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.

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!

Ah Ha! I knew it! Bilingualism does pay!

benefits of being bilingual

“Not only are bilingual young adults more likely to graduate high school and go to college, they are also more likely to get the job when they interview. Even when being bilingual is not a requirement, an interview study of California employers shows that employers prefer to both hire and retain bilinguals.”
—Rebecca Callahan, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education, University of Texas at Austin

Those of us who have worked in and around international education think that learning more than one language is good for people. We think it helps open up the mind to other possibilities, other cultural points of view. We also believe that the “code switching” involved in speaking multiple languages helps develop skills that are useful in social situations and beneficial in keeping the mind sharp.

However, for years no data existed that supported the benefits of being bilingual. And for a long time in many US educational settings, children who did not speak English as their first language were not encouraged to keep their bilingualism. Why would you need a second language when you learned English? The benefits of being able to speak more than one language were not generally recognized in the US.

I was excited to read about some new research by Rebecca Callahan, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education, University of Texas at Austin. In a recent article in Quartz, she writes: “Speaking more than one language may confer significant benefits on the developing brain. Research has now shown that bilingual young adults not only fare better in the job market, but are also more likely to demonstrate empathy and problem-solving skills.”

What does this mean? For study-abroad students, it might encourage them to know that the effort spent in learning and using another language has long-term economic benefits—you are more marketable! This is, of course, in addition to the eye-opening, mind-expanding, life-altering experience of living in a culture different from your own.

For children of immigrants and refugees, it means that making an effort to retain their parents’ native language is beneficial. In reality, many immigrant and refugee children in the US serve as interpreters and cultural bridges from an early age. They are forced to be bilingual—learning English to be successful in the school system, while speaking another language at home. I remember one Cambodian mother telling me, through her son, that if she learned to speak English, her son would forget how to speak Cambodian now that he was here in the US.

“Currently, researchers have begun to use data-sets that include more sensitive measures of language proficiency to find that among children of immigrant parents, bilingual-biliterate young adults land in higher status jobs and earn more than their peers who have lost their home language.

Not only have these now-monolingual young adults lost the cognitive resources bilingualism provides, but they are less likely to be employed full-time, and earn less than their peers.”
—Rebecca Callahan

For many in the US educational system, acquiring a second or third language is not as highly valued as it is in many other parts of the world. I am always impressed (and a bit jealous) when I am around people who can switch among languages—often because they were required or encouraged to learn multiple languages when they were in school. And for a nation of immigrants, it seems strange that only one-in-four US American adults are conversationally proficient in another language, according to a recent Gallup poll. It reminds me of the old joke, so true that it is embarrassing:

Question: What do you call a person who speaks four languages?
Answer: Quadrilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
Answer: Trilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
Answer: Bilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks one language?
Answer: An American!

Of course, this challenge isn’t just limited to US Americans. In an article last year in The Guardian, Vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Leszek Borysiewicz, pointed out that one in six children in English primary school do not have English as their first language. He noted that their first languages:

“…are real languages: living languages that give people a huge insight into culture and give the children who can speak them additional opportunities.

Isn’t that what education is about – enabling every child to achieve the maximum potential? What I’d love to see is an emphasis that this is an added value that that child has, a talent, and we should aspire to allow other children who may be monolingual to strive to become as bilingual as they possibly can be.”

An article about a study conducted by researchers at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, indicates that merely knowing a second language can result in higher earnings. The researchers say that the results of their study, published in the journal Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques, has implications for bilingual policy in Canada:

“Efforts to promote French in the ROC [rest of Canada] should be continued, not so much because of the earnings advantage that bilingualism confers, but because it results in many social/cultural/political benefits, strengthening the fabric of Canadian society and serving as an example to countries torn by ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions.”

The cultural flexibility inherent in knowing two languages is a valuable ability and a resource to be cherished. If we are to move toward intercultural competence, we need the ability to think outside of our cultural box and explore other ways of seeing the world.

That is what we try to do with our Cultural Detective packages—provide insight into another view of the world, a small glimpse into a different cultural reality, a chance to perhaps understand, just a little, how others see us, and how to work together more effectively.

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

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

Ribbet collageOne Client’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

How, exactly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is No Such Thing as Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Key: native language, transliteration, “literal meaning”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up.

How Do Universities Develop Students’ Intercultural Competence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Fundamental Skills for Intercultural (and Life) Effectiveness

Chef

A, B, C of intercultural effectiveness, and a film recommendation

For well over twenty years I travelled 25 days out of every month. I loved it. Always a new place, thriving off the energy of the people I had the pleasure of working with, each week or two entering a new industry and learning how things work. The fundamentals of human interaction that I dealt with did not vary significantly by industry; the content, however, did.

When my son was small, he and the nanny travelled with me. As he got older, he accompanied me. He sat through my training workshops, he accompanied me on some consulting gigs, and he enjoyed babysitters, daycare and children’s learning clubs around the world. Ten years ago, when my son was about eight, I began scaling back my travels. The impetus for scaling back was that my son was now old enough that it became challenging to take him out of school; he would miss too much. And, there was no way I was going to miss his childhood! An additional reality was that the constant travel was ruining my health, I always felt tired, and, I was honestly just ready for a change.

So, I stopped the 25 days/month travel schedule. It was difficult to say “no” to interesting and high-paying work, but I’d set my priority. I started staying home. I started a small publishing project (Cultural Detective). I absolutely loved it. I was now able to take time to cook regularly, a passion I love. I was able to exercise daily, and meet new people locally via exercise classes and groups. I was able to go out for coffee with girlfriends, and to be present for friends’ major life events—so many things I’d missed when I travelled a lot. Of course, I also missed the travel, and seeing my far away friends.

Now, when I occasionally travel (every couple of months), I find myself grateful for the experience rather than resentful. The journey is enjoyable again. Thus, on a recent flight to Vienna, I relished having two seats to myself. I was grateful for the free-flowing, high-quality red wine on Tirolian/Austrian Air. I read the in-flight magazines on two different airlines and got several blog post ideas. And I very much enjoyed watching a Blended Culture movie entitled, Chef.

The film is an enjoyable reminder of some fundamental intercultural competencies and life truths…

Chef is a 2014 movie starring Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr., about a chef whose family and career have both become frustratingly dull. He’s caught up in the busy-ness that can be modern life, and failing to pick up on the cues that his relationships and creativity require a major shift. He reminded me a bit of myself, actually. Have you ever found yourself in a rut? Going through the motions, not paying enough attention to what really matters, focusing primarily on accomplishing all the tasks on your plate?

In true Hollywood style, by the end of the movie the chef figures it all out, and happiness reigns as the credits roll. Along the way, the film is an enjoyable reminder of some fundamental intercultural competencies and life truths.
  1. Attentiveness: Stay alert to what’s around you (family, friends, work environment), as well as to what’s inside you (your passions, talents and desires). Prioritize your activities so that you feed what’s important to you and minimize that which diminishes you. Staying externally attentive will help ensure that you adapt appropriately in cross-cultural situations, while internal attentiveness will help ensure that you do not lose yourself, your ethics and your talents, in the process.
  2. Bravery: Don’t be afraid to take risks. There are many euphemisms for failing to do what we know we need to do: “going through the motions,” “paying the bills,” “not rocking the boat,” “keeping one’s head low.” Staying true to oneself and what you know to be “right” often requires bravery and trust. I’ve seen many times that foreigners or outsiders can effect positive and needed change to a system when old-timers can not. I’ve worked with many people who try so hard to “fit in” to cross-cultural situations that they lose who they are, their authenticity. Be brave enough to adapt, and be brave enough to be yourself.
  3. Creativity: If you’re not feeling energized, if you fail to see connections between the different areas of your daily life, if you’re not frequently generating ideas, experimenting with innovative projects, or exploring new territory, take note. You are probably pushing and trying to do too much too quickly. Slow down, step off the rat race, refresh, restore and recuperate. You are far too precious, and your insights and talents are too needed, in this world of ours. How can any of us bridge cultures if we don’t have access to our innate creativity? And, let’s remember: it takes all of us to be creative if we are to form a truly inclusive society or organization.

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com

Are Emoji the Newest World Language?

World_Languages_by_Number_of_SpeakersHow many languages are there in the world? Do you know just how many have died off? Or will go extinct soon? How about this: do you know how to rescue those that are endangered? And what about new languages emerging in our world today? Are there any? If so, what are they? Do you know the world’s newest language? We put together this short quiz to get you thinking and test your knowledge.

When a language disappears, it often takes with it a great deal of the history of a community. It limits what scientists can learn about human cognition: fewer languages mean fewer data sets. Loss of a language too often means a loss of social and cultural identity, at least partially.

Much of the cultural, spiritual, and intellectual life of a people is experienced through language. This ranges from prayers, myths, ceremonies, poetry, oratory, and technical vocabulary to everyday greetings, leave- takings, conversational styles, humor, ways of speaking to children, and terms for habits, behaviors, and emotions. When a language is lost, all of this must be refashioned in the new language-with different words, sounds, and grammar- if it is to be kept at all. Frequently traditions are abruptly lost in the process and replaced by the cultural habits of the more powerful group. —The Linguistic Society

We’ve published here on this blog several instances of native peoples in the Americas breathing new life into their languages, cultures, ceremonies and traditions, and we’d very much like to encourage such efforts. If we all do our part, we can preserve, and help thrive, many of the endangered languages in our world. And what about new languages that are emerging? Some of them aren’t really “new,” they are just redefined. Here again from the Linguistic Society:

Consider the language formerly known as Serbo-Croatian, spoken over much of the territory of the former Yugoslavia and generally considered a single language with different local dialects and writing systems. Within this territory, Serbs (who are largely Orthodox) use a Cyrillic alphabet, while Croats (largely Roman Catholic) use the Latin alphabet. Within a period of only a few years after the breakup of Yugoslavia as a political entity, at least three new languages (Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian) had emerged, although the actual linguistic facts had not changed a bit.

Others, however, really are new. My guess is that the newest language in the world just might be emoji (絵文字), or the language of emoticons. “That’s not really a language!” you might be thinking. And, right now, I would agree. But there is a definite trend.

From iConji.com

From iConji.com

  1. Emoji is one of the 260 languages into which Herman Melville’s Moby Dick has been translated.
  2. The iConji project aims to build a successful successor to Esperanto, a language that unites speakers of any language.
  3. The emoji narration of Beyoncé’s Drunk in Love (view video below) has had millions of viewers.
  4. The Unicode Consortium has standardized hundreds of emoticons, and
  5. Members of the Noun Project are working on a visual dictionary—an icon for every object—and they currently have 60,000. You can be part of history and upload your own icon!

History of Emoji Very cool to me is how emoticons came to exist. It’s all due to the low-context, difficult-to-decipher reality of digital communication. Virtual workers in the early 80s found it wise to start labeling jokes with smiles 🙂 so that others wouldn’t misunderstand them. Soon after the smiley face came the sad face 😦 and the wink ;-). Then, in 1999, NTT Docomo’s Kurita Shigetaka figured visual cues would improve the mobile phone experience. His initial efforts were inspired by manga, Japanese comics. These Japanese roots are why this language is called emoji: picture, 絵 (e), plus character, letter, or writing, 文字 (moji). We see Paleolithic cave drawings, Sumerian cuneiforms, and Egyptian hieroglyphics as languages, so hey, maybe emoji are, too. Do you speak emoji? I think this is also a generational culture difference; young people seem to speak it much more fluently than I. Guess I have some learning to do!

The Nasty (and Noble) Truth about Culture Shock

—And Ten Tips for Alleviating It (from our “Oldies but Goodies” series)

PolicemanThe Nasty Truth

I’ve behaved badly. It’s true, and I’m admitting it. Very publicly.

There was the time a police officer in Japan told me to move, and I stood my ground, passive-aggressively, staring him down, daring him to remove me.

There was the time at my son’s school here in Mexico, when I refused to go into a private office, insisting on talking (loudly) in the public lobby, because I was so very upset at the runaround the staff was giving me, and tired of being (privately) shut down.

Both of these were very culturally inappropriate. Heck, they were inappropriate by the standards of my birth culture! I behaved badly. I lost face. I upset others. I looked like a fool. I was ineffective. Why?

You could say these experiences reflect a lack of emotional maturity; despite my age I still have loads of growing to do. The case I’d like to make in this post, however, is that the stress of culture shock causes many people to do things we would never do in our home cultures, in a milieu with which we are intimately familiar and generally comfortable.

The Noble Truth

There are good things about this sort of “acting out.” Such meltdowns enable us to define and preserve our sense of self, identify our core values, realize how stressed we really are, so we can take care of ourselves and try to restore our equilibrium. Culture shock is also an indicator that we are indeed growing, stretching, challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zone, and trying to adapt to new and different ways of being in the world. Thus, it is a highly worthwhile venture!

In the free download that accompanies this post, you will see a page titled, “Level of Acculturation.” This is one of those “Oldies but Goodies” that we occasionally release. Originally written back in 1989, the arrow on the page illustrates two polar extremes: the expat who makes great efforts not to acculturate, living instead much as s/he would at home; and on the other end, the expat who “goes native,” adapting to the local culture in every possible way. The key point of this piece of training material was to advise expats to try to strike a balance, to manage the polarity between the two extremes. It is important to maintain home-country connections for sanity and respite, and to build host-country connections in order to learn, grow, adapt, and fully experience one’s new home.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am most definitely not advocating behaving badly! I am, however, saying that such bad behavior happens all too frequently. The nasty truth is that inappropriate behavior, due at least in part to culture shock, is a fact of expat life that is all too often brushed under the rug. We refuse to talk about it. We may pretend it doesn’t happen, that it only happens to others, or we try to forget it did happen. We blame it on lack of competence. Of course we lack competence—we are learning and adapting to a culture that is new to us. And, it takes super-human levels of self esteem and emotional composure to navigate cultural adaptation without ever going over the edge, at least a bit.

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

What Is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is a continual, gnawing sense that things are not quite right. It is more appropriately called “cultural fatigue” or “identity crisis”: we become confused about how to accomplish our goals, and thus we start to feel powerless, to question our abilities, and lose self-esteem.

Culture shock does not result from a specific event or series of events. It does not strike suddenly or have a single principal cause. It comes, instead, from the experience of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving, or valuing things that are different from ours. On some levels, this threatens our basic, unconscious belief that our encultured customs, assumptions, values, and behaviors are “right.” Culture shock is cumulative, building up slowly from a series of small events that may be difficult to identify or recognize.

General fatigue and exhaustion, susceptibility to illness, moodiness, headaches or upset stomach, weight gain or loss, irritability, restlessness, withdrawal, hostility—all of these can be signs of culture shock. A more extensive list of such symptoms is in the free download, which you are most welcome to use as our gift to you. Our only request is that you, of course, maintain the copyright information and url on the materials.

One of my friends and mentors, Bob (L. Robert) Kohls, explained the causes of culture shock in his 1984 book, Survival Kit for Overseas Living:

  • Being cut off from the cultural cues and known patterns with which your are familiar, especially the subtle, indirect ways you normally have of expressing feelings. All the nuance and shades of meaning that you understand instinctively and use to make your life comprehensible are suddenly taken from you.
  • Living and/or working over an extended period of time in a situation that is ambiguous.
  • Having your own values (which you had heretofore considered as absolutes) brought into question—which yanks your moral rug out from under you.
  • Being continually put into positions in which you are expected to function with maximum skill and speed, but where the cultural “rules” have not been adequately explained.

The W-Curve and Stages of Cultural Adjustment

Culture shock has often been introduced over the decades by using a curved line representing experience over time, either a “U-Curve” or a “W-Curve”—a sample graphic entitled “Stages of Cultural Adjustment” is included in the download accompanying this post. The idea of such curves is that our emotions go up and down as we adapt to a new home. First, we adjust superficially: learning our way around town, learning how to shop, cook, socialize, etc. Then, at some point, we are confronted with values differences that challenge us on very deep levels: a new and cherished friend seems to stab us in the back, or a work project we were confident would succeed crashes and burns, and we may have no clue why. At this point many expats return home (often at one year to eighteen months into the sojourn, according to many trainers), while others navigate their way through the challenges of shock to attain some level of ongoing effectiveness and adjustment to their new home. The U-Curve and W-Curve can be helpful learning tools, but research repeatedly shows they do not reflect reality. Actual expat experience is not nearly so neat, nor tidy, nor linear.

Kate Berardo, co-author of Cultural Detective Self Discovery and Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures, did a review of the literature on this topic, and offers a process approach for managing culture shock, which Cultural Detective first published back in 2010. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t read it, and know that these traditional models have been debunked; continuing to use them should be an informed choice.

Factors Influencing the Degree of Culture Shock

Nobody is immune to culture shock. The degree of culture shock that individuals experience varies, and can be influenced by a number of factors such as:

  1. Pre-departure expectations: Are they realistic, or overly positive or negative?
  2. Degree of change in environment, customs, language and values.
  3. Degree of personal commitment to the move.
  4. Amount of knowledge about the host culture.
  5. Flexibility: How adaptable is the individual by nature or experience?
  6. Emotional stability.
  7. Level of emotional support in new environment.
  8. Economic security.
  9. Availability of mental health services and support groups.
  10. Availability of tension relievers: How accessible are recreational facilities? Is it possible to pursue hobbies or other interests?
  11. Availability of worthwhile work.
  12. Acceptance of different values and beliefs.
  13. Ability to tolerate ambiguity: Is the individual able to tolerate situations that are unpredictable, puzzling or frustrating?
  14. Ability to be a learner: Is the individual curious about the new environment and open to learning about it?

As interculturalists, and those who work with international sojourners, I think it’s time we face up to the nasty truth: culture shock is real—it happens. And, despite the toll it takes on our relationships and our dignity, it presents an opportunity for growth and learning that we should take advantage of.

In looking through the incidents in our Cultural Detective series, most of them represent people managing their work in the best way they know how. All parties in the story have good intentions, but due to cultural differences they miscommunicate or work at odds to one another. In a small minority of our critical incidents, however, we see someone who is suffering from culture shock. They do or say something that, most probably, they would never do under more comfortable or familiar circumstances. They are probably tired, due to linguistic and cultural fatigue. They have suffered repeated blows to their self confidence: the educated adult that they are only knows enough to act with a child’s effectiveness in the new culture.

cultureshockTyttiBraysyHow Do We Manage Culture Shock?
And How Do We Deal With Those Going Through It?
(the key that’s never talked about)

Our goal is not to avoid difference and ambiguity, but, rather, to learn to bridge differences and harness them as assets. And, we want to help our colleagues, family members, employees and students while they are experiencing culture shock. How can we best do that? The free download accompanying this post provides you ten “Tips for Alleviating Culture Shock”, including such things as getting sufficient rest, reading in your native language, and cultivating a support network. Subscribing to and regularly using Cultural Detective Online will help you process your emotions and make sense of your experiences, using them as learning and development opportunities.

Another tool included in the download is a set of three worksheets on identity (“The Impact of Cross-Cultural Experience on Identity”). The first urges you to reflect on the identity you hold in various spheres of life and ways of being in your home culture(s). For example, how do you define your competence, what is your communication style, how does your occupation affect your identity, and how do you define and maintain your health? The second worksheet then asks you to reflect on how those same things might change when you relocate. The third sheet is useful for reflection before you finish your sojourn and return home. These worksheets are another tool for thinking about life transitions, differing contexts, workplaces and friendships, and how we and those around us change during our sojourns abroad.

Another key person in my early professional formation was Dr. Dean Barnlund. He taught me so much and, more importantly perhaps, inspired me. Dean focused on intercultural interaction and included art and photography in his approach, which resonated with me on so many levels. One very small piece of his work is a set of values continua that he assembled together with Kluckhohn and Morgan. I honestly can not remember if these were published in a book or shared with me in person, and my internet searches have not pointed me to their origin, either. I do know that I’ve always had their names on the bottom as originators of the tool, so the work comes from them. I see them as the precursors to the many dimensions of culture models in use in the intercultural field today. I used these continua for years to help teach people about basic cultural differences, to help expats reflect on what might be welcome changes for them, and what they might find challenging. I share it with you in the attached download (“Cultural Values Checklist”).

The final piece of material in the free download is “Culture as an Onion Skin.” I no longer use this metaphor, preferring instead the Personal Values Lens from the Cultural Detective Self Discovery. My chief concern with the onion-skin metaphor is that, when you peel back the many layers of an onion, nothing is left inside! If that lack of fit doesn’t bother you so much, the usefulness of the onion-skin worksheet is to help us think about our core values. What are the things that in life that are really important to me? I can note those that are near and dear, guarded closely, never to be negotiated, in the central portion of the onion. Then, I have other values that I still hold tightly, that are very important to me, but that are more amenable to situational variance. Those I can note on the outer layers of the onion.

Come on, be truthful now. Share with us one of your “I behaved badly” stories, and a bit about the journey you were on when it happened! Help us take the nasty truth out of the closet and into the light of day, so we can learn from it. Did the experience make you stronger? A better Cultural Detective? How did you learn to navigate your way through it?

cultureshockThis was reposted in the Velvet Ashes’ Culture Shock link-up. If the topic interests you, be sure to visit some of the other great posts, from other blogs, that are linked-up there.