The Nasty (and Noble) Truth about Culture Shock

—And Ten Tips for Alleviating It (from our “Oldies but Goodies” series)

PolicemanThe Nasty Truth

I’ve behaved badly. It’s true, and I’m admitting it. Very publicly.

There was the time a police officer in Japan told me to move, and I stood my ground, passive-aggressively, staring him down, daring him to remove me.

There was the time at my son’s school here in Mexico, when I refused to go into a private office, insisting on talking (loudly) in the public lobby, because I was so very upset at the runaround the staff was giving me, and tired of being (privately) shut down.

Both of these were very culturally inappropriate. Heck, they were inappropriate by the standards of my birth culture! I behaved badly. I lost face. I upset others. I looked like a fool. I was ineffective. Why?

You could say these experiences reflect a lack of emotional maturity; despite my age I still have loads of growing to do. The case I’d like to make in this post, however, is that the stress of culture shock causes many people to do things we would never do in our home cultures, in a milieu with which we are intimately familiar and generally comfortable.

The Noble Truth

There are good things about this sort of “acting out.” Such meltdowns enable us to define and preserve our sense of self, identify our core values, realize how stressed we really are, so we can take care of ourselves and try to restore our equilibrium. Culture shock is also an indicator that we are indeed growing, stretching, challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zone, and trying to adapt to new and different ways of being in the world. Thus, it is a highly worthwhile venture!

In the free download that accompanies this post, you will see a page titled, “Level of Acculturation.” This is one of those “Oldies but Goodies” that we occasionally release. Originally written back in 1989, the arrow on the page illustrates two polar extremes: the expat who makes great efforts not to acculturate, living instead much as s/he would at home; and on the other end, the expat who “goes native,” adapting to the local culture in every possible way. The key point of this piece of training material was to advise expats to try to strike a balance, to manage the polarity between the two extremes. It is important to maintain home-country connections for sanity and respite, and to build host-country connections in order to learn, grow, adapt, and fully experience one’s new home.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am most definitely not advocating behaving badly! I am, however, saying that such bad behavior happens all too frequently. The nasty truth is that inappropriate behavior, due at least in part to culture shock, is a fact of expat life that is all too often brushed under the rug. We refuse to talk about it. We may pretend it doesn’t happen, that it only happens to others, or we try to forget it did happen. We blame it on lack of competence. Of course we lack competence—we are learning and adapting to a culture that is new to us. And, it takes super-human levels of self esteem and emotional composure to navigate cultural adaptation without ever going over the edge, at least a bit.

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

What Is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is a continual, gnawing sense that things are not quite right. It is more appropriately called “cultural fatigue” or “identity crisis”: we become confused about how to accomplish our goals, and thus we start to feel powerless, to question our abilities, and lose self-esteem.

Culture shock does not result from a specific event or series of events. It does not strike suddenly or have a single principal cause. It comes, instead, from the experience of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving, or valuing things that are different from ours. On some levels, this threatens our basic, unconscious belief that our encultured customs, assumptions, values, and behaviors are “right.” Culture shock is cumulative, building up slowly from a series of small events that may be difficult to identify or recognize.

General fatigue and exhaustion, susceptibility to illness, moodiness, headaches or upset stomach, weight gain or loss, irritability, restlessness, withdrawal, hostility—all of these can be signs of culture shock. A more extensive list of such symptoms is in the free download, which you are most welcome to use as our gift to you. Our only request is that you, of course, maintain the copyright information and url on the materials.

One of my friends and mentors, Bob (L. Robert) Kohls, explained the causes of culture shock in his 1984 book, Survival Kit for Overseas Living:

  • Being cut off from the cultural cues and known patterns with which your are familiar, especially the subtle, indirect ways you normally have of expressing feelings. All the nuance and shades of meaning that you understand instinctively and use to make your life comprehensible are suddenly taken from you.
  • Living and/or working over an extended period of time in a situation that is ambiguous.
  • Having your own values (which you had heretofore considered as absolutes) brought into question—which yanks your moral rug out from under you.
  • Being continually put into positions in which you are expected to function with maximum skill and speed, but where the cultural “rules” have not been adequately explained.

The W-Curve and Stages of Cultural Adjustment

Culture shock has often been introduced over the decades by using a curved line representing experience over time, either a “U-Curve” or a “W-Curve”—a sample graphic entitled “Stages of Cultural Adjustment” is included in the download accompanying this post. The idea of such curves is that our emotions go up and down as we adapt to a new home. First, we adjust superficially: learning our way around town, learning how to shop, cook, socialize, etc. Then, at some point, we are confronted with values differences that challenge us on very deep levels: a new and cherished friend seems to stab us in the back, or a work project we were confident would succeed crashes and burns, and we may have no clue why. At this point many expats return home (often at one year to eighteen months into the sojourn, according to many trainers), while others navigate their way through the challenges of shock to attain some level of ongoing effectiveness and adjustment to their new home. The U-Curve and W-Curve can be helpful learning tools, but research repeatedly shows they do not reflect reality. Actual expat experience is not nearly so neat, nor tidy, nor linear.

Kate Berardo, co-author of Cultural Detective Self Discovery and Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures, did a review of the literature on this topic, and offers a process approach for managing culture shock, which Cultural Detective first published back in 2010. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t read it, and know that these traditional models have been debunked; continuing to use them should be an informed choice.

Factors Influencing the Degree of Culture Shock

Nobody is immune to culture shock. The degree of culture shock that individuals experience varies, and can be influenced by a number of factors such as:

  1. Pre-departure expectations: Are they realistic, or overly positive or negative?
  2. Degree of change in environment, customs, language and values.
  3. Degree of personal commitment to the move.
  4. Amount of knowledge about the host culture.
  5. Flexibility: How adaptable is the individual by nature or experience?
  6. Emotional stability.
  7. Level of emotional support in new environment.
  8. Economic security.
  9. Availability of mental health services and support groups.
  10. Availability of tension relievers: How accessible are recreational facilities? Is it possible to pursue hobbies or other interests?
  11. Availability of worthwhile work.
  12. Acceptance of different values and beliefs.
  13. Ability to tolerate ambiguity: Is the individual able to tolerate situations that are unpredictable, puzzling or frustrating?
  14. Ability to be a learner: Is the individual curious about the new environment and open to learning about it?

As interculturalists, and those who work with international sojourners, I think it’s time we face up to the nasty truth: culture shock is real—it happens. And, despite the toll it takes on our relationships and our dignity, it presents an opportunity for growth and learning that we should take advantage of.

In looking through the incidents in our Cultural Detective series, most of them represent people managing their work in the best way they know how. All parties in the story have good intentions, but due to cultural differences they miscommunicate or work at odds to one another. In a small minority of our critical incidents, however, we see someone who is suffering from culture shock. They do or say something that, most probably, they would never do under more comfortable or familiar circumstances. They are probably tired, due to linguistic and cultural fatigue. They have suffered repeated blows to their self confidence: the educated adult that they are only knows enough to act with a child’s effectiveness in the new culture.

cultureshockTyttiBraysyHow Do We Manage Culture Shock?
And How Do We Deal With Those Going Through It?
(the key that’s never talked about)

Our goal is not to avoid difference and ambiguity, but, rather, to learn to bridge differences and harness them as assets. And, we want to help our colleagues, family members, employees and students while they are experiencing culture shock. How can we best do that? The free download accompanying this post provides you ten “Tips for Alleviating Culture Shock”, including such things as getting sufficient rest, reading in your native language, and cultivating a support network. Subscribing to and regularly using Cultural Detective Online will help you process your emotions and make sense of your experiences, using them as learning and development opportunities.

Another tool included in the download is a set of three worksheets on identity (“The Impact of Cross-Cultural Experience on Identity”). The first urges you to reflect on the identity you hold in various spheres of life and ways of being in your home culture(s). For example, how do you define your competence, what is your communication style, how does your occupation affect your identity, and how do you define and maintain your health? The second worksheet then asks you to reflect on how those same things might change when you relocate. The third sheet is useful for reflection before you finish your sojourn and return home. These worksheets are another tool for thinking about life transitions, differing contexts, workplaces and friendships, and how we and those around us change during our sojourns abroad.

Another key person in my early professional formation was Dr. Dean Barnlund. He taught me so much and, more importantly perhaps, inspired me. Dean focused on intercultural interaction and included art and photography in his approach, which resonated with me on so many levels. One very small piece of his work is a set of values continua that he assembled together with Kluckhohn and Morgan. I honestly can not remember if these were published in a book or shared with me in person, and my internet searches have not pointed me to their origin, either. I do know that I’ve always had their names on the bottom as originators of the tool, so the work comes from them. I see them as the precursors to the many dimensions of culture models in use in the intercultural field today. I used these continua for years to help teach people about basic cultural differences, to help expats reflect on what might be welcome changes for them, and what they might find challenging. I share it with you in the attached download (“Cultural Values Checklist”).

The final piece of material in the free download is “Culture as an Onion Skin.” I no longer use this metaphor, preferring instead the Personal Values Lens from the Cultural Detective Self Discovery. My chief concern with the onion-skin metaphor is that, when you peel back the many layers of an onion, nothing is left inside! If that lack of fit doesn’t bother you so much, the usefulness of the onion-skin worksheet is to help us think about our core values. What are the things that in life that are really important to me? I can note those that are near and dear, guarded closely, never to be negotiated, in the central portion of the onion. Then, I have other values that I still hold tightly, that are very important to me, but that are more amenable to situational variance. Those I can note on the outer layers of the onion.

Come on, be truthful now. Share with us one of your “I behaved badly” stories, and a bit about the journey you were on when it happened! Help us take the nasty truth out of the closet and into the light of day, so we can learn from it. Did the experience make you stronger? A better Cultural Detective? How did you learn to navigate your way through it?

cultureshockThis was reposted in the Velvet Ashes’ Culture Shock link-up. If the topic interests you, be sure to visit some of the other great posts, from other blogs, that are linked-up there.

So Proud of Our Customer!

MSFT_logo_rgb_C-Gray_DMicrosoft India has been a Cultural Detective customer for six years, and both Heather Robinson and I are so very proud of the abilities their staff members have developed to in turn coach and develop their support engineers’ customer service skills. The entire project has been amazing—truly a privilege to be a part of it! I’d like to take this opportunity to share a bit of their “Cultural Effective” story with you.

Microsoft uses Cultural Detective to coach their large enterprise customer support representatives. In the first six months using the tool, they told us they attributed a 30% increase in customer satisfaction to Cultural Detective! Now, five years later, they know Cultural Detective inside and out, and use the CD Method when interacting with both international and domestic customers.

In March of this year Heather again traveled to Bangalore to work with the trainers, to help improve their abilities to coach using Cultural Detective. The approach she used is what we call EPIC: Essential Practice for Intercultural Competence. It is a combination of Cultural Detective, with which Microsoft has been working for five years, and Personal Leadership, which their staff have been working with for the past year or so.

The design was an inspired one. Because Microsoft has experienced facilitators who are also well-versed in Cultural Detective, Heather used these facilitators to get team newcomers up to speed, as well as to facilitate small group breakout sessions. This internal group of facilitators put together the readings, sample interviews and assignments for the three-day training. As is so wonderful when training in India, there were plenty of games, activities and laughter.

As you might imagine, one of the main challenges for the support engineers is knowing how to respond to customers’ emotions. Large enterprises rely on Microsoft products to function in highly customized ways, which often means long days of problem-solving discussions, heightened emotions and frayed nerves. The March training included the learners acting out skits of engineer-customer interactions, videotaping them, and then using the Cultural Detective Worksheet to debrief the contrasting values, and the EPIC approach to discern how to respond most appropriately. We would love to share one or two of those videos with you here, but, of course, they are proprietary.

Instead, let me leave you with a few of the notes scribed in small groups. In case you’re wondering why “Kit Kats” and “Milky Ways,” the participants chose a candy bar and then broke into groups, one of ten techniques you can find in this blog post.

If you or your organization would like to be profiled in an upcoming blog post, we would be happy to talk with you about making that happen. Just let us know. Congratulations to all the Microsoft staff, who are so committed to building intercultural competence in their organization, and to you, the Cultural Detective community, for your efforts on this same journey.

Film Review: Emperor

MV5BMjI4OTcwMTY3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTI1MzcxOQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_Our family watched a movie the other night that we all thoroughly enjoyed, and it as such an excellent cross-cultural film!

Emperor tells the supposedly true story of the USA’s decisions about whether or not to try (and hang) Emperor Hirohito after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. Since I have always referenced the post-war reconstruction of Japan as “best practice” in ending a war, restoring a nation, and building an alliance (a lay person’s opinion, as politics and the military are in no way my specialties), I found this film particularly enlightening. It is a joint US-Japan production.

Emperor was released in the USA in 2012 and in Japan in 2013, but somehow just made it to my attention here in Mexico. Thank goodness it did! It stars Matthew Fox as Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, a Japan expert, and Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers), along with a host of Japanese actors.

The film captures the emotional torment
of a person attempting to bridge two cultures:
how could he be truthful, gain and maintain credibility with
both Japanese and US Americans, remain true to himself,
and yet do the right thing?

Though there are quite a few Hollywood clichés, I absolutely loved the insight into Japanese culture that Fellers demonstrates in the movie—it’s a great example of practical application of culture-specific knowledge. The film captures very well the emotional torment of a person attempting to bridge two cultures, particularly in such a sensitive situation: how could he be truthful, gain and maintain credibility with both Japanese and US Americans, remain true to himself, and yet do the right thing? The movie shows some  of the post-war devastation of Japan, the dignity of its people, and the wisdom that, fortunately, prevailed.

I believe there is much to learn here, and I hope our US military will use this film as required viewing as part of its officer training. I so often talk about the need for expats to “manage up” rather than just “manage down,” and Emperor is a terrific case study of how one general did just that.

The movie also includes a bit of love story, as Fellers tries to rekindle his relationship with Aya, a foreign exchange student he originally met at Earlham College in Indiana. Emperor is based on Shiro Okamoto’s book, His Majesty’s Salvation.

It is interesting that the movie never points out that Fellers was a Quaker, something about his background that I imagine was key to his decision making and his style, or that he was the official liaison with the Imperial Household. It is also encouraging that even with so little knowledge of the culture, he was able to do so much good. That is assuming, of course, that the movie is in any way accurate.

 

SPOILER ALERT
My one complaint about the movie is that the closing credits note that Fellers was “demoted” from being a general. This, to me, is a classic misuse of a true statement. The filmmakers should either have added an explanation or omitted this statement entirely. Sharing it in its brevity misleads and implies negativity.

The fact is that after World War II the military reduced the ranks, cutting the titles of 212 generals, because it was no longer wartime and the military no longer had a need for so many generals. Fellers reverted to colonel, but retired with the brigadier general title.

 

Recent Upgrades to Cultural Detective Online Enable Even Better Collaboration

QuickViewLensesOur most recent update incorporates significant changes to the user incident sections and the group functionality, in direct response to feedback from CDO users, so please keep those ideas coming! At Cultural Detective, we are always working to improve our flagship product, Cultural Detective Online.

conference_calling_support_headerQuick View Lenses: A New Tab On The Main Menu Bar
Maybe you are in a meeting, and you can just feel you are not quite connecting with the person sitting across from you, or the people on the other end of the conference call. Now you can quickly and easily open any of the Cultural Detective Values Lenses to use as clues in deciphering the dynamics of your conversation, and to help you bridge the communication gap!

The new Quick View Lenses tab is visible anytime you are logged into CD Online, located just to the right of the Package tab. Clicking on this tab will open a new browser window with a drop-down menu listing all Lenses in the CD Online system. Clicking on a Lens name will open that Values Lens in the new browser window.

Group Functionality: New Features
The real magic of cross-cultural collaboration is in using our differences as assets to innovate, create and solve problems—together.

You already know you can subscribe to Cultural Detective Online either as an individual user or as a group. A group may be a team that works together on a project, or a class of students. The group leader may be the team leader or the class instructor.

Collaborative Incidents and Debriefs
Group members have the option of sharing a critical incident they upload with the members of their group with one easy step. The Group Administrator will receive an email requesting approval of the incident for group-wide publication. After publication to the group, the incident creator’s name will be listed as having authored the incident.

A group member now is able to invite other group members to collaborate on an incident. This is a terrific new feature! Let’s say I’m working together with Ana on a project. I upload a story about my collaboration with Ana. She is now able to edit my incident draft, making sure it’s also accurate from her perspective. Then, together, we can debrief what happened: she gives me insight into her intentions, and I let her know what I was intending. Together, we enter interpersonal bridges—what each of us can do to reach out to the other while contributing our personal best, and systemic bridges—what our organization can do to support our efforts and encourage our intercultural success.

Group members can also create a Sample Debrief to aid other group members. The Sample Debrief will appear just like a Sample Debrief written by an author. Collaborators on an incident may also contribute to its debrief. We strongly recommend that group members create a Sample Debrief for each shared incident to aid fellow group members in their learning.

Our recent upgrade included MANY other great additions to the CD Online system. For just US$99/year, or US$150/two years, your individual subscription gives you access to the 60+ packages in our system, and permission to project its contents to your classes, trainees, or coaching clients. I can’t imagine where you can get better value for your investment!

Please join our 130 authors in putting this incredibly robust tool to good use, to build respect, understanding, inclusion and teamwork in your arenas of influence. Want to learn more about what Cultural Detective Online can do for you and your organization? Join us for our next free 90-minute webinar—click here to view the full schedule through the next few months.

We Are Not (Just) Our Nationality(ies)!

Who of us is a single story? As Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently told us, insisting on a single story is to “flatten” one’s experience. While I am USA born, it definitely irks me when those I know, often interculturalists, insist on defining me purely through that Lens. Yes, I am US American; I claim it. I have also lived overseas half my life; surely that has had no small influence on who I am today? I’m a woman, of a certain age, a mother, a friend. I’m in a committed relationship, I own a small business, I am an immigrant.

We are many things, and different aspects of our identities rise to the fore depending on the context. Shouldn’t intercultural competence enable us to get to know ourselves and others in the fullness of who we are? Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote a post on this blog about the many layers of our cultural identity.

Today, I am very proud to say that Cultural Detective Online makes it very easy to look at how real people interact in real situations, and to reflect on how our many cultures might be influencing us (or others) in a given interaction. Did I react that way because I’m a Mom? Because I’m a Baby Boomer? Or just because I’m me? Cultural Detective Online is a cross-cultural effectiveness tool that doesn’t reduce us to a single story, but rather encourages us to get to know ourselves and others as fully and wholly human. Take a look:

Remember, Values Lenses represent the core values of entire societies of millions of people; they are not intended to be used as yet another “box” into which to stereotype individuals. Try using a Values Lens to gather clues as to why someone may have responded in the the manner she or he did. Then, with perhaps a little more understanding about the other’s positive intent, you can engage in a more effective dialogue, and learn to collaborate more enjoyably and productively.

How do you use the multiple Lenses available to you within CD Online? How often do you upload stories from your everyday work or life, and purposefully learn from them? What creative things are you doing with Cultural Detective Online to further your intercultural competence? We would love to hear your experience!

A Design for Incorporating Cross-cultural Effectiveness into Existing Programs

arton235-88ad2Do you have an existing curriculum or training design and wish you could simply add a cross-cultural element to it? You probably don’t realize how easy and affordable it is to keep your existing objectives and design, while weaving in key cross-cultural dynamics using Cultural Detective. Below is a half-day design using Cultural Detective that works well in a variety of contexts with a variety of topics:

  • In business for global management, leadership across cultures, multicultural or international customer service, multicultural team effectiveness, negotiating across cultures, management and motivation, new hire orientation, expatriation (prior to departure, during the assignment, reentry).
  • In study abroad for students during orientation, their sojourn and reentry; orientations for host families; teamwork and community-building for students, receiving organizations, and host families.
  • For special purposes such as patient-care across cultures, multicultural spiritual communities, and neighborhood community building.

A Sample Half-Day Training Design Leveraging the Cultural Detective® Method

1. Objectives, introductions, agenda (of your chosen topic).

2. “What’s in it for me?” Present your topic in context; why is it important?

3. Skills for [workshop topic, e.g., leadership, teamwork, healthcare, sales, etc.] Across Cultures:

  • Tell a story or show a video of cross-cultural interaction in the context of the [workshop topic]. The playlists and videos on Cultural Detective‘s YouTube channel may give you some ideas.
  • Lead the participants through an analysis of the story (debrief) using the Cultural Detective Worksheet.
  • Once complete, ask participants what they learn from this approach (values, beliefs and “common sense” world view motivate behavior; world views are often different but all are “correct”; similar values can lead to different behavior; different values can motivate similar behavior; bridges must leverage similarities and shared objectives as well as differences/complementarities; bridges must be interpersonal and multidirectional but also organizational/systemic)
  • Summarize: What skills for [workshop topic] can we learn from this Cultural Detective (CD) approach?
  • Apply: How can participants use this CD approach in their daily work?

4. Culture-specific Skills for [workshop topic]

  • Introduce Values Lenses: what they are and aren’t; explain values and negative perceptions.
  • Introduce the Values Lens for each of the cultures in the story you told or the video clip you showed.
  • Ask participants if these values provide them further insight or deeper understanding of the incident. Do the Lenses provide any clues to help them add information to the CD Worksheet debrief? If not, fine. If yes, use that info.
  • Summarize: What skills for [workshop topic] can we learn by using Values Lenses? How can we use the Lens tools well? How should we never use the Lenses? (Lenses are guides to societal norms, and should never be used to stereotype or “box-in” individuals, but rather as clues for learning and dialogue.)
  • Apply: How could participants use Values Lenses in their daily work?

5. Knowing Oneself as a Cultural Being in the Context of [workshop topic]

  • Use a couple of the activities from Cultural Detective Self Discovery and guide participants to complete a Personal Values Lens
  • In pairs or threes, have participants share their Personal Lenses with one another
  • Have them discuss how they could best work together in the context of [workshop topic], to bring out the best in one another.
  • Summarize: What are some best practices for cross-cultural [workshop topic]? What have you learned?
  • Provide the Cultural Detective’s “A Dozen Best Practices for Cross-Cultural Effectiveness.”
  • Apply: What will you do to ensure you perform at your best in a cross-cultural [workshop topic] situation? To ensure you bring out the best in your team/clients/patients?

6. Summary and Application

  • Provide a list of skills for effective cross-cultural [workshop topic].
  • Ask participants what they have learned about themselves today as regards [workshop topic]?
  • What are the top 1-3 skills each participant wants to demonstrate to enhance their cross-cultural effectiveness at [workshop topic]?
  • How will they hold themselves accountable?

What cost does this add to your curriculum? If you are training 30 or more people, Cultural Detective Self Discovery licenses are just US$15 per participant. For Values Lenses, you can subscribe to Cultural Detective Online for less than $100 per year and project Lenses in a group training environment. The subscription price goes down for multiple users, to less than $30 per year per subscriber.

We hope you find this sample design useful, and that you will share with us your tried-and-true designs and curricula for integrating Cultural Detective into educational or training programs. We know you do terrific work, in such a broad variety of contexts, and your designs will no doubt stimulate others’ creativity and effectiveness. Together we can build a more equitable, just, respectful world in which we collaborate for a sustainable future!

Transforming Lives: Education as an Alternative to Violence

AUN “The youth in Nigeria are beginning to speak—some with violence.
They attract attention. But others are also speaking.
The question is, is anyone listening to this plea
for western education, for training, for reform, for help?”

—Margee Ensign, President, American University of Nigeria

With all the grim news coming out of Nigeria these days, I thought you might want to hear about a little-known educational bright spot in the country: the unique programs offered at the American University of Nigeria, founded in Yola (capital of Adamwa state) in 2005 by the country’s former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar.

Despite Boko Haram’s year-long campaign of terror, including kidnapping over 300 girls from a school, murdering family members, burning villages, and displacing thousands of people, most families still desire an education for their girls and their boys, says Margee Ensign, President of AUN. And AUN provides it.

Both the university’s valedictorian and its graduating class speaker this year are women. The university is one of the leaders in the interfaith peace initiative. It has hired and trained more than 500 female and male security guards to protect the campus and its housing, offering each of them a free education. AUN facilities include a nursery school, primary and secondary school, in addition to the university itself. It recently dedicated a new library that has received international accolades for its efforts to create the finest e-library in Africa.

“Security comes not from our security force, but from our development and peace efforts,” Margee reports. In one of the poorest places on earth, AUN has a program to teach local women literacy and entrepreneurship skills, to enable them to generate income for their families. The university’s Peace Council has created 32 football and volleyball “unity teams” for young people to play in tournaments year-round. None of the young people have jobs, over half have dropped out of high school, and 10% have not even completed elementary school. Sports team members study a peace curriculum focused on building understanding and tolerance. The unity teams help ensure that these youth stay active and involved in their communities—making them less vulnerable to recruiting by terrorist groups like Boko Haram.

This kind of creative programming doesn’t happen by accident. Margee is a tough, dedicated, innovative, and tireless educator. Her extensive experience in administrative and faculty positions in universities in the USA (including Columbia University in New York, Tulane University in New Orleans, and the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California), and her interest and experience in international development in Africa, make her well-prepared to be president of AUN.

“I met with about 80 women in the [AUN entrepreneurship] program…They wanted to learn English, Nigeria’s official language, so that they could read to their children. In modern education, they knew, lay the only hope for the future.”

Margee relishes the challenges of working across cultures. She has embraced the local community culture, while building a university culture that retains important aspects of the US educational experience. After all, this is why parents are sending their children to college at AUN. She’s always recruiting—looking for people with just the right skills, willing to give their time and talent to join the international faculty and staff at AUN, a growing academic community in Nigeria.

The Cultural Detective Team believes it is possible to help make the world a better place through our actions. Yet, it isn’t always easy! Cultural Detective: Global Teamwork investigates some of the challenges involved in managing culturally diverse teams in today’s global environment, even if working in the same geographical location. What is the task? How do we form and maintain a high performing team? How do we manage the terrain or contexts in which team members work? How do we choose the right technology to support the team? How do time and space affect communication? Add culture to this mix, and it is even more complex! These are just the beginning of the challenges Margee faces each day—and she loves it!

All around the globe, dedicated, competent people are working to make a corner of the world a better place—often, not the corner of the world in which they were born and raised. Yet, they are motivated to share their skills in multiple arenas and diverse geographical locations. You probably know people that match this description—or are you one?! We’d be delighted to share their stories or yours with our readers!

With all the doom and gloom in the news, it is good to remind ourselves that generous people are doing wonderful things in difficult circumstances. A recent article written by Margee and published on the BBC.com website offers an often overlooked perspective on the area better known for the rampages of Boko Haram. We invite you to read Margee’s entire article here: “Nigerians defy terror to keep learning.”

World Day for Cultural Diversity

unlogoMay 21st is World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. It is a day on which we are all encouraged to do one thing to promote diversity and inclusion in our spheres of influence.

What one thing will you do today? Please share!

As for me, besides publishing this blog post, today I’ll be working on designs for two different workshops, one on identity and authenticity in our blended culture world, and the second on strategic development of inclusive organizations. I will be finishing up the editing on a second chapter of a book on cultural differences, and talking to professionals about conducting webinars to promote diversity, inclusion and cross-cultural collaboration. Last night I attended a book signing for a new novel centered around immigration, published by a dear friend of mine. Who knows what else this day might bring?

“Our cultural diversity is a stimulator of creativity. Investing in this creativity can transform societies. It is our responsibility to develop education and intercultural skills in young people to sustain the diversity of our world and to learn to live together in the diversity of our languages, cultures and religions, to bring about change.”
—Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Please do share what one thing you’re doing today to promote inclusion, collaboration and justice in our world! Thanks for being on the journey with me and our terrific Cultural Detective team!

Strong, Strategic Global Leadership

leadershipCompanies today need to be good at whatever their main business is, but they also need to be quickly adaptable to change. And, these days, they need to adhere to a strict set of ethical standards that are demanded by an increasingly informed and diverse customer base. Such a tough bundle of abilities requires strong, strategic leadership.

I recently came across an interesting infographic from New England College’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies, and thought you would like to see it. The graphic summarizes the findings of six different studies—from McKinsey, Deloitte, LRN, the Center for Creative Leadership, and Harvard—saying that companies are seeking:
  • Simultaneous growth, cost reduction and increased innovation.
  • Better alignment of organizational values and operational behavior.
  • To create environments in which employees are comfortable voicing their opinions and ideas—inclusive spaces.

The graphic illustrates the four leadership skills needed to achieve these too-often elusive goals. To view the infographic in larger format click here, then click on the image that opens.

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Leadership Skill #1: Ethical Leadership

Interestingly, the top skill identified is ethical leadership—studies correlate business success to ethical initiatives. Aligning organizational values with operational behavior, and ensuring ethical practice across the organization, is all the more challenging given the international nature of business today. Add in the diversity of the worldviews and “cultural sense” of the mobile workforces of this millennium, and things become even more complex.

Let’s face it, employees in different geographies, from different cultural backgrounds, view the concept of “ethical” differently. They operationalize corporate values differently. Cultural Detective Global Business Ethics (CD GBE) is a perfect tool to aid organizations in achieving the alignment that’s needed. The package is designed to help leadership think through the cross-cultural permutations—the ways members of different cultures may operationalize organizational values and ethics—and develop strategy to build alignment.

CD GBE can also be used to help train staff worldwide, so they know how your organizational values translate into everyday operations. It can help open the dialogue among all levels of the organization to ensure your values are understood and implemented consistently—and with local appropriateness.

Leadership Skill #2: Use Your Power Wisely

Power is a leadership trait no matter where in the world you work, whether that power is real or perceived. In certain locations power may be based on title or position in the hierarchy. In others it is based on expertise—but does this mean a person is perceived powerful due to credentials and education, or to skills and experience? The Values Lenses and critical incidents in every Cultural Detective package can help you and your organization learn to project and perceive power wisely, no matter where or with whom you work.

Another key aspect of power resides in the relationships we build, the influence we have on others. Whom we trust, whom we allow to sway us, is perhaps one of the most culturally determined aspects of our lives.

Do we trust the person who speaks plainly (who could be perceived by some as rude or uneducated), or the person who speaks diplomatically (and could be perceived as “brown-nosing” or unprincipled)? Are we swayed by the person who tries to convince us via logic and argument, by someone who shows us by example, or by the person who enthusiastically invites us to use a new service? Again, the Cultural Detective series will help leaders and a global workforce better understand and navigate such differences.

Leadership Skill #3: Manage Crises

The Chinese characters for “crisis” remind us it can be a danger or an opportunity. Leaders can convert crisis into opportunity by knowing themselves and being solidly grounded in their values. A well-rooted tree will sway in the wind and not become uprooted. Cultural Detective Self Discovery is the perfect tool to enable leaders to clarify their personal core values, and to reconcile them with organizational values, the values of the various cultures in which they do business, and the values of other members of their team. Leaders will be better able to manage crises; to anticipate their reactions so they can wisely choose, in the moment, how to respond; and to be better able to explain their actions to others who may not share or enact their values in the same way. Try it out with a pilot group of your leaders, and you will be amazed by the results.

Leadership Skill #4: Cultivate Change

Change is cultivated by providing opportunities for employees to practice what they’ve learned. Cultural Detective Online (CD Online) enables you to provide just that opportunity—teach a skill, then encourage your employees actively practice it for several weeks, using the CD Online system for reflection and learning. Several weeks of on-the-job practice leads to employee retention, and provides a practical method to resolve employee conflicts and encourage understanding.

Change is also effected by leaders realizing that workers’ motivations may be different than theirs. Research in the graphic supports this idea. And, that is the core Cultural Detective process, as you’ve by now surmised—perspective taking. There are two specific packages in the series, as well, to aid in this regard—Cultural Detective Global Diversity and Inclusion, and Cultural Detective Global Teamwork. Wonderfully, both are included in the very reasonably priced (less than US$100/year for access to 60 packages) CD Online.

What are you waiting for? Are you a strong, strategic global leader? Do you want to help others to be? Learn how to use Cultural Detective Online by joining one of our free webinars or get your subscription now!

 

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