Dr. Carlos Cortés on Multicultural Identity

ForkhashiMany of you have probably heard of Young SIETAR, one of the most vibrant groups in our professional association. If not, you should—they are a terrific organization of not necessarily young professional from a variety of disciplines who share an interest in intercultural relations, and use virtual communication to interact with members around the world.

Dr. Carlos CortésYoung SIETAR recently offered a webinar with Dr. Carlos Cortés, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Riverside, who is globally esteemed for his work on multiculturalism. He’s the general editor of the newly released Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia, and the author of many other excellent books. The webinar was moderated by the very capable and personable Melissa Hahn.

I really respect Carlos. He’s intelligent, he’s funny, and he speaks his truth regardless of context. We’ve shared several wonderful dinners in the home of a mutual friend, and I have enjoyed our collegial relationship as we have both been on the faculty of the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication for the past two decades. I’ve treasured every moment and learned a great deal.

Carlos said a few things in the public webinar that I was delighted to hear from a man of his experience and expertise. They are key components of the Cultural Detective (CD) Method, yet sometimes I feel that we are a solitary voice on the subject. It felt good to have someone else beating the drum for a change!

Carlos opened his presentation with a slide that Melissa had made, illustrating multicultural identity. A screen shot of that slide is below.

What is MC Identity?

©Melissa Hahn, used in the webinar by Dr. Carlos Cortés

Does the slide remind you of anything? If you are at all familiar with our Cultural Detective Method, I believe you’ll immediately think of two things. First, the image contained on the definitions page in every CD package:CultDiffsMap

This image that reminds us that none of us are one story. We have multiple layers of identity, we have been influenced by multiple cultural experiences, and we should never diminish ourselves or others by only acknowledging one layer.

Second, the slide may remind you of our graphic illustrating the layering of our Values Lenses, showing how complex we are as individuals. This is an approach we teach over and over again in our webinars and facilitator workshops using the following graphic:

LayeredLensesFinalCarlos explained that most intercultural instruments look primarily at nationality, and he supposes that this is because it’s the easiest: “low-hanging fruit.” He explained that while a multi-layered model is important, it’s also more difficult, and that is perhaps why no one has created one. I realized that we have one such model and process here, in our CD series, and I’ve failed to communicate that to Carlos!

The second point he made was in response to a question: “Is it easier if you have a clear identity for yourself before going overseas?” While most people I know would advocate such a linear development (self before other, or other before self), Carlos didn’t hesitate for a moment before stating, emphatically, “No!” He went on to explain that just understanding others is not enough, however, and that:

“We need a dialectic between understanding others and understanding self. I’m 79 and I’m still developing and understanding my identity.”

What an elegant, concise summary of the Cultural Detective Worksheet and the yin-yang nature of relationships! Many clients use our CD tools to understand others. Many use them to understand themselves. But every client ends up developing a better understanding of both self and others in an organic, dialectic process.

Carlos addressed a question about how can we help people develop their multicultural identities in positive ways. He returned to the topic of instruments, saying that he’s not against using them as long as they open us up to discussion and discovery, and help us to confront and expand our limitations, rather than boxing us in. That is exactly what CD is all about: dialogue, discovery, mutual learning and adaptation, then synergy and innovation.

Carlos talked about the need to discuss concrete things rather than generalities (a good example is the practical, real-life focus of Cultural Detective‘s critical incidents), and the need to hear from the voice of the people themselves (our Values Lenses use native language terms rather than global, externally imposed dimensions).

Some other highlights from Carlos’ talk include:
  1. The challenge of multicultural (or in CD parlance, Blended Culture) identity is that you don’t “slot into a silo”; you don’t seem to fit, and that causes fear in some people. You can start to feel that you give the “wrong” answer on every form, and that you an oddity in any system.
  2. Self-identity negotiation takes a long time. It may sound easy, to pick and choose the “best of” your multiple heritages, but even if you try to push “pieces” aside, they can creep back at the most inopportune times. Your multicultural identity is and will remain part of you. It’s not about reconciling identity; it’s about enjoying being multicultural.
  3. TCKs (third culture/blended culture kids) need two kinds of understanding about the journey they face. They need to feel comfortable with their multiple strands, and to understand that they don’t have to pick and choose among the various parts of their identity. Talking generalizations isn’t enough—specific examples help, e.g., how difficult it can be when you don’t fit a category on an application form.
  4. The only way to truly understand multicultural identity is to listen to people with that identity. They need to share their stories and we need to listen.
  5. There are three distinct yet intersecting concepts that many people confuse:
    • Heritage: Something we all have, the layout of our family tree.
    • Identity: This comes from within, though, of course, there are always others’ perceptions of our identity that help shape us.
    • Culture: You can self-identify with a culture, yet not participate in every aspect of the culture. For example, you can self-identify as Irish, but not speak Gaelic. Therefore, you are part of the culture, but not part of the Gaelic language portion of it.
  6. Carlos recounted his personal story. He was born of a mixed marriage (Catholic and Jew, Mexican and US America). The more his parents pushed him to learn their two differing cultures, to “choose sides,” so to speak, the more they actually pushed him to develop an integrated multicultural identity.
  7. Research on multicultural identity is nearly non-existent. It’s an open topic for young people. The information currently exists in separate disciplines: racial identity, disability, etc. We need people to write their stories, hundreds of them, and study them. Carlos has studied multiculturalism for 40 years, yet he learned more by writing his autobiography (Rose Hill: An Intermarriage Before Its Time, Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2012).
  8. Every time we enter a new cultural milieu, it’s a growth opportunity in which we can deepen and expand our understanding of who we are in a new context.
  9. Regarding national identity and social fragmentation worldwide, Carlos said that the solution to fragmentation is that a common identity/culture is needed along with space for people to have alternative sub-groups/diversity.
  10. For those looking for good resources on this topic, he highly recommends Bill Cross’ Shades of Black and Stephen Murphy Shigamatsu’s work on Asian-American identity, When Half is Whole.

As you can tell by my enthusiastic review, the webinar was a delight. Young SIETAR has loaded the recording if you’d care to listen to the entire one hour discussion. Carlos tells me he’s also happy to have you write him directly.

What does multicultural identity mean to you? What are its challenges? And its benefits? What strategies have you used to help yourself or others develop constructive Blended Culture identities? Do Carlos’ ideas mesh with your experience?

Six Powerful Ways to Build Cross-cultural Effectiveness

numeral button-sixWe have some very exciting news for you! Cultural Detective has teamed up with several of our partners to offer you SIX innovative ways to harness the innovation and power of diversity!

Yes, six upcoming events, several of which are free of charge.

Please take the time to sign up now to secure your seats, as these events will sell out quickly.

Tatyana Webinar FINAL#1: JUNE 3, Online
The Art of Facilitation for a Global World

This free-of-charge webinar will be conducted by Tatyana Fertelmeyster, and will preview three of the many dynamite learning opportunities that will be offered at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication in July, each of which will include Cultural Detective. Her unique technique of Spontaneous Facilitation allows her to work with individuals and groups with maximum concentration on the reality of the present moment. Click here to learn more or register.

IMG_9443#2: JUNE 5 & 20, JULY 10 & 18, AUGUST 7 & 22, Online
Enhancing Cross-Cultural Collaboration:
Demonstration of Cultural Detective Online

These events are free-of-charge. Participants learn to leverage similarities and diversity as assets, rather than minimizing or managing around difference. You will experience some of the wealth of content and process available in the Cultural Detective Online system, and see how easily the system can be incorporated into existing courseware. Participants in the webinar receive a free three-day pass to Cultural Detective Online.

Click here to view client testimonials and videos on the Cultural Detective Online system. From that page, click on “Learn More/Subscribe” for details and pricing information. To learn more about this event or sign up click here.

Flyer seminario sin

#3: JUNE 6, Bogotá COLOMBIA
Negociando A Través de las Culturas

Cultural Detective is proud to sponsor this event conducted by Global Minds. Facilitated by Fernando Parrado, it will be held in the Salón Fundadores at the beautiful Uniandinos. The event will focus on joint ventures between Colombia and India.

60772_497965080240721_1862908967_n#4: JUNE 25, Online
Coaching and the Cultural Detective: A Creative and Transformative Process

This is a brand-new, first-time-ever offering! Are you are a business leader, coach, consultant, speaker or teacher? Do you want to become culturally competent and self-confident in the global arena? In our webinar we will introduce you to a powerful and transformative coaching process for cross-cultural competence!

The coaching process leverages the core process and wealth of content in the Cultural Detective Online to provide you with a comprehensive learning experience that is stimulating, supportive and transformative! In addition to exploring key cultural concepts and culture-specific information, the collaborative and creative coaching environment helps you develop new perspectives and skills for bridging the gap between your personal cultural “sense” and the cultural “sense” of your colleagues and clients.

The webinar will be facilitated by Jan O’Brien, IAC-MCC, President of Culture-Conscious International, a coaching and consulting company based in Houston, Texas. Jan is a US/UK dual national and has lived and worked extensively overseas, in particular in the US and the South East Asia region. She is a Certified Cultural Detective® facilitator and a Master Certified Coach with the International Association of Coaching (IAC). Jan has worked with clients from many language and cultural backgrounds and has personally experienced the benefits and challenges of living and working in the global arena. To learn more or register click here.

ici#5: JULY 20-21, Portland Oregon USA
Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification

Live and in person, this two-day facilitator certification program is the ONLY PUBLIC CERTIFICATION we have scheduled this year.

This workshop will be held between Sessions 2 and 3 of the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, to make it convenient for you to attend and take advantage of other professional development opportunities in the same trip. Facilitated by Tatyana Fertelmeyster. This workshop will include a one-month subscription to Cultural Detective Online.

Click here to register. Click here for more information.

highroaders_logo#6: SEPTEMBER 24, Online
High-Performing Global Teams: How to Combine Virtual Training and
Cultural Detective for Incredible Results

This event sold out within 26 hours the first time we held it. This will be the second time it’s offered. Global teams have become the norm in most business environments today, but many teams never achieve “high-performance.” Why? Because team members from around the world are expected to achieve consistent results across languages, time zones, cultural values, and more but they are not given all of the skills they need to match this expectation.

Join us for an interactive webinar and learn the latest creative techniques for preparing today’s global teams to excel. Explore how global teams can come together via virtual training platforms and use Cultural Detective to work through scenarios relevant to their business challenges.

In this webinar, Vicki Flier Hudson, Chief Collaboration Officer for Highroad Global Services will walk you through a demonstration of a global team training designed for a large company using a variety of tools including Cultural Detective Online. You will gain ideas, tips, and strategies to help bring your global team together, build solid relationships, and achieve high-performance. To learn more or register click here.

Developing Intercultural Competence — Online?

“While other cultural databases do an effective job of providing country overviews, Cultural Detective Online offers unique and complementary capabilities.”
—Joseph K. Lunn, Project Portfolio Manager and Cross-Cultural Trainer, Zurich North America

What makes for a truly useful online learning tool? When I asked intercultural trainers this question they seemed to want to be able to emulate the face-to-face environment as much as possible. Keep the learners’ attention, make it experiential, real and applicable — and make them think! They don’t need “the answers,” they need to know how to come up with real solutions when they find themselves in the midst of cross-cultural conflict. Oh, and you know the old adage, keep it simple!

So, when developing the Cultural Detective Online tool, some key fundamental concepts were kept in mind:

  1. Personal/professional goal setting should be at the entrance to working with the tool — what are the learners’ objectives in using the tool? They should be able to adapt and change these but also keep them in mind in order to stay on track and achieve them.
  2. Culture-general and culture-specific content and process — this is fundamental to working with the Cultural Detective Method (read more by Janet Bennett on this topic if you are up on it), so no challenge here!
  3. Contextually based learning — also core to the Cultural Detective Methodology is working with real-world critical incidents and pushing the learner to develop an understanding of the underlying role and subtle nuances cultural values can play in everyone’s lives.
  4. Links between deep culture and surface culture, between values and behaviors — again innately a part of working with the Cultural Detective tools and richly impactful (where we get the big aha moments) once the learner discovers, develops and really hones this skill.
  5. Prompting for the learners to summarize and apply their learning to their real situations — this is where the work they’ve put in pays the learner back; in other words what’s the bottom line? How can I really use what I just learned to make a value added difference in my work, in my global team, with my international vendors/clients/offices, etc.?
So we’ve heard from some of our early adapters — Cultural Detective Online will take you further in your intercultural competence journey. Joseph Lunn of Zurich NA says,

“In addition to crisp, clear detailed summaries of each country’s cultural values, the nearly 400 cross-cultural incidents provided show users exactly what can go wrong when cultural understanding gaps exist. The tool follows-up by sharing the differences in cultural values that underlie each incident and offers concrete suggestions to build cultural bridges and avoid similar incidents. CD Online is a great hands-on teaching tool that adds value to:

    • Employees beginning overseas assignments
    • Global project team members
    • Mergers and acquisition partners
    • Outsourcing engagements

Thanks for making this tool available to those who need it at a reasonable cost!”

Developing intercultural competence online? Of course! Take a test drive and see for yourself: Cultural Detective Online!

What Do You Mean?! I’ve Worked Abroad 20 Years and Score Low?!

Image from The Vegetarian Athlete

So many of you seemed to resonate with my blog post about intercultural fitness, Tweeting it, Scooping it and passing it around the social media networks, that I thought you might be interested in a short article I originally drafted back in 2005 that uses the metaphor of an athlete to explain intercultural competence.

Developmental Intercultural Competence and the Analogy of an Athlete

Milton Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), first published in 1986, provides a well-regarded theory about the process people go through as they learn to make sense of the complexity of cross-cultural communication. In the late 1990s after much research, an assessment for measuring intercultural sensitivity based on the DMIS was developed. Version 3 of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) is currently in use by qualified practitioners. Owners and users of the IDI have in turn used their results to revamp the DMIS into the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC).

While such tools can be useful for measuring program effectiveness when used for pre- and post-testing, and can be hugely beneficial for individuals who want to improve their cross-cultural communication and collaboration, there are downsides. I’ve worked with career expatriates and global nomads, for example, who score quite low on the IDI. What this means is that the low-scorer may have a lot of experience, but has not yet engaged in systematic, structured sense-making of those decades of complex intercultural experience. I’ve also worked with quite a few individuals who value harmony as fitting in, and thus, on a scale that measures celebrating differences, they score comparatively low. Predictably, low scores can cause people to become focused on discrediting the instrument or rationalizing the assessment process, rather than on gaining benefit from what the results have to say.

To help learners focus on the guidance these tools can provide, I often use the analogy of an athlete. Just as athletes need multiple abilities to perform well, so do intercultural communicators. Both athletes and intercultural collaborators can use assessments to guide their performance improvement training.

Let’s say that the data on my athletic performance shows that I need increased flexibility. I dedicate several months to becoming more flexible, and then my coach tells me that I now need to shift my focus to building strength — of course while maintaining my flexibility. Months later, I may find that I need to refine my technique in order to make the most of my superior strength and flexibility. Or, I get injured, and I decide to add to my training a focus on my mental game: overcoming adversity, learning from mistakes, being fully present in the moment. Athletes thus focus on multiple abilities at different points throughout their careers in order to perform at their best.

In a similar way, the DMIS, IDI and IDC can be used to show us which issues we should focus on at a given point in time in order to maximally improve our intercultural performance. While developmental models and assessments are designed as measuring sticks or standards of comparison, their value for personal competence development is to highlight to us what competencies we should focus on building at each point in our careers in order to improve our overall performance.

Each of us has to balance the dynamic between comfort and stretch, challenge and support, growth and rest, in our own ways. Knowing what we are good at, as well as where we can improve, can help ensure we continue to develop. Using an assessment tool to gauge and target our intercultural development, in combination with a competence development tool such as Cultural Detective Online for ongoing, structured learning, is a powerful combination.