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!

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up

5 Things Mexicans Say to Avoid the Word “No”

Excellent article by Susannah Rigg

MEXICANS ARE VERY POLITE and can seem downright formal compared to residents of other Spanish-speaking countries. People greet each other in elevators, on buses, and shared taxis almost always with “con permiso,” — “with your permission,” — and “propio” — “you may grant your own permission, as you don’t need mine.”

I love all this about Mexican culture. However, it took me a long time to realize that, because of all the politeness, Mexicans really struggle to say “no” and will find any number of ways to avoid the accursed word. Here are just a few examples.

1. Yes

It’s very common in Mexico that yes means no….

Read more here

Join us in Warm Sun AND Accomplish a New Year’s Resolution

snowbeach

  • Are you tired of the cold, the ice, and the snow? Is it all getting to be too much, and you’d like a break? Are you longing for some warmth, sunshine, the beach, and vibrant Latin music?
  • Have you promised yourself that in 2014 you will spend more time on yourself, invest in your professional development, network with like-minded professionals, or expand your training/facilitation/coaching repertoire?
  • Do you realize that global and multicultural competence are requisites in today’s world, and you want to improve these vital skills and learn to help develop them in others?

You can accomplish all these things by joining us in Mazatlán Mexico in February, or in Atlanta Georgia in March for our Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification Workshop! Early bird registration rates are available, so now is a good time to secure your seat in one of these workshops.

The Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification Workshop receives high accolades from the most experienced interculturalists as well as from those with significant life experience but who are new to the intercultural field. Clients rave about the Cultural Detective Method and use it worldwide. Facilitators love having Cultural Detective in their toolkit. It helps them truly make a difference and secure repeat business from clients—ongoing coaching, training and consulting revenue—as clients commit to the continuing practice that developing true intercultural competence requires.

Many people do not realize that Cultural Detective is flexible enough to integrate nicely with existing training programs—adding depth and practical skills that learners can use immediately and build upon in the future. Participants easily remember the Cultural Detective Method, and can put it into practice when encountering a challenging situation—solving misunderstandings before they become problems!

“It is difficult to exaggerate how fundamentally important Cultural Detective has become for us. The difference between courses we conduct with and without CD is astounding.”
– Chief Academic Officer

“We have achieved, for the first time in my five years working on the Learning and Development team, a 100% satisfaction rating from our learners. Thank you, Cultural Detective!
– Chief Learning and Development Officer

“Our customer satisfaction rates have increased 30% thanks to Cultural Detective.”
– Customer Support Manager

Click here for details on dates, locations and pricing, and click here for a detailed agenda of the workshop. Sound tempting? Get out of the cold AND spend time developing your effectiveness and employability! We’d be delighted to have you join us! Of course, if you are living somewhere warm, we’d gladly welcome you, too!

New Year’s Gift: Oldie but Goodie—The STADIApproach

Permission is granted to use this model freely and to circulate it, PROVIDED the © and url are maintained.

Permission is granted to use this model freely and to circulate it, PROVIDED the © and url are maintained.

It is said that experience is the best teacher. But learning does not lie in the experience itself; rather, it is our interpretation of the situation—the meaning we give to our experience—that provides our learning.

How might we better enable learners to constructively give meaning to their intercultural experiences? Are you looking for an easy and highly effective way to structure your next intercultural workshop or coaching session? Are you wondering how you might better enable study-abroad students to understand their experience in a way that builds cross-cultural competence? Do you have employees working internationally or multiculturally, and you’d like them to learn to truly harness the potential of diversity?

This “oldie but goodie,” the STADIApproach to Intercultural Learning, has been used in dozens of organizations worldwide with huge success. Click on the link to view a full article on the approach. I first published it for use with my proprietary clients in 1989; it is now even more useful as it can provide a design framework for blended learning approaches that leverage Cultural Detective Online. The CD Online system has STADI embedded into its core. In the hands of a skilled facilitator, teacher or coach, you can assist your learners to Sense, Think, Apply, Do and Integrate by analyzing the experience of others via the critical incidents in CD Online, as well as probing their own real life experiences.

We trust you’ll find the STADIApproach article helpful! Please accept it and use it as my new year’s gift to you, this January of 2014. It is my wish that the new year will enable all of you, dear readers, to better facilitate intercultural understanding, sustainability, respect and equity on this planet of ours.

Please share your experiences with us, and your designs that effectively leverage Cultural Detective Online to supplement your training, teaching or coaching endeavors.

 

5 Top (Free & Easy) Virtual Collaboration Tools that You May Not (Yet) Be Using

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“When organizations elect to create virtual teams, they focus on the potential advantages, such as the diversity of the team, or the potential for ’round the clock’ productivity with employees working in multiple time zones. However, companies must also be aware of the challenges that accompany virtual teams. For these groups to be successful, managers cannot use the old rules of leadership. New ways of working require different skills.”

Karen McHenry

The success of virtual teams requires new rules of leadership and new skills, as Karen suggests, but also new tools. The tools we use to collaborate can make or break our effectiveness. How do we establish trust when we rarely if ever see one another? How do we build a new relationship with someone we’ve never met? Can technology help in this regard? Of course it can. It can also get in the way, causing more problems than it solves (how many times has a phone call or video conference cut in-and-out, or the sound during a webinar not worked properly?).

In this blog post I share with you my selection of Five Top Free Virtual Collaboration Tools available today, and my guess is you’re not using most of them. Trying them out may greatly increase your virtual team effectiveness. First, let me give you a bit of context, to aid  in your use of the tools.

(Click page numbers below to read more.)

Developmental Intercultural Competence Using Cultural Detective Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Have to Teach in Context!

Apple-butterfly

What we learn has to “fit” with what we know.
It has to be appropriate for where we live and work.
Part of learning is to apply the new to the old, integrating the two.

A client called us, saying they had hired a young woman with an MS in Intercultural Communication to design courseware for them. The objective of the courseware is to improve participants’ job performance, in this case, to make them more effective and efficient at servicing international customers.

“We had a lot of hope for intercultural communication training. But we’ve been doing it for nearly two years now, and we are very disappointed with the results. We have seen no bottom-line impact on performance.”

In reviewing the courseware, I found that it in many ways it was very savvy, but appeared to have been taken nearly verbatim from the woman’s graduate studies. The exercises and activities were designed for master’s students in intercultural communication, and had not been adapted for customer service representatives!

We heard from another client recently that had invested three years developing a curriculum to improve the intercultural competence of their global staff. A diverse group of their international employees attended professional development classes in intercultural communication, and an elite group at head office developed a standardized curriculum to be used worldwide. One of the main objectives of this effort is to be able to better resolve conflicts and misunderstandings more effectively.

So what’s the problem? Everyone loves the new curriculum. However, they leave the program feeling no better equipped to resolve conflicts. They love the tools they’ve learned, they enjoy the trainers, but they don’t know how to use the new tools and skills in a real situation!

THE PROBLEM IN BOTH SCENARIOS
What do these two scenarios have in common? In both cases, the training designer was replicating a graduate-level education course—designed for professionals—and repurpose it, as-is, for skill building. And that just doesn’t work! I’ve seen it far too often in recent years, and it’s a distinction we really need to make. Doctors graduate to practice medicine and to help their patients learn healthy lifestyles; they do not generally teach patients how to be doctors.

Professionals need skills they can use on the job, and that includes cross-cultural skills. But those skills must be taught in context, via application and practice in simulated and, eventually, real situations.

SOLUTION ONE
In the first case, Cultural Detective was added into the client’s existing customer service training. Leveraging pre-existing company-specific case studies and audio-visual scenarios, we used the Cultural Detective Worksheet and Values Lenses to supplement the debriefing. In this way, the need for intercultural skills became more evident and was linked to job success for the customer support engineers. In addition, all practice of cross-cultural skills was integrated with the practice of vital job skills.

We retained many of the exercises and activities included in the original, separate cross-cultural curriculum. However, we wove them into the customer service training to supplement, amplify, and deepen learning using the Cultural Detective Method. Once cross-cultural skills were grounded in the business at hand—the purposes of the employees’ work (customer service)—they made all the difference in the world.

This client reported to us a 30% increase in customer satisfaction that they directly attribute to Cultural Detective.

SOLUTION TWO
The second case is still in process. I very much admire the quality of the curriculum and the incredible coordination it has taken to get so many trainers in such diverse locations “up to speed” with the material. Yet, they are starting to realize that although the training has been well-received, staff is not able to use what they have learned once they are back on the job. Yet with so much investment, they don’t want to completely redesign. And they don’t want to be dependent on outside material.

I advised them to weave into their curriculum a simulated conflict scenario, one that could be worked on and revisited throughout the training. In this way they do not need to completely redo their superb design, and the training they have already provided will still be useful. The difference? The revised curriculum is grounded in their reality and will allow staff to practice cross-cultural skills in simulated situations. That way, when they return to work, they will know when and how to apply the cross-cultural skills and tools they have learned.

SAMPLE DESIGN
Let’s look at a typical training curriculum, and then look at how easy it is to weave Cultural Detective into the existing design. Let’s say on Day One they teach what is culture (Iceberg, observable behavior linked to underlying values) and D.I.E. (learn to Describe before we Interpret and then only with culturally appropriate information, to Evaluate). On Day Two, they teach intention/perception and cross-cultural adjustment (culture shock).

Instead, they might start Day One by introducing a case study involving an everyday challenge. Having introduced the context, trainers facilitate learning as planned in the original curriculum (Iceberg and D.I.E.—Description, Interpretation, Evaluation). After doing so, however, they return to the case study, the professional context, and explore: how do values apply to this case study? What are the Evaluations that I am making, based on what Descriptions? From there, it’s a very easy introduction to the Cultural Detective Method, which this client has already licensed and, therefore, is welcome to use.

On Day Two, intention/perception can be taught as part of the debrief of the Cultural Detective Worksheet for the case study. And, the same case study can be used to ground teaching around culturally-appropriate service or cultural adaptation. From there, as they facilitate the remainder of the designed curriculum, they can provide staff the opportunity to speak with the individuals in the case study, in a simulated environment, and to use CD Values Lenses and the CD Worksheet to help them better understand their own values and worldviews. Finally, staff can use the CD Worksheet Method to facilitate a resolution to the case study—harnessing the advantages of diversity rather than navigating around or ignoring them.

If you’ve licensed the CD Method, you know how versatile it is. But what you may not realize is that Cultural Detective doesn’t need to replace other methods. Often, if you put Cultural Detective at the core of what you are already doing, you’ll find the rest supplements it quite naturally.

Always remember, adults tend to learn best in context; they want to know why something is important to know or do. If adults learn to use and apply intercultural tools in situations that replicate real life, they’ll be much more likely to employ them when the need arises.

Research Findings: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace


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

The Report’s Conclusions

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

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

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

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

What is the international reality in the workplace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do the organisations surveyed define “intercultural skills”?

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

define%22interculturalskills

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

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

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

How employers rank different skills in terms of importance

valuedskills

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

How does the research indicate these skills are developed?

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

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

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

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

Some Cultural Detective Training and Coaching Activities

Exploring how we value our own and each other’s cultural values–another step in CD sleuthing.

All too often we trainers are apportioned a less than useful amount of time for impacting the attitudes of our trainees. This affects our use of Cultural Detective as well as many other tools that we may choose or not choose to use under the pressure of diminished schedules.

When using Cultural Detective, I find it ever more important to differentiate what we do with the Values Lenses and the indigenous discourse that lies behind them from a lot of other intercultural training approaches that focus on dimensions and increasingly lead to stereotyping. When we speak about the values in Cultural Detective, it is important to remember that these have been developed through and by the inner language and feelings of the very members of those cultures that the instruments represent.

Nonetheless, when speaking of values, it is becoming increasingly common for us to have individual participants who question them, who do not identify with them, or who even dismiss them as stereotypes. Given that the best way of dealing with resistance in a pedagogical context (as well as many other contexts) may be to flow with it and direct its energies, I have developed a few approaches that I feel may help us in these somewhat challenging situations. I’ve described them as they might be used in a teaching or training context, but they may be adapted to individual and team coaching situations as well.

First, wherever possible, I use Cultural Detective: Self-Discovery, or at least an exercise or two from it, so that participants can at least claim some inheritance of cultural values and identify them as their own. This legitimizes the discussion of culture where it might be resisted. It usually overcomes or at least mitigates the participant’s temptation to see him or herself as acultural and the tendency to vaunt oneself as a global citizen, uncontaminated by inherited culture. This is not to deny, but to affirm the fact that TCKs and others like them may be digesting a smorgasbord of cultural influences as well as generating certain cultural features pertinent to their common experiences (explored in Cultural Detective: Blended Culture and CD Generational Harmony). Often elements of cultural identity are denied because they have caused pain in growing up and finding social inclusion. Once culture is legitimated as a topic of discussion and a relevant problematic for the individual being coached or the group being trained, other things become possible.

Here are some approaches that we use when one culture is trying to learn about another specific culture, as for example, when working with teams resulting from mergers and foreign acquisitions and installations. In such cases cultural conflicts and misunderstandings are often the elephant in the room, potentially touchy subjects. While Cultural Detective may be the ideal tool for pursuing understanding on both sides, it is not always a given that participants will spontaneously identify with the values of their own culture as they are presented in the Cultural Detective materials.

So, let’s say, for example, that we are dealing with German and US cultures, either in an organizational relationship or collaborative team. Daimler-Chrysler has already demonstrated that even a good bit of upfront diversity work and intercultural instruction may not be adequate to deal with our own deeply rooted values and our perceptions of others unless they are continually identified and addressed. Thus the Cultural Detective process must be mastered and practiced and in many cases facilitation must be applied on an ongoing basis until a functional collaborative culture is established. This can take quite a while.

Facing the possibility of denial of difference as well as the possibility of participants rejecting their own or the others’ cultural Values Lens as stereotypical or just plain wrong, here are a few strategies that I’ve found to be successful. Perhaps some of you have already discovered these on your own. If so, I would be interested in hearing your versions.

  1. Evaluating the strength of the discourse and the value that sums it up. I ask participants to study their own culture’s Lens and then rate on a scale of 0 to 5, weak to strong, their own sense of how they’ve personally appropriated and express in everyday words and actions each of the values described. Then I ask them to share this with their compatriots as well as with the representatives of the other culture who are participating with them. This is a matter of not only sharing their numerical rating of the values, but talking about how each cultural value expresses itself in their thinking and behavior, as well as what parts of it don’t seem to fit or which they don’t like to identify with. This may or may not resemble or relate to the “Negative Perceptions” found on the Lens itself.
  2. Identifying commonalities: Following this discussion, I ask the individuals of each culture to study the other culture’s Lens and to do two things. First, again on a scale of 0 to 5 to assess whether, and if so, the degree to which they identify with each of the cultural values of the other group as found on the lens. Then, secondly, and this is extremely important, to identify and jot down the keywords of their own inner conversation or discourse about the importance they accord to the values they seem to share and the ways in which they may practice each of them.  Thirdly, depending on the size of the group, ask them to share their results either individually, or to conduct a discussion within their same culture group and then have the groups report out their results to each other. Here is where the essential value is gained from seeing how people would express their appropriation of elements belonging to the other culture.
  3. How do we like to be treated? Given adequate time, here is another very valuable activity that could occur at this point, but might be even better to use after the group has resolved a critical incident or two. Ask each separate culture as a group to meet together to discuss and identify and list both the attitudes and kinds of treatment that they appreciate coming from the other culture, as well as those kinds of speech and behavior that they may find uncomfortable or even damaging to the collaborative and social relationship they are trying to create with each other. The previous activities at various points are likely to lead toward the identification and discussion of stereotypes, giving rise to another possibly useful activity. I have found that frequently trainers and teachers, perhaps out of a misguided sense of political correctness avoid the discussion of specific stereotypes or stereotypical expressions, missing a valuable learning opportunity.
  4. Investigating stereotypes: We’ve long accepted the fact that stereotypes contain a kernel of truth, but that the perspective with which they are expressed maybe overgeneralized and conducive to negative judgment. So, instead of dismissing stereotypes out of hand, we can use them as starting points for deeper discussion and further understanding. So, when stereotypes surface, I ask participants to discuss questions like the following ones:
    • What is the truth in them, however small? What do you think brought them about in the first place? What perpetuates them? What insights or cautions do they deliver to us? What is the discourse that we carry about self that makes them true for us when they are about us?
    • What exaggeration do they contain? What is the discourse that makes them noxious, conflictual, etc.? When are they likely to be painful or damaging? What limits do they place on our knowledge and our inquiry about others?

So, as I mentioned above these are some of the useful practices that I keep in my tool bag for enhancing the effectiveness of Cultural Detective.  It would be good to hear what others of you have developed or ways in which you view similar activities.

Benchmark Statement on Intercultural Competence: AEA

AEA statement coverDo you want to promote intercultural competence in your organization or industry? Are you looking for some guidance? A blueprint? A success story? If so, do I have a “Cultural Effective” for you!

Just over a year ago, friend and colleague Stella Ting Toomey and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the American Evaluation Association‘s annual conference as invited speakers. There I was pleased to witness a commitment to responsible inclusiveness that was truly state of the art.

Six years of diligent work by a task force and other concerned individuals had resulted in a theoretically sound and practical Public Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation (AEA 2011, Fairhaven, MA USA).

There is so much about this public statement that stands out for me, not least of which is a definition of culture that is at least on a par with the best of what I’ve seen come out of the intercultural communication field!

Culture can be defined as the shared experiences of people, including their languages, values, customs, beliefs, and mores. It also includes worldviews, ways of knowing, and ways of communicating. Culturally significant factors encompass, but are not limited to, race/ethnicity, religion, social class, language, disability, sexual orientation, age, and gender. Contextual dimensions such as geographic region and socioeconomic circumstances are also essential to shaping culture.

Culture is dynamic, fluid, and reciprocal. That is, culture shapes the behaviors and worldviews of its members and, in turn, culture is shaped by the behavior, attitudes, and worldview of its members. Elements of culture are passed on from generation to generation, but culture also changes from one generation to the next.

Culture not only influences members of groups, it also delineates boundaries and influences patterns of interaction among them. Evaluators frequently work across these boundaries.

I remember my excitement the last couple of times a book has been published with “intercultural competence” in the title. If I am truly honest, I will admit to you that I’ve been disappointed. Amidst good work and steps forward, the books I’ve reviewed rehash a lot of what I feel is old and tired or, even, counter-productive to good practice. But this AEA statement! How do they define intercultural competence? For me it’s spot on — both theoretically sound and skillfully applied!

Cultural competence is not a state at which one arrives; rather, it is a process of learning, unlearning, and relearning. It is a sensibility cultivated throughout a lifetime. Cultural competence requires awareness of self, reflection on one’s own cultural position, awareness of others’ positions, and the ability to interact genuinely and respectfully with others. Culturally competent evaluators refrain from assuming they fully understand the perspectives of stakeholders whose backgrounds differ from their own.

Cultural competence is defined in relation to a specific context or location, such as geography, nationality, and history. Competence in one context is no assurance of competence in another. The culturally competent evaluator (or evaluation team) must have specific knowledge of the people and place in which the evaluation is being conducted—including local history and culturally determined mores, values, and ways of knowing.

The culturally competent evaluator draws upon a wide range of evaluation theories and methods to design and carry out an evaluation that is optimally matched to the context. In constructing a model or theory of how the evaluand operates, the evaluator reflects the diverse values and perspectives of key stakeholder groups.

It is tailor-made for a Cultural Detective: process-based lifelong learning (CD Worksheet); knowledge of self and others and the ability to bridge (3 fundamental CD capacities); situation-specific, contextually grounded effectiveness (CD Critical Incidents); grounding practice in theory (pulling salient theoretical teaching from practical experience); and acknowledging people as complex amalgams of the influences of multiple cultural influences (layering Lenses).

The AEA statement includes the following content:

The Role of Culture and Cultural Competence in Quality Evaluation

  1. What is culture?
  2. Evaluations reflect culture.
  3. What is cultural competence?

Why Cultural Competence in Evaluation Is Important

  1. It is an ethical imperative.
  2. Validity demands it.
  3. Theories are inherently cultural.

Essential Practices for Cultural Competence

  1. Acknowledge the complexity of cultural identity.
  2. Recognize the dynamics of power.
  3. Recognize and eliminate bias in language.
  4. Employ culturally appropriate methods.

The AEA’s blog and their annual conference include lots of project examples and discussions about how to conduct culturally responsible evaluation, through which I’ve witnessed honest dialogue about successes and difficulties. Intercultural competence in evaluation has definitely become an organization-wide effort and an ongoing process for the AEA membership.

The work of the task force continues through today, as they do their best to develop cultural competence in evaluation via education and training, within and outside the AEA, as well as by sharing the public statement and what they have learned via the process they’ve engaged. I am proud to have had a very small role in their extensive process, and pleased to be able to help share it so that others can leverage their work.

Kudos to Dr. Melvin Hall, Cindy Crusto, the American Evaluation Association, and all of those involved in this terrific effort! I know they join me in hoping that their efforts might help you further yours. I will close with an excerpt from their closing:

Evaluators have the power to make a difference, not only directly to program stakeholders but also indirectly to the general public. This is consistent with the Guiding Principle that obliges evaluators to consider the public interest and good in the work they do. In a diverse and complex society, cultural competence is central to making a difference.

Cultural competence connects with and complements existing knowledge and skills in the field. It offers both opportunities and challenges for evaluators. Cultural competence presents evaluators with new horizons for learning, opportunities for renewal, and the potential to deepen understanding of one’s own work in all contexts. Cultural competence challenges evaluators to deepen their self awareness and sensitivity in terms of their own cultures and those of others.

Many evaluators are actively exploring the terrain of cultural competence. They are expanding the boundaries of what it means to respond to cultural diversity in authentic and respectful ways. This statement invites new conversations and connections to advance this sensitive and exciting work.