I’m going to tell you a real story, of an actual person, who was promoted to a management position from an administrative assistant position because of a three-hour workshop she conducted for her bosses.
How’d it happen? The woman, let’s call her Yolanda, worked for a very large multinational in Texas. The firm, of course, did a lot of business with Mexico. Over the ten years or so Yolanda had been with the company, she’d worked for a succession of bosses, most of whom did not understand Mexican culture and had committed many errors, losing opportunity and revenue, as well as credibility, for themselves and the company. Yolanda is Mexican-American, and her bosses’ actions used to frustrate and embarrass her. She could see that her bosses could be a lot more effective, she wanted to help, but she didn’t know where to begin to explain Mexican culture to her bosses. She was an administrative assistant, not a consultant, executive coach, or trainer.
Enter Cultural Detective. Yolanda looked over the Cultural Detective Mexico package. It made sense to her. She intuitively understood the values in the package’s Mexican Values Lens. She could tell stories from her own organizational experience to illustrate each value and correlating negative perception. Yolanda had so many stories, stories that were real, that had cost her company money and, in some cases, staff.
Yolanda got her four bosses to agree to a three-hour “lunch and learn,” during which she’d teach them about Mexican culture. She was excited, but she was also scared. She wasn’t a facilitator, she’d never studied culture or cross-cultural communication. But, she knew her organization, she knew her bosses, and she knew both US American and Mexican cultures. So, she gave the workshop her best.
At the outset of her seminar, Yolanda told her bosses a story—a story they clearly recognized from their own experience, a story of a time they’d been frustrated, and less than successful. They all knew the details; she had only to remind them of the event she was talking about. Yolanda drew a Cultural Detective Worksheet on the flip chart. She asked her bosses what they had done in that situation. Then, she asked them to think about why they had done what they’d done—what was the underlying “common sense” that motivated their behavior? That wasn’t so easy, but they did it. And it proved pretty insightful. They hadn’t consciously thought about the reasons for their actions, hadn’t spent time thinking about how culture-bound their behavior was. This was Yolanda’s first successful “aha” of the three hours.
Next, she asked them what their Mexican colleagues had done in the given situation. Yolanda encouraged her bosses to quote the words that were said and the actions the Mexicans took. Of course, her bosses said things like, “I couldn’t trust them,” “he wouldn’t tell me the truth,” or “they went behind our backs,” but on the flip chart she recorded the actual words and behavior of the Mexican colleagues. Yolanda then asked her bosses to do the same thing for the Mexicans that they had done for themselves. She said, “Maybe your colleagues really were dishonest, untrustworthy, conniving. But, for the sake of learning, for a few minutes let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. What could have been the positive intentions behind their words and actions? If we look at your side of this Worksheet, you have all positive intent, nothing negative. Let’s see if we can’t fill in their side the same way. Maybe at the end we decide to throw it all out, decide that they were just bad people. But first let’s see.”
Her bosses came up with several guesses—possible motivators of their Mexican counterparts’ behavior. Then Yolanda filled in a couple more, explaining the reasons these colleagues had probably acted and responded the way they had. Her bosses said things like, “That makes sense,” “I’d never considered that before,” and “so I did exactly the wrong thing; I shot myself in the foot!” Her bosses experienced their second “aha” of the workshop.
Next, Yolanda handed out a copy of Cultural Detective Mexico to each of her bosses. She walked them through the Mexican Values Lens, telling stories from her organizational experience. She asked them how they felt about each of the values, and reminded her bosses that each Mexican is unique—that the values in the Lens are societal tendencies. After introducing the Values Lens, she focused her bosses’ attention back on the Worksheet. Now they had lots of ideas about why their Mexican colleagues might have acted the way they did. And even more importantly, her bosses had lots of ideas on how they could have acted in ways more conducive to achieving their business objectives—to bridging cultures. A third round of “aha” learning was achieved.
The three hours sped by quickly. Her bosses learned so much. Their ability to do business in Mexico and with Mexicans was greatly enhanced. They learned about themselves, about their own personal and US cultural values, which enabled them to better explain themselves to any new colleague, whether Mexican, Chinese, or US American. And, very key to me, Yolanda’s bosses learned what a valuable asset she was as a cultural resource. They began using Yolanda as a sounding board, asking her to help them write emails and reports, and also to help plan strategy. Within a couple of months, Yolanda left her job as an administrative assistant because she was promoted to a more prestigious and much better paid management position. She achieved her dream of being able to travel for business, and she loved the kind of work she was able to do. Her company gained an employee who was confident and able to use her bicultural heritage in ways that added value.
Now, I’m not promising that using Cultural Detective will get you a promotion, but if you and your organization work across cultures—and what organization doesn’t these days—you will definitely gain a whole lot of skill and expertise by using Cultural Detective. Add it to your priority list! Start building your intercultural competence by attending one of our free 90-minute webinars, or subscribing to (and using!) Cultural Detective Online today.