, sit up, crawl, or distinguish right from wrong, and they can help us ready our children for their next big challenge. There are abilities our baby generally must develop (e.g., roll over) before being ready to accomplish tasks at a higher stage of development (e.g., crawl). At each stage, the baby needs to be appropriately encouraged, while also feeling safe enough to take the risk to try something new.

Similarly, the DMIS is a conceptual model of six stages of the development of intercultural sensitivity, from ethnocentrism to ethno-relativism. The IDI, or Intercultural Development Inventory, is a psychometric instrument that assesses one’s stage of development. Its origins are based in the DMIS, though it uses a slightly modified version of the model today, called the IDC (Intercultural Development Continuum). The DMIS and the IDI enable us to track where we are in the development of our intercultural sensitivity, and ready ourselves for enhanced sensitivity or effectiveness. Back to Index

The DMIS and Cultural Detective
The beauty our clients have found in the Cultural Detective Method is that it challenges and supports, stretches and comforts, learners at each stage of their development of intercultural sensitivity. While the DMIS and IDI indicate where one is on the developmental continuum, Cultural Detective assists in the learning and development of the skills needed to succeed in cross-cultural interactions.

The process works organically. The designer must make the case for diversity and inclusion in developmentally appropriate ways, and debrief learning in ways that comfort and challenge the learners. However, the Cultural Detective (CD) Method itself need not vary, no matter the developmental stage. Learners, depending on their abilities, will naturally use the CD Method differently at different levels of development.

Let me give a couple of examples.
  • Learners in ethnocentric stages of development will easily and fairly quickly solve a Cultural Detective mystery—they will be eager to complete the Worksheet, solve the problem, give the participants in the critical incident advice on what they should have done differently. Facilitators will observe, however, that learners at earlier development stages will suggest Cultural Bridges that are naïve or unrealistic, though of course possible. They might suggest, for example, that “the Japanese person just needs to speak up more assertively,” or “the Mexican manager needs to be more considerate of others and trust that his and his company’s welfare will be looked after.” Both of these recommendations are within the realm of possibility, both are achievable by Japanese and Mexicans of certain personality types or personal discipline, but such Bridges are not realistic for the majority of people from those cultures. Learners in ethnocentric stages feel good that they are able to solve the problem, which encourages them to try another and, with practice, learn what really works and what doesn’t when teaming across cultures.
  • When completing that same Cultural Detective Worksheet, learners in ethno-relative stages of development will enjoy pairing Values, Beliefs and Cultural Sense with the Words and Actions they motivate. They will invest effort into discerning the commonalties, as well as the differences, between the participants in the critical incident. They will develop ways to build on shared interests, while also leveraging diverse opinions and abilities, so that all players more fully contribute and the organization or community benefits. They will, without prompting, compare themselves, their values and beliefs, to the players in the incident—constantly learning, discovering, and refining their self-understanding. They will, in an organic way, explore and cultivate their cultural (or multicultural) identities, their understanding of and empathy for others, and their abilities to collaborate across cultures.

Thus, in a very natural way, learners at all stages of development receive the support as well as the challenge they need to continue their developmental journey towards intercultural sensitivity. There is very little stress on the facilitator to adapt the CD Method for the learner’s level of development, freeing the facilitator to focus effort on answering questions and dealing with resistance in ways that are both appropriately challenging and supportive to the learner.

And such a flexible process can be a blessing when we work with groups from mixed developmental levels. I often compare the Cultural Detective Method to the Montessori approach, because learners at all developmental levels can gain from helping one another. Back to Index

So, How Do Customers Do It? How Do They Successfully Build Competence?

1. Research shows the development of intercultural competence requires ongoing, structured learning. That is precisely what a subscription to Cultural Detective Online (CDO) provides. So, first, get a subscription. If you want to build competence in your team or organization, if you are an experienced interculturalist, or if you are new to the Diversity and Inclusion space, a CDO subscription is a small investment with huge potential. The subscription agreement allows you to project CDO contents onto a screen for group viewing in any work you personally deliver, as long as you explain to your learners that Cultural Detective Online is a tool that anyone can subscribe to. Our goal is to get these materials used!

2. USE the system, regularly. Cultural Detective Online isn’t an entertainment system; it isn’t passive; it won’t give you intercultural competence through osmosis or by using magic dust. (That’ll be version 2! Just kidding.) Log onto the system once a week, and spend 20-30 minutes debriefing a critical incident, and using Values Lenses to supplement what you see. Respond to the prompts asking you what you’ve learned. Review your notes.

3. After a few weeks using your subscription, once you feel comfortable and competent with the Cultural Detective Worksheet, upload your own incident. Choose something from your real life: perhaps an interaction with a family member, friend, or colleague that puzzled you. Once you write the brief story, link the participants in your incident (yourself and others) to the Values Lenses in the Cultural Detective Online system. Think about why you behaved the way you did, and reflect on the influence that national, gender, generational, and spiritual values had on your behavior. Think about these same influences on the other people in your incident.

4. Then, you can discuss the incident with the real people involved in the situation. Having worked through a CD Worksheet, you will be able to move beyond judgment in your discussion. You will have already thought through the possible positive intentions of the other person, so your dialogue will proceed constructively. You both can learn, and collectively develop strategies to collaborate, or cohabitate, more enjoyably.

5. If you are a team lead or an organizational facilitator, gather your learners together regularly (monthly, quarterly), to discuss what skills they are acquiring using the CD Online system, questions they have, and the challenges they’re experiencing in developing intercultural competence.

6. Remember, Cultural Detective need not stand alone; supplement the tool with your favorite activities: simulations, exercises, videos, role-plays, etc. The core Cultural Detective Method dovetails smoothly with just about any other intercultural tool or technique, because it is a process.

7. If you want to track your progress, be sure to use the IDI to get baseline measurements of participants in your group. I’d then recommend participants take the IDI again, after three months of structured learning using CDO. You will be amazed by the results!

8. Cultural Detective Online is a tool. It doesn’t replace skilled facilitation; it supplements and extends it. You may already use the MBTI, the IDI, dimensions models, etc., in the training or coaching you do. Add CD Online to your repertoire and you will be delighted at how it transforms what you are able to achieve with your learners.

9. Be sure to share your Cultural Effective success story with us, and get your organization some positive kudos! Back to Index

Additional Resources
A few years ago, two very experienced and well-regarded intercultural facilitators, Heather Robinson and Laura Bathurst, wrote an article explaining what I’m talking about.

I am also happy to share with you one of the handouts I prepared for a session at a recent IDI Conference (be sure to scroll down to view all three pages). This handout is a table showing the needs for challenge and support at each stage of development, and explicates the ways in which the Cultural Detective Method meets those needs. You are most welcome to download and print this handout. Note that in the handout you will find the five stages of development that are currently used by the IDI (slightly different than those of the DMIS, above).

Please let us know how you have used Cultural Detective in your teaching and training to facilitate your learners’ intercultural development. I would also like to invite any researchers or graduate students who are interested in conducting research on this important topic to contact us.

 

How are You Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month ?

national-hispanic-heritage-month(or do you even know it is happening now?)

September 15th to October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the USA.

I’ve always been interested in the application of intercultural communication concepts to domestic diversity issues. Perhaps this has to do with where I was living when I first learned about intercultural theory—a racially mixed neighborhood where people of good intentions occasionally had minor misunderstandings.

Working with the Cultural Detective: Latino/Hispanic package renewed my interest in the link between USA diversity and intercultural, specifically about Hispanic issues and how they impact USA society today. Latinos are a vital and dynamic part of the country, yet many in the USA do not know much about the underlying values that may influence Hispanic world views and behavior.

The Pew Research Center recently published an article in their FactTank, “5 facts about Hispanics for Hispanic Heritage Month.” It inspired me to prepare the following short quiz, to see how much you know about Latinos and Hispanics in the USA. Check your answers in the original article.

QUIZ

1. More than half of the USA’s Hispanics live in three states. Which three?
    • New York
    • Florida
    • New Mexico
    • Arizona
    • California
    • Alabama
    • Texas

Latinos are moving to all parts of the USA, and are no longer only living in the areas where they have more traditionally settled. A comprehensive report by the Pew Research Center, based on analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, shows Hispanics residing in every state: Mapping the Latino Population, By State, County and City.

2. How much did the Latino population grow between 2000 and 2011?
    • 22%
    • 36.4%
    • 57%
    • 47.5%
    • 63.5%

Not only did the number of Hispanics grow tremendously between 2000 and 2011, Pew found that Hispanics account for more than half of the nation’s growth in the past decade. The human resource potential is enormous, and understanding the underlying values of this group will allow organizations and communities to be more inclusive and utilize these resources more effectively. Cultural Detective: Latino/ Hispanic explores the important core values that may guide behavior and influence decision-making among Hispanics.

3. The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” embrace a wide variety of backgrounds. What percentage of Hispanics/Latinos trace their heritage to Mexico?
    • One-half
    • Two-thirds
    • Three-quarters
    • Seven-eights

In the USA, people who trace their heritage to over 20 nations consider themselves to be (or are considered by others as) of Hispanic origin. Statistical information on the largest groups are examined in the Pew report, Diverse Origins: The Nation’s 14 Largest Hispanic-Origin Groups.

4. Over the last decade, college enrollment has increased among Latino high school graduates. Can you match the correct percentage of USA high school graduates who enrolled in college in 2012 with their ethnicity?
    • Hispanics                                                  • 45%
    • African-Americans                                    • 49%
    • White Americans                                       • 47%

What are the current educational trends? Latinos now make up one-quarter of all public school students in the USA, the rate of Hispanics dropping out of high school continues to fall, and more young Latinos than ever are preparing to go to college. In fact, among recent high school grads, Hispanic college enrollment rate surpasses that of whites.

5. According to the USA Census bureau, how many of the nearly 52 million Hispanics (age 5 and older) speak Spanish at home?
    • 47 million
    • 35 million
    • 25 million

Spanish is the most frequently spoken language other than English in USA homes, and it is also spoken among non-Hispanics. Among Latinos, most agree it is important for future generations to learn Spanish as well as English, even though a growing share of Latinos get their news in English.

As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s take a fresh look at our organizations and communities. Are structures and policies in place to facilitate the contributions of Hispanics? Do we respect a different point of view, and can we incorporate it to better our communities for all members? How can we get from “here” to “there”?

If you are looking for a resource that can be easily woven into existing training to learn about Latino/Hispanic culture, Cultural Detective: Latino/Hispanic is your answer! By exploring the core cultural values and using the Cultural Detective Method to analyze real-life situations, you can offer practical skills to build bridges within your workplace and community.

Dr. Carlos Cortés on Multicultural Identity

ForkhashiMany of you have probably heard of Young SIETAR, one of the most vibrant groups in our professional association. If not, you should—they are a terrific organization of not necessarily young professional from a variety of disciplines who share an interest in intercultural relations, and use virtual communication to interact with members around the world.

Dr. Carlos CortésYoung SIETAR recently offered a webinar with Dr. Carlos Cortés, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Riverside, who is globally esteemed for his work on multiculturalism. He’s the general editor of the newly released Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia, and the author of many other excellent books. The webinar was moderated by the very capable and personable Melissa Hahn.

I really respect Carlos. He’s intelligent, he’s funny, and he speaks his truth regardless of context. We’ve shared several wonderful dinners in the home of a mutual friend, and I have enjoyed our collegial relationship as we have both been on the faculty of the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication for the past two decades. I’ve treasured every moment and learned a great deal.

Carlos said a few things in the public webinar that I was delighted to hear from a man of his experience and expertise. They are key components of the Cultural Detective (CD) Method, yet sometimes I feel that we are a solitary voice on the subject. It felt good to have someone else beating the drum for a change!

Carlos opened his presentation with a slide that Melissa had made, illustrating multicultural identity. A screen shot of that slide is below.

What is MC Identity?

©Melissa Hahn, used in the webinar by Dr. Carlos Cortés

Does the slide remind you of anything? If you are at all familiar with our Cultural Detective Method, I believe you’ll immediately think of two things. First, the image contained on the definitions page in every CD package:CultDiffsMap

This image that reminds us that none of us are one story. We have multiple layers of identity, we have been influenced by multiple cultural experiences, and we should never diminish ourselves or others by only acknowledging one layer.

Second, the slide may remind you of our graphic illustrating the layering of our Values Lenses, showing how complex we are as individuals. This is an approach we teach over and over again in our webinars and facilitator workshops using the following graphic:

LayeredLensesFinalCarlos explained that most intercultural instruments look primarily at nationality, and he supposes that this is because it’s the easiest: “low-hanging fruit.” He explained that while a multi-layered model is important, it’s also more difficult, and that is perhaps why no one has created one. I realized that we have one such model and process here, in our CD series, and I’ve failed to communicate that to Carlos!

The second point he made was in response to a question: “Is it easier if you have a clear identity for yourself before going overseas?” While most people I know would advocate such a linear development (self before other, or other before self), Carlos didn’t hesitate for a moment before stating, emphatically, “No!” He went on to explain that just understanding others is not enough, however, and that:

“We need a dialectic between understanding others and understanding self. I’m 79 and I’m still developing and understanding my identity.”

What an elegant, concise summary of the Cultural Detective Worksheet and the yin-yang nature of relationships! Many clients use our CD tools to understand others. Many use them to understand themselves. But every client ends up developing a better understanding of both self and others in an organic, dialectic process.

Carlos addressed a question about how can we help people develop their multicultural identities in positive ways. He returned to the topic of instruments, saying that he’s not against using them as long as they open us up to discussion and discovery, and help us to confront and expand our limitations, rather than boxing us in. That is exactly what CD is all about: dialogue, discovery, mutual learning and adaptation, then synergy and innovation.

Carlos talked about the need to discuss concrete things rather than generalities (a good example is the practical, real-life focus of Cultural Detective‘s critical incidents), and the need to hear from the voice of the people themselves (our Values Lenses use native language terms rather than global, externally imposed dimensions).

Some other highlights from Carlos’ talk include:
  1. The challenge of multicultural (or in CD parlance, Blended Culture) identity is that you don’t “slot into a silo”; you don’t seem to fit, and that causes fear in some people. You can start to feel that you give the “wrong” answer on every form, and that you an oddity in any system.
  2. Self-identity negotiation takes a long time. It may sound easy, to pick and choose the “best of” your multiple heritages, but even if you try to push “pieces” aside, they can creep back at the most inopportune times. Your multicultural identity is and will remain part of you. It’s not about reconciling identity; it’s about enjoying being multicultural.
  3. TCKs (third culture/blended culture kids) need two kinds of understanding about the journey they face. They need to feel comfortable with their multiple strands, and to understand that they don’t have to pick and choose among the various parts of their identity. Talking generalizations isn’t enough—specific examples help, e.g., how difficult it can be when you don’t fit a category on an application form.
  4. The only way to truly understand multicultural identity is to listen to people with that identity. They need to share their stories and we need to listen.
  5. There are three distinct yet intersecting concepts that many people confuse:
    • Heritage: Something we all have, the layout of our family tree.
    • Identity: This comes from within, though, of course, there are always others’ perceptions of our identity that help shape us.
    • Culture: You can self-identify with a culture, yet not participate in every aspect of the culture. For example, you can self-identify as Irish, but not speak Gaelic. Therefore, you are part of the culture, but not part of the Gaelic language portion of it.
  6. Carlos recounted his personal story. He was born of a mixed marriage (Catholic and Jew, Mexican and US America). The more his parents pushed him to learn their two differing cultures, to “choose sides,” so to speak, the more they actually pushed him to develop an integrated multicultural identity.
  7. Research on multicultural identity is nearly non-existent. It’s an open topic for young people. The information currently exists in separate disciplines: racial identity, disability, etc. We need people to write their stories, hundreds of them, and study them. Carlos has studied multiculturalism for 40 years, yet he learned more by writing his autobiography (Rose Hill: An Intermarriage Before Its Time, Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2012).
  8. Every time we enter a new cultural milieu, it’s a growth opportunity in which we can deepen and expand our understanding of who we are in a new context.
  9. Regarding national identity and social fragmentation worldwide, Carlos said that the solution to fragmentation is that a common identity/culture is needed along with space for people to have alternative sub-groups/diversity.
  10. For those looking for good resources on this topic, he highly recommends Bill Cross’ Shades of Black and Stephen Murphy Shigamatsu’s work on Asian-American identity, When Half is Whole.

As you can tell by my enthusiastic review, the webinar was a delight. Young SIETAR has loaded the recording if you’d care to listen to the entire one hour discussion. Carlos tells me he’s also happy to have you write him directly.

What does multicultural identity mean to you? What are its challenges? And its benefits? What strategies have you used to help yourself or others develop constructive Blended Culture identities? Do Carlos’ ideas mesh with your experience?

El valor de las habilidades interculturales en el trabajo

Video sobre los resultados de un estudio realizado por The British Council, Booz Allen Hamilton e IPSOS Relaciones Públicas, basados en los aportes de un grupo de Gerentes de Recursos Humanos de 367 grandes empleadores en 9 países: Brasil, China, India, Indonesia, Jordania, SudAfrica, Emiratos Árabes Unidos, el Reino Unido y los Estados Unidos. “Los empleadores reconocen la importancia de las habilidades interculturales en el lugar de trabajo.”

Video producido por Cultural Detective, Dianne Hofner Saphiere. Traducido al español por Nathaly Moreno.

Nuestro resumen sobre este estudio, escrito en inglés. Versión del video en inglés. Link al estudio original.

Research Findings: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace


IC Skills importance
Culture at Work: The value of intercultural skills in the workplace
—A survey conducted by the British Council, Booz Allen Hamilton and Ipsos Public Affairs, of HR managers at 367 large employers in nine countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Jordan, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US)

The Report’s Conclusions

“Our ability to engage successfully with other countries, organisations and people will depend to a large extent on whether we possess the necessary intercultural and foreign language skills to make fruitful connections, whether in trade and investment, charity/NGO programmes or as government and international organisations. This is fundamentally changing the way in which employers value and seek to develop intercultural skills in the workplace.”

“More and more business leaders are identifying real business value in employing staff with intercultural skills. These skills are vital, not just in smoothing international business transactions, but also in developing long term relationships with customers and suppliers. Increasingly they also play a key role within the workplace, enhancing team working, fostering creativity, improving communication and reducing conflict. All this translates into greater efficiency, stronger brand identity, enhanced reputation and ultimately impact on the bottom line.”

“Employers believe that intercultural skills are integral to the workplace.”

“A common challenge shared by employers around the world is finding employees with adequate intercultural skills. Given that the operating environments of all organisations is increasingly global, it comes as no surprise that employers need employees who can understand and adapt to different cultural contexts.”

What is the international reality in the workplace?

The research shows that employees in most large companies surveyed engage in extensive interaction across international borders.

More than two thirds of employers report that their employees engage frequently with colleagues outside of their country, and over half say that their employees engage frequently with partners and clients outside of their country.

THE BUSINESS VALUE OF INTERCULTURAL SKILLS
Intercultural skills provide business value and help mitigate risk.

The research shows that HR managers associate intercultural skills with significant business benefits. Overall, the organisations surveyed are most interested in intercultural skills for the benefits they bring—benefits that carry significant monetary value to employers:

  • Keeping teams running efficiently
  • Good for reputation
  • Bringing in new clients
  • Building trust with clients
  • Communicating with overseas partners
  • Able to work with diverse colleagues
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased sales

Employers also see significant risk to their organisations when employees lack intercultural skills. Top risks that organisations surveyed are concerned about are:

  • Miscommunication and conflict within teams
  • Global reputational damage
  • Los of clients
  • Cultural insensitivity to clients/partners overseas
  • Project mistakes

How do the organisations surveyed define “intercultural skills”?

The graphic below shows the words employers used, with size of the block equating to frequency of use.

define%22interculturalskills

The terms employers use to define intercultural skills
Source: Telephone/face-to-face surveys of public sector, private sector and NGO employers responsible for employment decisions. Base: Ipsos Public Affairs, 2012: Global (n=367).

In particular, employers highlight the following as important intercultural skills that they look for in job candidates:

  • the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints
  • demonstrating respect for others
  • accepting different cultural contexts and viewpoints
  • openness to new ideas and ways of thinking
  • knowledge of a foreign language.

How employers rank different skills in terms of importance

valuedskills

Graphic © the original report, with yellow highlights added by Cultural Detective.

How does the research indicate these skills are developed?

Most employers report encouraging their staff to develop intercultural skills through in-house training, meetings and events. However, employers also say that educational institutions could do more to equip students with intercultural skills.

The findings suggest that policy makers and education providers could do more to contribute to the development of a workforce with the necessary intercultural skills through interventions, such as prioritising:

  • teaching communication skills
  • offering foreign language classes
  • availability of opportunities for students to gain international experience
  • development of international research partnerships.

This research suggests that there is significant opportunity for employers, policy makers and education providers to work together to strengthen the development of intercultural skills to meet the needs of an increasingly global workforce.