Report from the Field: Creating Models Worthy of Emulation

IMG_6315-640x480Many thanks to Benjamin Smith, Ph.D., linguist, intercultural consultant and trainer, and owner of Broad Imagination LLC, for this guest post.

“Recently, I was invited to lead a cultural sensitivity training for a company facing some key human resource challenges. I was given a little background information prior to my arrival, but stopped the director short as he was bringing me up-to-speed in our meeting, in order to be able to gather information during the needs assessment without preconceived notions.

The printed workbook and facilitator guide that I use to supplement my training is produced by Cultural Detective®, a company with decades of success in the intercultural field. I find that their philosophy dovetails well with mine in that they help me guide users through a process of understanding the “Lenses” through which they see the world.

To accomplish this objective, Cultural Detective® presents Values Lenses—for key cultures such as nationality, gender, spiritual tradition, age or generation, and sexual orientation—as well as Personal Values Lenses.

I feel blessed to have worked with such a remarkable group of individuals who are committed to improving their intercultural communication skills. One of the most important takeaways for me from the training was realizing that obtaining a better understanding of where we come from refines our assessment of others, and sheds a positive light on helping us accurately interpret others’ behavior.

Obtaining a better understanding of where we come from, refines our assessment of others and sheds a positive light on helping us accurately interpret others’ behavior.

My approach to the project included one-on-one interviews with each participant during and at the conclusion of the training. Thanks to valuable advice from more experienced interculturalists, the interviews enabled me to gather useful information—people often reveal things in private that they are reticent to share with a group. These insights informed the content and delivery of the training.

I deliberately engaged my strength of connectedness as I spoke with people individually. The interviews afforded me the opportunity to create a space where I could genuinely listen to participants and tailor the training to their concerns. I typically schedule a follow-up interview after the training to assess what learning has taken place.

In this intimate setting, prior to and after the training, I find that, while people are eager to talk about what everyone else is doing wrong, they are not so quick to admit their own faults. They often overemphasize their exhaustive efforts to resolve intercultural conflicts, and minimize the efforts of their colleagues.

Through appreciative inquiry and inductive listening, I can facilitate peoples’ ability to see the things they were not initially aware of, and shed light on areas where their efforts can be more effective, to gain traction and avoid spinning their wheels. These interviews are powerful supplements to the training itself, enabling participants to apply their learning and develop personal development plans.

I designed several activities for the group sessions during which participants would be able to showcase their cultures and articulate their Personal Values Lens—the glass through which they view the world, colored by the values they embrace.

It was refreshing to see how people listened to and celebrated the cultural traditions shared by others through songs, recipes, and inside family jokes. There were several points when we analyzed family stories that had been passed through the generations, and examined the values those stories contain. It was amazing to see how participants recognized the uniqueness of each individual and what they had to share. It was also a great reminder of how anxious people are to be recognized for their contributions.

It was amazing to see how those present recognized the uniqueness of each individual and what they had to share. It was also a great reminder of how anxious people are to be recognized for their contributions.

Another facet of my company’s approach—Broad Imagination LLC—supported by the Cultural Detective® Model, consists of helping clients develop solutions themselves through a facilitated discussion. A Cultural Detective® session is not a passive chat that is forgotten when we all go home. It requires me, as a facilitator, to be present—to truly listen to and push participants for practical solutions. People tend to skirt difficult topics and slip into euphemisms or clichés as a way of avoiding the “elephant in the room.” I appreciated the courage of those who were willing to name their fears, explore them, and address them publicly.

IMG_6318-640x480Some “aha” moments for trainees in this session included:

  1. Common sense is not the same as cultural sense. What we may consider to be general knowledge or a logical conclusion is not shared by everyone. Knowing that different cultures have a unique perspective on any given cultural encounter helps us open our minds and make room for unexpected conclusions.
  2. All countries do not have the same value for “ethnic exoticness” and, therefore, respect. For example, in the USA, one may appreciate a Mexican flag being displayed in a cubicle, while the display of a Canadian flag might not earn the same appreciation. It is far more common that the more “exotic” and underrepresented the culture, the more interest we take in their displays of nationalism and pride.
  3. It doesn’t matter how much time someone has spent living among other cultures, biases persist and are hard to shake. It is one thing to spend time abroad, and another to make the effort to go outside our comfort zones to truly understand another’s cultural Lens.
  4. Language has a way of revealing lack of trust in an organization. When there is low trust, it does not matter what a person does, it can still touch off our sensibilities. Being offended that someone is speaking an unfamiliar language in our presence may cause us to bristle because we suspect that they are talking about us. It may not be that the language is threatening or that there are unsavory nonverbal cues, rather simply the fact that the language is spoken in a low-trust environment results in a negative spiral of lower trust.
  5. All we can really do is observe behavior. When we seek to explain why someone did something or what their motives were, we are venturing into judgment and assumptions. Assuming the best positive intent behind observed words and actions helps mitigate potential incorrect negative perceptions and opens our mind to collaborative solutions.

The Cultural Detective® Model emphasizes three core competencies: Subjective Culture (understanding ourselves); Cultural Literacy (our ability to understand others); and Building Cultural Bridges (the ability for two or more people to collaborate productively across cultures). These competencies are taught in a variety of ways, but I have found that when learners participate in this discovery of cultural identity through provocative discussions, they overcome their anxieties and find that the issues they once believed to be insurmountable obstacles are really stepping-stones to greater appreciation and collaboration.

I love the fact that this particular client’s mission focused on “creating a positive model.” That is precisely what intercultural training provides. The training that Broad Imagination aims to deliver, and which Cultural Detective® helped accomplish, created a model worthy of emulation, one that will serve as a touch stone for future positive intercultural encounters.

Armed with an appreciation for the rich and unique cultural heritage that each employee brings to the table (representing a plethora of values and cultural influences), participants can now implement specific strategies with their colleagues, and try new approaches to the same situations—with improved results, greater personal satisfaction and increased intercultural confidence.

Just Released! New Book: Perception and Deception

PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION COVER FACE 3Need a powerful story to illustrate your point about intercultural miscommunication? Want to help someone understand that different cultures may utilize the same word, concept, image, gesture, sound or touch to mean different things? Could you use a proverb that gives insight into another person’s cultural worldview? Search no more—Joe Lurie , intercultural trainer, Executive Director Emeritus at UC Berkeley’s International House, and former Peace Corps Volunteer, has got you covered!

Perception and Deception: A Mind Opening Journey Across Cultures, is an entertaining, eye-opening and easy-to-read book that contains dozens of intriguing intercultural experiences, gathered from Joe’s research and his decades living abroad and managing Berkeley’s International House, one of the largest, most diverse living centers on the planet.

In an informative and enticing manner, the author explains how he discovered that his perception of a situation could be “deceptive” when he looked at it simply through his own Lens. Joe’s growing self-awareness of the impact of culture is clearly illustrated through his humorous stories and striking culture clash examples from news reports across the globe. Better yet, these stories are indexed by culture! Joe also shares pearls of wisdom about perception, perspective and the nature of “truth” from his rich personal collection of proverbs and sayings from around the world.

Joe’s infectious curiosity in uncovering and understanding cultural differences will help readers, no matter their profession, age or cultural background, gain a fuller appreciation for the richness of human diversity, and the multiple things that can go wrong when trying to communicate across cultures. You, your students, colleagues, clients, friends, and family will all enjoy this engaging book, published by Cultural Detective, and now available in paperback. Kindle on Amazon and other e-versions from Barnes and Noble and Apple will be coming soon.

Perception and Deception is an engaging and insightful introduction to cross-cultural communication in a globalized world. For more information, reviews, a peek inside the book, and a link to purchase a copy, visit www.PerceptionandDeception.com.

Purchase the book now.

You are also welcome to copy and print the flyer below to share with your colleagues and friends.
Perception Deception Flyer White

What is Privilege?

Today a diversity and inclusion colleague I highly respect posted a link to an exercise in which participants line up side-by-side and then take a step back for each type of privilege they have not experienced in their lives. 35 types of privilege are listed in the article, and a short video about it is below. It’s a powerful exercise, filled with potentially transformative learning.

It’s also an exercise that I’ve had several successful people tell me over the years was a traumatic experience for them. Why? Because, experiential learning activities require proper debriefing! The woman in my story was actually told, when she was standing alone at the back of the room, “See how inclusive our company is? Even someone so lacking in privilege can be successful here!” Exactly the opposite of the desired outcome for the exercise!

The meaning we make of our experience is in the debriefing! It takes a skillful facilitator to speak up to a CEO, but ethics and learning require it be done.

Please join Daniel Yalowitz (vice-provost for graduate education at the SIT Graduate Institute) and me for a five-day session at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, “Gaining Gaming Competence: The Meaning is in the Debriefing,” and/or a one-day session, “Gaming Agility: Getting More Out of Our Tools.”

We look forward to seeing you there, and to working with you to build inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and justice in our workplaces and communities!

“On the Road with Migrants” Game

IMG_3100World Refugee Day is June 20th, and I am honored to be able to share with you a powerful new game available free-of-charge to help raise awareness and understanding of the refugee and migrant experience.

Catherine Roignan, co-author of Cultural Detective Morocco, conducted the game at the recent SIETAR Europa conference in Valencia, and it was my favorite session of the conference. Many people in the room had tears running down their cheeks, and in the days following we found ourselves often talking about the experience we’d shared.

The game is called On the Road with Migrants, and it was created by Caritas France, the Association des Cités du Secours Catholique or ACSC. At the conference we had only a brief 15-20 minutes to play, but it was remarkable!

Groups of us gathered at tables with game boards showing different continents of the world, including Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Each player had a pawn representing an immigrant, who was identified by name and story. We threw dice, drew cards and moved our pawns around the board according to the instructions on the cards and the dice.

Kudos to Caritas France for their brilliant work on this! It is a terrific game!

Right now the materials are all in French, available for download free-of-charge; you print out the cards and boards, and add dice and pawns—1 die and 4 pawns (one color for each of four characters) per continent/board. Our SIETAR Europa group helped with an English translation, which I’m told will be available to the public shortly, and others volunteered to translate the game into other languages as well. This is collaboration with a purpose!

Learn more and download the game in French: En route avec les migrants

Please, share with us your resources and ideas for commemorating World Refugee Day and for building empathy for the migrant experience in this world of ours.

Sikh Captain America

Vishavjit Singh in Central Park NYC as Sikh Captain America, photo by Fiona Aboud

Vishavjit Singh in Central Park NYC as Sikh Captain America, photo by Fiona Aboud

I recently came across the best “Cultural Effective” (yes, that’s a play on “detective”) I’ve seen in a long time! He has my deepest respect, and he has me rolling on the floor laughing, as well.

I found him via an article that had a photo of a skinny, long-bearded Sikh man posing as—wait for it—Captain America! He had his shield, tights, and turban on, and was ready to fight for justice. Of course it got my attention. I absolutely loved it! The article was an interview with Vishavjit Singh, an engineer, writer, educator, activist, costume player, and the artist behind the terrific series, SikhToons.com.

totally biased avengersIf you think Sikh Captain America sounds interesting, how about a complete set of Totally Biased Avengers, fighting for justice and equity in our world? They are the brainchild of the talents over at Totally Biased, and include Asian Thor, Black Black Widow, Gay Hulk, and brown Jesus Christ. You readers know that Cultural Detective is awfully cool and helpful, but these Avengers may have us beat, lol. Do yourself a favor and watch the video below. But be careful, you will laugh out loud.

Getting back to Sikh Captain America, however, you have got to check him out. He, er, rather, his alter-ego, Vishavjit, is doing wonderful work in the world! Take a look at his terrific flip book on turbans, for example. Visit his website or follow him on social media to see his latest cartoons and other ventures. I especially appreciate how he teaches people to respond to bias respectfully, rather than sinking to the same level of ignorance or, worse, anger. He demonstrates patience, intelligence, empathy, humor, and both visual and verbal communication skills—definitely a superhero combination!

Vishavjit made a cartoon explaining the road he followed to get to where he is today. Those of us interested in the pathways to reconciling Blended Culture identity will no doubt resonate with it. The lightness yet levity with which he operates in the world is especially impressive when you consider he survived the civil unrest that resulted in the deaths of so many Sikhs in India.Autbiography_Perspectives_DA_edit

Way to go, Vishavjit!!!! Bless you! It is a pleasure to be with you on a journey to build intercultural respect, understanding, and justice in our world. And you seem to be having so much fun doing it!

This post is part of the #MyGlobalLife linkup.

Rajel messouab ta hed ma y sed lou el bab. “All doors open to the person with good manners.”

morocco_purchWe are pleased to be publishing a wonderful addition to our series, Cultural Detective: Morocco. It’s perfect for those working with Moroccans, or wanting to do business in or relocate to Morocco. Perhaps, however, you are like me: you have seen tourist posters, watched Casablanca, eaten at Moroccan restaurants, and dreamed about visiting this seemingly exotic place. If so, then you will also enjoy wandering through our new package, even if you have no immediate plans to visit or do business in Morocco—at least not when you start reading the package!

One of the delightful things about Cultural Detective: Morocco is the feeling of almost participating in the culture that begins as you read the introduction. The oral tradition of Morocco is clear throughout the package, and the stories and examples show the hospitality and warmth of the people. To truly navigate successfully within Moroccan culture, you will need the advice of an inside perspective—a cultural informant—to help you develop and maintain the relationships and connections so necessary to doing business in this fascinating country. Cultural Detective: Morocco can provide you with that ongoing guidance, with ideas to save you from being unintentionally rude, and with suggestions that may help you communicate more comfortably and successfully with Moroccans. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Cultural Detective: Morocco has truly been a “labor of love,” coming to fruition due to the determination of two very dedicated professionals, Catherine Roignan and Youssef Zahid. Currently, one author lives in France and one in Morocco; both have a great deal of international experience, both have more than full-time jobs, and both have family responsibilities that take up every spare moment. In spite of these challenges, they wrote, revised, and wrote some more.

What is even more remarkable to me is that they wrote in French and then translated their work into English so I could read it. I made suggestions, did some editing, and then my suggestions were translated back into French for their consideration. (While the current version is in English, we will soon publish the French language version.) Of course, part of the authors’ discussion was also about Arabic words, as they explored the nuances of Moroccan culture and the particular choice of words used to describe it. This was a truly multilingual, multicultural creation process, weaving observations from inside and outside of the culture, and shifting worldviews as the authors worked to share the culture of Morocco with us.

One of the Moroccan values highlighted in the package is Daba baada (the present comes first): the only thing one can be sure of is today; one cannot know what tomorrow will be like, as things may change at any moment. We hope you will take the time today to explore this terrific new package, either via the PDF version or by viewing it as part of your subscription to Cultural Detective Online.

Three Never-Again Opportunities!

CustomBackgroundImage-1.jpgTo celebrate SIETAR USA’s 15th anniversary, Cultural Detective is partnering with SUSA to offer an incredible win-win contest. Want to get six months of service for the price of one? How about 20 months of service for the price of 12?

1. SUSA 15th Anniversary Contest: Detect Opportunities for Cultural Bridging

  1. During April subscribe for one-month to CD Online, giving you access to the complete packages including Values Lenses for more than 60 cultures.
  2. Upload your original critical incident on CD Online, do a debrief, download it all as a PDF, and then submit to SUSA@culturaldetective.com.
That’s all you need to do. What do you get out of it?
  1. Upon receipt of your completed Incident and Debrief, Cultural Detective will upgrade your one-month subscription to six months. This means you will get 5 months of Cultural Detective Online free!
  2. CD will determine Incident and Debrief winners, who will receive a one-year subscription to Cultural Detective Online!
  3. Winning Incident and Debrief will also be showcased in a webinar in which winners can promote their services/organization as well as teach others.
2. April SIETAR USA Member Product Discount In addition to the contest, SIETAR USA is offering their members a code for a 15-month subscription for the price of 12 months. If you are a SUSA member and participate in the contest, you’ll end up getting 21 months for the price of 12! Now that’s a YOU WIN! contest!

3. SIETAR USA 15th Anniversary Conference Proposal Submissions Being Accepted Through May 4th!

Want to earn the opportunity to present at this historic 15th annual conference, October 14-17, 2015 in Orlando, FL.? Session proposals will be accepted through May 4th. Be among the field’s leaders and submit yours now!

Join Us at SIETAR Europa in Valencia!

Logo_updatedHave you registered for the SIETAR Europa conference in Valencia, Spain May 21-23? The conference is the leading gathering of interculturalists in Europe, and is attended by many professionals from around the world. It is known for the quality of presentations and the intellectual exchange.

“This congress welcomes all those whose life and work puts them at the interface of cultures, from the perspectives of economy, society, and education with the aim of reshaping intercultural discourse, questioning our current cultural paradigms and exploring new thinking to help us navigate complexity in our emerging global world.”
—SIETAR Europa

Since our founding, the Cultural Detective Team has been committed to transparency, professional development, and vetting by our peers, and this congress will be no exception. Cultural Detective will have a huge presence at the congress, and we sincerely hope to see you there!

Firstly, Tatyana Fertelmeyster will conduct a Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification on May 18th and 19th. So many of you who live in Europe ask us for European-based certifications, so here is your chance! This is the only one scheduled in Europe this year. Attendance is limited, so please register early.

Also on May 19th, Pari Namazie and I will have the pleasure of conducting a pre-conference workshop, heavily based on Cultural Detective tools, entitled Blended Culture Identity, Global Ethics and their Value for Leadership and Teaming. I am very excited about where this workshop will take us. Ethics and authenticity are of crucial importance to cross-cultural leadership and teaming, and are too often overlooked.

A third CD-based session will be held on Saturday, the 23rd May at 10:00: Firearms in US Society: a Case Study about the Role of Interculturalists in Polarized and Politicized National Conversations, by Jeffrey Cookson and myself.

You’ll find pre-conference and concurrent sessions by Cultural Detective authors Marie-Therese Claes, Patricia Coleman, Heather Robinson, Catherine Roignan, George Simons, Jolanda Tromp, Rita Wuebbeler, Tatyana and myself, plus sessions by CD translators, certified facilitators and partners. We look forward to meeting you or reconnecting with you in Valencia!

Learn more about the city of Valencia.
Take Cultural Detective author George Simons’ diversophy® quiz on Valencia.

“If you act like a ripe plum, bats will eat you.”

(Proverb submitted by Lamar Gaye, Minnesota, USA, to BBC NEWS Africa website, Africa’s proverb of the day, 29 December 2014)

I so love proverbs—they give a view into a culture that cannot be obtained through any other source. They are tiny stories, gems in the midst of daily life. Although often I only read them in translation, they still provide valuable insight into my own and other’s values and worldviews.

Imagine my delight when I found a collection of African proverbs, contributed by folks from all over, to a site by BBC NEWS Africa. Featuring proverbs sent in during January 2015 and December 2014, I think you will find at least one that delights you or provides fresh insight into a situation.

800px-Monkey_family_in_moss_tree

By Irvin Calicut (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

“Monkeys do not advise their young ones to be careful on trees. They just remind them of the distance to the ground.”
—Sent by Geoffrey Kosgei, Nairobi, Kenya to BBC NEWS Africa website, Africa’s proverb of the day, 5 November 2014

Did you know that buried within each Cultural Detective package are proverbs and sayings to illustrate the culture’s core values? We periodically convert some of these to graphic format and share them on social media, archiving them on the Cultural Detective Pinterest board and Facebook page. Our authors have fun remembering what their parents or grandparents said to them, and often are surprised when they find out they were each told the same thing—or a close variant of it—even though they grew up in different circumstances!

These “childhood messages” often echo in our minds for years and continue to influence who we are today. We may even find that our core values are reflected in those proverbs and sayings that were shared by important people in our past. Our popular package, Cultural Detective Self-Discovery, uses our favorite proverbs and sayings as one method to investigate our own personal values. Cultural Detective Online now includes Cultural Detective Self-Discovery, which allows you to build your own Personal Values Lens—just as beautiful as the others contained within our series—using a variety of investigative methods.

Of course, there are books with collections of proverbs, but the ones I like best are those that I happen upon in everyday speech. Keep your ears open and let us know what gems of wisdom you hear—from yourself and those around you!

Cognitive Dissonance or Duality?

Either OrShall we, as team members or neighbors, do something “my way” or “your way”? When in Rome, do we do as the Romans do, or as headquarters wants us to do? As organizational effectiveness consultants, diversity and inclusion practitioners, or as intercultural trainers, educators and coaches, so much of what we do is to help people learn to manage differences. “Either-or” thinking is appropriate when there are answers that are independently correct. Do we need to get to the top of the mountain? A helicopter, hiking, tram, or driving are all possible “correct” solutions to our problem. What shall we eat for our lunch together? We both may enjoy sushi, tacos, or lasagna; a choice is probably much better than eating them all in the same meal. Solutions to many of the issues that face us in daily life, however, involve the interdependence of two or more “right” answers. Children should learn to share and to take care of themselves. A new business may need to build market share (which requires ongoing investment) and get a return on its initial investment. An NGO needs to follow global protocol and provide services in a locally appropriate manner. A teacher needs to correct students and encourage them. These are not either-or choices; the “correct” answer involves “both-and” thinking—the type of thinking that Ash Beckham discusses in the video below. But such thinking—holding contradictory ideas simultaneously and accepting them both as “correct” and even “necessary”—is often distrusted. It is sometimes seen as evasive or indecisive. George Orwell coined a name for it with a very negative connotation: “doublethink,” which was the result of brainwashing by the state in his novel, 1984. “Both-and” thinking requires more effort, and involves mental and sometimes also emotional stress. Thus, we get the term “cognitive dissonance.”

“Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” —wikipedia

That’s why the work of interculturalists and diversity and inclusion professionals is so very important. Working or living together effectively involves give-and-take; it is a process. There is not one “right” way and one “wrong” way. Sometimes we may do it your way, sometimes my way, and hopefully, many times, we are creating better, more innovative, effective, and enjoyable ways to do whatever it is we need to do, by using the unique talents that all of us have to offer. And that, of course, is what Cultural Detective is all about—learning how to collaborate and work together, while recognizing that there are often many “right” ways to get things done!

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up