SIETAR Europa, a Profile, Valencia, a New Book

SE Journal coverThe March-May 2015 issue of the SIETAR Europa Journal is out today, and I thought some of you might want to take a look. Pari Namazie conducted a lengthy interview with me when I was last in Vienna, and it is published in the journal on pages 3-9. I find it flattering, embarrassing, encouraging and mortifying, all at the same time. It is humbling to have the honor to be profiled in this way. Thank you, Pari and Patrick Schmidt, editor. Perhaps it will give you insight into some of the experience that has contributed to Cultural Detective.

Also very important in this issue is news of the upcoming SE Congress in Valencia, Spain, 21-23 May. Please plan to attend! There are a wealth of terrific pre-conference workshops, including two focused on Cultural Detective, as well as incredible concurrent sessions, all in the gorgeous setting of Valencia. The full schedule is not yet posted, but you can register for the Congress now and then register later for any pre-conference workshops you want to attend. I hope to see you there!

Finally, I’m very excited that my old friend Joseph Shaules has published his much-anticipated book, The Intercultural Mind, and George Simons has written an insightful review of it on page 16.

You can find the issue of the Journal here.

Lampooning Leads to Apology for Sensationalism

2015.1.27.BF.COMMInaccuracies in journalism are of increasing concern to me, as is the idea that so many consumers of communication media fail to use their critical thinking skills, and, rather, believe a sensational report without checking facts. Journalists can easily fuel people’s worst fears, feeding an “us vs. them” mentality. I spoke about this in my recent Charlie Hebdo post.

If we are to create a world for ourselves in which we respect, understand, and value one another, one in which we are able to cooperate in sustainable ways, we need accurate and thorough information on which to base decisions. We need to be able to discern “gray” areas, and think things through from different perspectives.

On a slightly divergent thought track, I occasionally marvel at how powerful the visual arts, comedy, movies, and performances are in generating a paradigm shift in the general population—the sort of paradigm shift that is needed if we are to develop intercultural competence. I feel that news media should help us think things through by gathering facts, but all too often, it is the arts that help inspire us to do so.

Recently, a post crossed my desk that brings these two ideas together for me in a salient way. One of our Cultural Detective series’ authors—Basma Ibrahim DeVries—shared a link on Facebook to a story that resulted in truth telling. A major news outlet was forced to admit its multiple errors and publicly apologize for their inaccuracies, perhaps, in part, stimulated by a French television comedy show—Le Petit Journal!

Fox News interviewed someone who presented as fact that there are “no-go zones” in Europe—places in which Islamic law supersedes local law and non-Muslims fear to go. “No-go zones,” viewers were told, included the entire city of Birmingham, England and a half-dozen key areas of Paris. Fox also made various other claims, which met with widespread criticism from the likes of British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the threat of a lawsuit from the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

Le Petit Journal was quick to offer its humorous and yet informative rebuttal. Below is a clip of the show, in French with English subtitles.
//embed.crooksandliars.com/embed/8J5xikIN

I live in Mexico, and over the past five years I’ve experienced the negative impact that sensationalism and inaccurate, biased reporting can have on a country and its people.Often, this media bias is not confronted.  In this instance, however, Fox actually issued four separate apologies in one day for portraying Muslims in a negative light.

“Fox News took time out of four broadcasts on Saturday to apologize for four separate instances of incorrect information that portrayed Muslims in a negative light.
—CNN

Once Fox News apologized, our French comedy show, Le Petit Journal, had to gloat, of course. They lampooned Fox with great gusto while munching on super-sized popcorn and soda. That clip is below.
//embed.crooksandliars.com/embed/8JEsV4z5

I am happy to hear that Fox News was forced to apologize for their biased and false “reporting.” I am grateful to know that the public expression of outrage and humor can still have some effect, however fleeting it might be. If, like me, you’d like to read more about the poll Fox cited, that one in six French citizens support ISIS, you might reference a much more insightful piece about it, published by the Washington Post.

The Cultural Detective Method helps people separate facts—what people see and hear—from interpretations, or what the facts mean to a person observing them. Our values influence how we interpret the facts—the meaning we give to the situation. Given personal and cultural differences, the facts may mean different things to different people. This is normal and to be expected. However, what we want from journalists is, to the best of their ability, the specific details and essential data necessary for us to understand a situation more accurately and thoroughly. Situations these days are often complex rather than clear-cut. Reporting on complex realities is difficult in the best of circumstances, and we applaud those ethical journalists who work to make it happen.

Thank you for accompanying us on this journey to build intercultural competence. Together, we can build international understanding, respect, and justice.

Happy Thorri! Celebrate our new CD: Iceland package!

CD Iceland coverIt’s hard to believe that we have finally completed the Cultural Detective: Iceland package! This project spans more than five years, with some stops and starts. After working long hours in Iceland, in the USA, and on Skype, the emphasis was always on finishing what we started with high quality. We were both certain that, in spite of our busy work schedules, other duties, and familes, it would sort itself out, and we would manage to complete this project.

2014-10-23 12.10.15

Erla on the left, Thorunn on the right

We were introduced to each other on a beautiful sunny day in Iceland in 2008, and that very day Thorunn asked Erla if she would be interested in collaborating on the Cultural Detective: Iceland project. We immediately “clicked” and decided to meet again and discuss the idea of working together. Throughout this collaboration we learned a lot about ourselves, about each other, and about our culture and what it means to be an Icelander. Through thick and thin, stressful moments, a lot of laughter, travel between Iceland and North America, we established a wonderful friendship for life.

It is perhaps fitting that Cultural Detective: Iceland is announced on Facebook during Thorri season, when Icelanders celebrate in ways no one else in the Western World celebrates: by eating fermented food and using anise or caraway-flavored snaps to help swallow it!

Þorrablot dinner

Þorrablot dinner

This mid-winter season in Iceland is called Þorri (Thorri), and according to the historic Icelandic calendar it starts on January 23rd with Húsbóndagur (Husband Day) and ends on February 22 with Konudagur (Women’s Day). At this time of year, Iceland is cold, dark, and windy. But because the sun rises at about 9:30 am in the morning, it is a whole lot better than in December, when it rises at 11:30 am—so it is time to celebrate as a way to get through the Thorri season! The celebration is called Þorrablot or celebration of the Nordic God Þór (Thor).

These parties are usually attended by people belonging to the same social group such as a fireman’s association, an association of people from a particular fjord, or people who work for the same company, etc. The entertainment varies from a stage performance, to a comedian as Master of Ceremonies, to people making speeches and reciting Icelandic poetry, and usually ends with lots of dancing and singing of national songs. The staple foods at these parties are pickled ram’s testicles, boiled sheep’s head, blood sausages, liver pudding, smoked and cured lamb, and dried fish. Some people have to be “manned” into eating these things, and some parties have these delicacies as side dishes rather than as the main dishes.

Below is a video of Þorrablot at CCP, an international company headquartered in Iceland. A new employee from Denmark has been invited to this celebration. Can you imagine his culture shock?!!

So how do we translate our wonderful yet, at times, strange culture into a manageable frame for others to understand? This was our task as co-authors. It was not easy, but surprisingly rewarding. After interviewing foreigners living in Iceland, and Icelanders working abroad, we began to see the values system emerge.

We struggled quite a bit about which values to highlight through the Icelandic Values Lens. The more we talked to people, the clearer it became to us that Icelanders hold their language as central to the culture. So strong is this value that Icelanders believe that for anyone to be able to work in Iceland, even in menial jobs, they need to learn the language. To support this value, Icelandic companies who hire foreigners generally offer Icelandic lessons during the lunch hour.

Every culture has some things that cannot be translated. In Iceland, one of those things is the phrase, “þetta reddast,” literally translated into English as “it will work out.” However, in English, this phrase seems more of a hope than a reality. In Iceland, we understand the phrase to really mean “things will sort themselves out” and, in the end, they always do, somehow.

Because immigration is making the country more diverse and the travel industry is growing, there is a definite need to enable Icelanders to be more open and knowledgable about cultural differences and gain cultural competency. In addition, Iceland’s economy is export-driven and becoming more integrated into the world economy, so it is important for outsiders to learn how to work with these very direct, honest, and hard-working people with a great sense of humor.

Cultural Detective: Iceland is now included in Cultural Detective Online and also available in a printable PDF format. We are looking forward to using CD: Iceland in universites, companies, organizations, and any place people want to learn about our culture. If you get a chance, we hope you will visit our beautiful country. Meanwhile, we encourage you, a curious Cultural Detective, to learn about Icelandic culture by exploring the new CD: Iceland package!

Vinnan göfgar manninn. “Hard words break no bones.” (Icelandic Proverb)

CD Iceland coverI have the best job in the world: working with our Cultural Detective authors—I always learn so much! Recently, I had the pleasure of working with our authors on the Cultural Detective: Iceland package—the most recent addition to the CD series. This is a culture I know nothing about, therefore, I had no preconceived notions about how it would be to work with these bright ladies, or what I would learn.

Fortunately (from my US American point of view), being direct and straightforward is generally considered being honest, and is highly valued in Icelandic culture. When discussing a topic, everybody tends to share ideas (without evaluation) and then the best course of action is chosen. Questions are answered directly, and disagreement usually is not considered a personal attack. To those from a less direct culture, this style of communication may feel rude and blunt, while to Icelanders it’s just contributing their ideas.

The authors shared a delightful example of language and culture being intertwined: Icelanders do not use the word “love” as US Americans do. Their word for love is used in relation to family. It is a “very expensive/high value” term with a special use for a special purpose. Therefore, the use of “love” was very confusing to our authors when they first arrived in the United States. They were surprised that people loved their pets, loved ice cream, loved a movie, etc. In contrast, one of the authors told me that if her husband ever said he loved her, she would know she was dying! She told me, “Icelandic husbands love their wives so much that they almost tell them!”

This relatively small country (population 320,000) has seven universities, the oldest parliament in the world, and dynamic, high-energy, optimistic people. We look forward to introducing you to CD: Iceland, and a culture whose Viking roots impact the freedom and respect for the individual that are the heart of Icelandic values today. Be sure to check it out, put it to good use, and let us know what you think!

Four Steps to a Happier Life: Actions Don’t “Create” Reactions

Potato-PotahtoDuring our monthly webinar, attended by people working in academia, NGOs, private enterprise, and a religious community, and geographically from Russia to Egypt to the USA and quite a few points in between, one of the participants summarized for us what she had learned. Cultural Detective had taught her, she said, “that actions don’t ‘create’ reactions; interpretation of actions creates reactions.”

Yes! That is brilliant and powerful learning! And it is crucial to understand this idea if we are to develop intercultural competence. It is a prerequisite to implementing the four steps to a happier life.

“Actions don’t ‘create’ reactions.
Interpretation of actions creates reactions.”

Your Story/My Story
To understand the concept better, think about a time when you had a painful miscommunication with someone, the type of miscommunication that haunts you for days or longer. The example I’ll share with you involves a family member, but yours might involve a friend, family member, important client, or colleague. Got your example? Okay, here’s mine.

Recently, a family member took exception to a text I sent him. It was classic miscommunication. He felt I had jumped to conclusions about him, specifically, that I had falsely accused him of wrongdoing. His negative judgments and assumptions about me made me sad. This is common; there is a downward spiral that so often happens in miscommunication. We want our family, friends, colleagues, and clients to give us benefit of the doubt, to assume we have their backs. It is upsetting when, instead, they think the worst of us.

Communication is a shared process. We send our messages and usually assume that the receivers of our messages understand us. But does our intention, the meaning, as conveyed by our message match the other’s interpretation? This, of course, is the crux of successful communication!

Think about your own example. What happened? How did each of you perceive the miscommunication? How did each of you feel? What was the outcome?

My relative’s upset was real, as was mine. We can’t and shouldn’t deny our feelings and our reactions. Yet, it was especially important to me that, as a family member, we not feel negatively toward one another. One good outcome of the exchange was that I learned something new about him, and now understand an area of sensitivity for him. That knowledge will inform my future interactions, and hopefully help me to communicate with him in ways he finds more supportive. I am confident that he learned something that will inform his future communication with me, as well.

So, did my text “cause” him pain? Did his response “cause” me sadness? Did our differing communication styles “cause” frustration? No, of course not! It is the manner in which we interpret differing communication styles that can cause us frustration and can waste our time, energy, enthusiasm and resources. Your mother may have told you when you were young that your friends can not make you angry; it’s your choice to become angry or not. Differing communication styles can actually strengthen teamwork, and they can add delight to friendships.

Now, think about your example of miscommunication. Did your behavior “cause” negativity for the other person? Did their behavior “cause” it in you? Or, rather, was it the way each of you interpreted the other’s behavior—the meaning you gave to it—that caused the grief?

In my example, there was no negative energy or assumption embedded in the initial text; I had no thought of accusation. Many times, however, our innocent actions result in hurt feelings or negative perceptions, just as they can also help people feel good. In hindsight my text could have been worded better. A lengthier, more explicit text from me (or, better yet, a phone call) may not have “caused” the reaction it did.

However, it was not the text itself but, rather, my relative’s interpretation of the meaning behind my text, that provoked his reaction. We cannot control how others will perceive us, though we can do our best to improve our communication skills. The distinction between behavior causing a reaction versus our interpretation of the behavior influencing us to react in a certain way is an important distinction for cross-cultural and intercultural communication effectiveness.

THE FOUR STEPS TO A HAPPIER LIFE
So, what are these four steps to a happier life, to improving your communication with others?

Step One
The first point to remember is that miscommunication happens—every day, even between loving couples, family members, and friends. How much more frequently can miscommunication happen, then, between strangers or those who come from very different cultural backgrounds?

When we find ourselves in an uncomfortable communication situation, we need to remember not to place blame. It’s happened; miscommunication is natural and normal. But we can use it as a learning opportunity—a chance to understand more about ourselves and others.

Step Two
As the Cultural Detective Method shows us, when we find ourselves involved in miscommunication, or feeling a bit frustrated or judgmental, we are wise to take a look within ourselves. What are my assumptions? What beliefs am I using in my interpretation of events? What does the way I feel tell me about what is important to me? What values do I hold in relation to this situation, and how do I link them to appropriate behavior?

Our past experience and “common sense” (really “personal cultural sense”) cause us to interpret actions in certain ways. Becoming aware of those filters, the ways we view the world, can help us know ourselves better, to be better able to understand and anticipate our own responses, and better able to explain ourselves to others.

Step Three
Once we’ve taken a look into ourselves, it’s time to try to put ourselves into the shoes of the other. Even though we might perceive behavior as negative, let us temporarily, while we think this through, give the benefit of the doubt. What might be other, positively intended reasons that the person did what they did?

Of course, I can also consider whether I know this person to “have it in” for me. Does this person have a history of attacking me, or of acting unprofessionally? If not, the above “positive intent” exercise becomes even more important.

Step Four
Finally, it’s time to reach out and take action to resolve the miscommunication. Preferably,  this includes a combination of apologies for discomfort, questions that seek to understand, explanation of intent, and summary of what has been learned. It should, also, ideally culminate with a path forward: how we’ll try to communicate more effectively with one another from this point on.

Looking at the above four steps, you will see they incorporate the three capacities that the Cultural Detective Model teaches us:

  1. Subjective Culture: Knowing ourselves as cultural beings
  2. Cultural Literacy: Empathy and the ability to “read” the intentions of others
  3. Cultural Bridging: The ability to bring out the best in ourselves, others, and the organization or community

If you haven’t yet joined us for one of our monthly webinars, please do. Those attending receive a complimentary three-day pass to Cultural Detective Online, a tool that can help you integrate these four steps so that they become second nature in your daily life. And, please, share the invitation with your friends, colleagues, and clients! Let’s make this world a happier and more interculturally effective place!

Ever Feel Crazy? Van Gogh and the Blended Culture Person

seeAs a Blended Culture person, do you ever feel crazy? Do you feel that you see things others can’t? Being skilled in multiple cultures is a great asset, a blessing, really. Our ability to see multiple perspectives, multiple realities, is such a needed ability in this world of ours. Very little in life is truly black or white; we need people who can distinguish and navigate—lead us through—the grays. Our world needs Blended Culture leaders, artists, mediators.

Being a Blended Culture person, however, can cause us to feel, well, isolated. Misunderstood. Tired. We might occasionally feel distrusted by those around us. Like too much responsibility for helping others to understand falls on our shoulders. Like we never fully fit in anywhere. Or, if we do, that we are always missing someone else or something else. Always torn.

I was reminded of the Blended Culture experience recently, when I saw the video below. The video uses animation to explain that Van Gogh, while psychotic, was able to perceive something others didn’t—one of nature’s most complex concepts—turbulence, or turbulent flow. Turbulent flow is something that science is only now, 125 years after Van Gogh’s death, starting to understand. Van Gogh painted such turbulence while he was in an insane asylum, no doubt feeling isolated and misunderstood, as so many Blended Culture people occasionally do.

To thrive as Blended Culture people we need patience as well as communication skills. We need to be able to translate what we know, see, and feel so that others who don’t have our multiple perspectives can get a glimpse into other worlds. This is the other huge gift that Van Gogh demonstrated. He was not only able to perceive turbulence when others didn’t, he was able to show us, communicate about it via his paintings, so that the rest of us are able to see it, too! That is the true gift of a Cultural Bridge person!

How does one become a person who builds Cultural Bridges? Using the Cultural Detective Method helps us understand that there are multiple, valid perspectives in any situation and suggests ways to build “communication bridges” across cultural divides. Cultural Detective Online provides low-cost access to more than 60 cultures so you can practice your “bridging skills” and learn to facilitate communication with those who are culturally different.

So the next time you are feeling a bit crazy as a Blended Culture person, seeing “too many” sides of a situation, remember you have a skill—and that you can learn the ability to communicate it to others and build bridges between perspectives!

#MyGlobalLife Link-Up

Je Suis Ahmed! Je Suis Charlie! I’ll Ride With You!

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The Cultural Detective series includes a critical incident entitled, “Danish Cartoon Controversy” (in the Cultural Detective Global Diversity and Inclusion package), about the backlash against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. We publish it to build understanding of diverse perspectives of the issue and promote meaningful dialogue, healing, and community cohesion.

My childhood aspiration was to become a cartoonist. I practiced for years, and even won a few contests. The events that happened in Paris yesterday, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, feel very close to me, despite the ocean separating Mexico and France. I have tremendous respect for all who fight for freedom of speech AND respect for others, as both, together, are key to civil society.

I stand strong with caricaturists, cartoonists, and journalists worldwide. Here in Mexico where I reside such are far from safe professions. And those who responsibly help us to think more deeply, to see more facets to issues facing us, play a hugely important role in society. Those who use their profession (journalist or imam, cartoonist or preacher) to teach racism, hatred, and disrespect instead of critical thinking and insight, or who promote sensationalism, jumping on the bandwagon of the latest craze or fad to gain viewership, do not respect their own role or power, nor do they show responsibility to the community in which we live.

I love that people throughout the world have risen up in protest against terrorism and defense of the right to free speech. Long live the people! I fear, however, that the “Je suis Charlie” movement will be misconstrued or highjacked as pro-France and anti-Muslim, rather than as anti-terror, as happens oh-so-easily on the world stage. Such is the risk, and complexity, of this media-rich global arena in which communication takes place today.

Terrorism is awful. We can all unite against it. Yet, when terrorists are white, there is not the horrible backlash that there so sadly and predictably is when the terrorists are people of color or Muslim. One more ugly white privilege that I don’t want: I am privileged to not be profiled or publicly disdained, despite the fact that the suspect in the bombing of the NAACP building in Colorado Springs is a homegrown white US American, like me.

AhmedI am, therefore, very encouraged that the #JeSuisAhmed hashtag has risen in popularity with the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag so quickly. Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim, was one of the police officers killed during the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris. The Maroon Colony wrote an excellent piece on why the Ahmed hashtag is so important.

And at what point, will we draw the lines between “freedom of speech” and “hate speech”? At what point do mainstream media outlets, which are largely controlled and written by White people, stop racializing Islam and stop creating humor based on the humiliation of people of color and their culture and faiths? At what point do White people have that moment of self-reflection, without the threat of terrorism to do so?
—The Maroon Colony

I found The Maroon Colony article powerful, but then I read a post by Christoph Jakob on a friend’s wall, and it reconfirmed how very complicated, and in need of thoughtful discussion, this all is:

The person on the second cartoon is the very well respected French Minister of Justice, Christine Taubira. She was compared by a right wing politician to a monkey eating bananas because of the colour of her skin For this comparison he was sentenced and excluded from his party. This started a national debate about limits of freedom of speech and expression. Charlie Hebdo published several cartoons on the topic, always defending 100% Christine Taubira and against all sorts of racism. Mrs Taubira herself mentioned the cartoon during a TV interview and thanked Charlie Hebdo for their support. The name of the right wing party is “rassemlement bleu Marine” thats why in the cartoon the text stays “rassemblement bleu racisme”.

We all stand with the victims. We stand with the need for free speech AND for civil discourse, dialogue, respect, understanding, and community building, not violence. And, I hold out hope that an outcome of the horrible violence can be that we all start to reflect on the inherent bias we all have in our worldviews and communication, myself included.

_79734878_thankyouI am encouraged that we increasingly have voices speaking up, so lucidly, to a minority experience, to the experience of those outside the mainstream power centers. I am reminded of the wonderful #illridewithyou movement in Australia, aimed to stand in solidarity with Muslim neighbors and help them stay safe in the backlash of a terrorist attack. I was sooooo so proud of Australians for that!

Let us stand united, everyone. Do not let the terrorists win, by letting them turn us toward hate, toward division, toward drawing lines between us, towards curtailing freedom of speech in this world of ours. Let us unite against terrorism by binding ourselves together, by learning about and celebrating our differences, by charging ourselves to continual learning, reflection on our own biases and communication, so that, together, we can create a world in which all of us can feel safe, valued, and know that our voices matter.

Want to Get Out of the One-Shot Training Rut?

Ribbet collageOne Client’s Story

A few months ago I received a call from a dear friend and respected colleague. He told me that he had a client very committed to diversity and inclusion, that hired him once a quarter, every quarter, to design a 2-1/2 hour workshop. He delivered the workshop to a total of 300 employees, so he facilitated it about eight times over. Great client, right? A full week of work every quarter, on an ongoing basis…

He told me about some of the topics he’d covered, and some of the methods he’d used; they were all fantastic. He reported to me that everyone attending would have a really great time. The participants would learn, the evaluations would be excellent, and my friend would get hired back.

But he also told me that, while lucrative for him and enjoyable for the learners, he felt his approach wasn’t really accomplishing anything. My colleague was frustrated because he didn’t feel the learners were really developing skills, they weren’t changing what they did at work, and the organization wasn’t developing the intercultural competence it needs. He knows that real competence requires ongoing practice, and he thought Cultural Detective could help.

The client is a division of a major university. The employees interface daily with students and scholars from all over the world, and they, themselves, are a very diverse team. My colleague wanted to embark on a two-year project with a coherent, developmental design for his workshop series. He felt that Cultural Detective could be the anchor, the “backbone,” so to speak, the constant throughout the two years. But how did he plan to do this?

He wanted to start by having me join him for the first workshop, so that I could introduce the 300 employees of this university division to the Cultural Detective Model. While I was there with them, he wanted me to also train him and a few on-site facilitators (Diversity and Inclusion trainers as well as those from Organizational Effectiveness) in the Cultural Detective Method.

coverIslamOver the next two years, he wants to use Cultural Detective to help the employees develop more in-depth knowledge and skills for working with individual cultures. For example, one quarter they might learn more about how to work with East Asians, using CD ChinaCD Japan, etc., as resources. Another quarter they might focus on Muslim cultures, using CD IslamCD MalaysiaCD Arab Gulf, and CD Turkey, etc. In the months between workshops, supervisors will work with employees to ensure that the skills they learn in the workshops are applied on the job. They will use university staff and students as resources and after each workshop, program leaders will agree on an “application plan” to encourage employees to use the ideas presented and practice their skills between workshops.

How, exactly?

In the first workshop, we used critical incidents that were drafted by the client’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. These included stories of staff interaction with students from around the world, as well as stories of employee interaction with one another. We analyzed these incidents together in the workshop, and learned what each of us could do to improve our performance, to better understand our customers (in this case, students) and colleagues, and we generated ideas for improving the organization’s systems, procedures, and structures, to make it more inclusive. We also played several learning games and simulations, and participated in other, supplementary exercises.

Here is what program leaders agree will take place after the first workshop and before the second in order to help ensure skill development and application:

  • In the weekly “mini-meetings” that all supervisors conduct with staff, they will ask employees to share a “best intercultural practice” they’ve learned that week, as well as cross-cultural questions or incidents they’ve experienced.
  • The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force members will write up critical incidents and Sample Debriefs for each of the areas of the workplace that they represent. They will invite employees to attend sessions in which they discuss and analyze the incidents, thereby continuing to build employee knowledge and skill, and continuing to interculturalize organizational processes.

cover_selfdiscovery copyThe second workshop is planned for the first quarter of 2015. In that workshop, my colleague is planning to introduce Cultural Detective Self Discovery to the employees, helping them each to develop their own Personal Values Lenses. Employees will then compare their personal values with US American, African-American, and Latino-Hispanic values (the primary composition of the workforce), as well as to those values of the many nationalities of students with whom the employees work. They’ll learn how to remain true to themselves, and how to adapt their behavior to be more cross-culturally effective. They will also use their Personal Values Lenses to get to know one another in a more meaningful way, and to discuss ways to improve their work teams: how to effectively collaborate to bring out the best in each other.

Employee representatives, supervisors, and Diversity and Inclusion Task Force members will meet after the second workshop to decide on an application plan for what the employees have learned. Their goal will be to figure out how best to reinforce the learning on the job, to be sure it gets used, and that employees continue to develop their competence. In addition, they will work to ensure that the organization continues to refine its policies, procedures and structures for intercultural effectiveness.

My guess is they will recommend ongoing team meetings that use the Personal Values Lenses, as well as having teams share their own critical incidents based on their own experiences. In this manner, the group will continue developing their intercultural competence, they will develop a library of resources on intercultural effectiveness to use to train new hires and continue to develop themselves, and they will maximize the intercultural effectiveness of the organization. Program leaders will then plan the third workshop, followed by an application plan, and so on.

In this way, over the next two years, my colleague is confident that these 300 employees he’s had the pleasure of working with will truly develop their understanding of themselves as cultural beings. They will learn how to better manage cross-cultural situations with the students, and how to better function in the multicultural teams of which they are members. Plus, they will help improve the intercultural competence of the division in which they work.

I do hope they will do a pre- and post-assessment, using the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) or some other instrument, to track employees’ progress. It would also be useful to record the systemic and procedural changes made, and see if there are differences in work-team functioning and in student satisfaction with employee performance. I believe research of this sort would be invaluable in showing how improving cultural competence can be a worthwhile investment of time, money and people’s energy.

I greatly appreciate the invitation to join the group to be part of the beginning of this grand undertaking. I look forward to watching as the program moves along its path, and intercultural competence spreads among the staff and organization. I am confident my friend’s plan is going to be hugely successful and wish him and the organization the best of luck!

There is No Such Thing as Common Sense

CDModel&BridgeOrganizations want to hire employees with common sense. Parents want to raise children with good common sense. Universities and schools want to teach our young people to have common sense.

The trouble with the concept is this: my “common sense” is not your “common sense.” What’s common sense to one person is not to another. For example, if a friend stumbles and trips but is obviously unhurt, do you:
  1. Express verbal concern, asking if they are ok?
  2. Pretend you did not notice, to spare any embarrassment?
  3. Make a joke, to lighten the mood and relieve any awkwardness?
  4. Smile or laugh awkwardly, to share the embarrassment with your friend?
Each of these responses can be “common sense” in different circumstances, in different cultures. What if an angry customer calls me? A “common sense” customer service response could include, depending on the corporate culture, national, ethnic or generational culture of the customer service agent:
  1. Doing whatever is within my power, exerting all possible avenues to make the customer happy;
  2. Apologizing and then educating the customer so that they learn how something works and won’t feel frustrated again the next time; or
  3. Telling the customer “no,” as what the customer wants is not part of the contract.

What does the dictionary provide us as the meaning of the term?

Common Sense
noun Sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.
Origin 1525-35; translation of Latin sēnsus commūnis, itself translation of Greek koinḕ aísthēsis

With such a terrific definition, anyone would want to have common sense. Yet, what is “sound practical judgment” in the tropics (how to stay hydrated and prevent heat and sun stroke) is quite different from “normal native intelligence” in snow country (how to stay warm and find food when it’s cold). Common sense for accountants (income vs. payments needs to balance or be positive) may be quite different than that for sales people (invest now for payoffs later). Sound judgment for women is, fortunately or unfortunately, frequently different than that for men; common sense for a Baby Boomer is often remarkably different than that of a Millennial; and US American society is finally starting to realize that common sense (survival instincts) for a black person is radically different than that for whites.

Common sense depends on where we are, how we’ve been raised, and what knowledge is “common” or shared by members of our communities. Common sense is developed so that we can survive and thrive in the world around us. Thus, common sense is really “cultural sense,” common only to those who share it: those who share a given culture.

Common sense is really “cultural sense,” common only to those who share it: those who share a given culture.

How do we say “common sense” in some major world languages? Might that provide further insight?

     Key: native language, transliteration, “literal meaning”

  • In Arabic: الحِس العام, Al ḥes al ‘aaam, “public sense” or “general sense”
  • In Chinese: 常识, chángshì, or “general knowledge”
  • In French: le bon sense, or “good sense”
  • In German: de gesunder Menschenverstand, “the healthy human sense”
  • In Japanese: 常識, johshiki, or “everyday thinking”
  • In Russian: здравый смысл, zdravyy smysl, or “healthy wit,” meaning you must be crazy not to agree with it
  • In Spanish: sentido común, or “shared sense”

This is why “cultural sense” is a core concept in the Cultural Detective Model. You can see it prominently featured in the graphic at the top of this post, along the bottom edge of the circle. What does “cultural sense” mean, exactly?

Most of us act with the best of intentions on a daily basis. We perform our jobs in ways that we feel they should be done. We treat our co-workers in ways we feel reflect sound judgment. We deal with our neighbors in ways our native intelligence tells us is neighborly. We talk to our children in ways we believe will guide and motivate them, help them become better people. We put our common sense, our cultural sense, to use everyday.

Yet, all too often our actions are misperceived, and our customers, co-workers, neighbors and family members experience negativity in our behavior. They may get angry, frustrated, or disappointed with us. They may be confused about why we do what we do. That is because their common sense, their cultural sense, is different than ours. Their assumptions about appropriate behavior in a given situation are different than our own. Their beliefs about how the world is may differ from ours.

We all aspire to have common sense and to form teams and organizations with common sense. But it is important to remember that establishing shared “common sense” is an ongoing process. Miscommunication and misperception provide opportunities for us to better understand our own values and “native intelligence,” as well as to learn more about the values and native intelligence of those around us.

So, the next time you shake your head at someone’s behavior and wonder if they have any common sense, remember that their cultural sense may just be different than your own! It takes effort, but creating a “shared intelligence” or shared common sense provides a context in which all of us can work, live, and be our best. Regular use of Cultural Detective can help you achieve just that.

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up.

How Do Universities Develop Students’ Intercultural Competence?

543266_10150772354506354_665823583_nAnd why is Cultural Detective quickly becoming a preferred tool?

University of Southern California is the most international campus in the USA. The Marshall School of Business at USC recognizes the value of intercultural competence and is committed to truly developing it in their students.

They know that the mere experience of study abroad, or working in a multicultural team, does not build competence. Experience is not learning. Learning is the sense that we make of our experience. USC knows that research shows developing competence requires ongoing, structured reflection on the part of students—with faculty guidance. They have been using Cultural Detective for the past two years, in a growing variety of programs, because they realize the tool helps them accomplish their goals.

The video below is of Assistant Dean Gita Govahi, telling us why the Marshall School of Business has chosen Cultural Detective, and how they use it:

At Cultural Detective we are particularly impressed with something USC has done: they have students generate learning material for the following semester. For example, while students are abroad and after they return, they are required to upload stories of intercultural interaction from their own experience into Cultural Detective Online. They are also required to debrief those stories, to make sense from them. Each program and each semester, faculty award prizes for the “best of” these stories and debriefs, and honor the student-authors by using them in the pre-departure orientation for the next cadre of students.

This second video shows Professor Jolanta Aritz, giving her opinion as an instructor:

I often say that launching a book or a tool into the world is much like having a child: you nurture them to the best of your ability, and at some point you just have to pray that they do good in the world. Children become independent, with minds and lives of their own. Books and tools are used by people in ways we, the authors and creators, can not always control, despite our best efforts. It’s people like the talented professionals at USC who make us very, very proud of the tool we have created. They are putting it to excellent use and students are learning lifelong skills.

We know you all are doing some incredible things with our tools. Please, share your story and make sure we know about it!