EQ Does Not Equal CQ

davidlivermore | September 13th, 2018 No Comments

My wife and I just dropped off our youngest daughter to start university. To say I was sad to leave Grace thousands of miles away is an understatement. Sure, I’m happy for her to spread her wings and start this new chapter but she and I have always been close and I’m not ready to let her go.

When it came to the dreaded moment of saying goodbye, I worked hard to apply the recurring advice I received from countless friends. “Dave. Hold it together. Nobody wants to see their parents cry and particularly not their dad.”

I watched these farewells play out all weekend as other parents were going through the same ritual. A lot of moms were crying, not many dads, and few if any students. Similar differences played out across different ethnic groups, with affective cultures doing little to disguise their tears and neutral ones looking stoic. Grace knows me too well to not have seen through my artificial smile and wavering voice but I kept a stiff upper lip as I gave her a final hug and watched her walk away.

Emotions play a powerful part in every relationship—first and foremost among our family but also among our friends and colleagues. This is why our social media feeds are filled with articles about things like: “7 secrets to deal with toxic behavior”,”4 ways to project more confidence”, or “5 ways to handle a friend who gives you the silent treatment.” And almost without fail, these articles seem to assume we’re all Westerners interacting with other Westerners. We’re repeatedly told to look people in the eye, speak up for yourself, smile while you speak, and similar platitudes. But many of these tips will get you in trouble if blindly applied to colleagues and friends in a diverse and global world.

Direct eye contact means confidence and respect in some cultures.
Direct eye contact means insubordination and disrespect in other cultures.

Speaking up demonstrates confidence and control in the U.S.
Silence demonstrates confidence and control in China.

A dad crying in front of his daughter communicates weakness in some cultures.
A dad crying in front of his daughter communicates love in other cultures.

So what do we do? “Common sense” isn’t enough but we can’t possibly learn the dos and don’ts for every culture we encounter. Even if we could, those generalizations are often wrong.

Here are a few starting points for handling the emotional side of our day-to-day interactions:

1. Emotional Intelligence is the first step.
Emotional intelligence, the ability to detect and manage the emotions of yourself and others, is proven to play a critical role in being a strong leader, fostering team collaboration, and forging healthy family relationships. But the challenge comes when you detect and respond to the emotional expressiveness from someone who grew up with a different set of guidelines for what’s appropriate when and with whom. That said, I have little confidence you can be culturally intelligent if you aren’t first able to read and react to the emotions of people from familiar cultures. And cultural intelligence is built from a premise of self-awareness, a critical part of emotional intelligence.

2. Emotions are universal.
We often stereotype certain genders, ethnicities, and even functions and professions as being the “emotional” types. But if you’re human, you’re emotional. There is a set of universal triggers that elicit the same emotion in nearly all of us. For example, the sight of something coming straight at you triggers fear, regardless of your personality or culture. A similar trigger occurs when experiencing the unexpected, such as rough turbulence in flight. Even seasoned flight attendants admit that when they don’t expect it, a sudden jolt in the air frightens them. In a world of robots and AI, it’s worth coming back to one of the most important elements that connects us as humans—our emotions. There are important norms worth learning for various situations and cultures that guide how much we should unveil our emotions. But we need to free ourselves and others from thinking some people are emotional and others aren’t.

3. We all make the same faces.
Paul Ekman’s groundbreaking work on facial expressions finds that people from all over the world express sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and happiness using similar facial expressions. I was initially skeptical of this finding. But through a series of renowned, peer-reviewed studies, Ekman makes a convincing case that people all over the world signal happiness with the corners of their mouths up and their eyes contracted. Anger is expressed with the corners of the mouth down and sadness is expressed with the eyelids drooping. Even individuals who have been blind from birth manifest the same nonverbal expressions. And Ekman found that indigenous tribes without exposure to outside groups used some of the same basic facial expressions as others around the world.

4. We disguise our emotions differently.
Where cultural differences begin to come into play are the rules for how to appropriately manage emotional expressions. Parents teach children the display rules for various occasions, which get reinforced at school, through the media, and with peers. When should you show emotion, when should you exaggerate it, and when should you mask it? We develop mechanisms for masking seemingly inappropriate expressions and learn when we should fake it. Even though a highly trained expert can spot disgust or sadness across faces from a variety of cultures, most of us miss it when an individual disguises their emotions with a behavior they’ve learned to do so.

5. We feel differently about the past.
I’m an eternal optimist. I don’t spend too much time thinking about regrets and in times of disappointment, part of my coping mechanism is to focus on the positive. Some of that is personality driven, but it’s also a reflection of culture.

A series of studies comparing German’s and American’s sense of time illuminated the role of culture in how people view the past, present, and future. Germans are more likely to look at the negative implications of past events while Americans are more likely to focus on the positive.

American cyclist Lance Armstrong, described cancer as the best thing that ever happened to him, whereas German actor Michael Lesch described cancer as a horrifying experience that continued to create a never ending sense of anxiety for him. This aligns with recurring sentiments found among many Americans and Germans at work. U.S. employees typically resist talking about their failures and indirectly refer to them as areas for improvement. Germans view that approach as rubbish and talk openly about failure and spend little time praising one another for their achievements.

CQ picks up where EQ leaves off.
Cultural intelligence stems from the same body of research as emotional intelligence (EQ). There’s no substitute for emotional intelligence as the first step in improving the way you work and relate with others. But cultural intelligence takes it the next step by allowing us to have those same social sensibilities when interacting with people who behave in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Giggles may mean laughter in one culture and embarrassment in another. Some individuals have been socialized to express anger by yelling while others simmer in silence. Public affirmations may be encouraging in one context and humiliating in another.

There’s certainly value in using some of the tips and pointers from various articles about how to project confidence, get better at small talk, or manage conflict. Just read them with a culturally intelligent eye and consider which tips need to be adapted for various groups.

When “Culture Fit” is Code Word for Affinity Bias

davidlivermore | August 17th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Dr. Sandra Upton

A few months back my colleague and friend, Dave Livermore, wrote an excellent article on cultural fit, which is the likelihood that a job candidate will be able to conform and adapt to the core values and collective behaviors that make up an organization. He provided some great insights on identifying culturally intelligent ways to balance adapting to the organizational culture and being yourself. I’d like to further explore this conversation from a slightly different perspective.

So here’s the question: what if “culture fit” really is code for “if you want to join or be successful in our organization, you need to think and act just like us (the dominant cultural group)”? This what is called Affinity Bias—the tendency to give preference to people like ourselves.

Every organization has a core set of values that guide how they operate and employees should be expected to share those values. But what are the consequences when those values leave no room for the values, identities, and perspectives of those outside of the dominant culture?

Harvard Business School Professor, Francesca Gino, has done fascinating research and work on the benefits of helping employees become rebels (in a good way!) inside their organizations. In her study of more than 2,000 employees across a wide range of industries, nearly half the respondents reported working in organizations where they regularly feel the need to conform. These organizations unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, urge employees to check a good chunk of their real selves at the door. When this happens both the employee and organization pay a price—which is manifested through decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation. To the contrary, employees who said they could express their authentic selves at work were more committed to their organizations, thus demonstrating higher levels of engagement, productivity, and innovation.

How To Tell The Difference

How do we know when our judgments and decisions genuinely support organizational values that benefit everyone versus those decisions and actions (conscious or unconscious) that favor the dominant culture? In most organizations, Affinity Bias shows up in one of three places in the organization: hiring, promoting, or day-to-day interactions. The consequences can include missing out on hiring a diverse and highly qualified candidate, promoting the most qualified person into a leadership position, or missing out on difference perspectives and innovative ideas in team meeting or on key projects.

Examples of what someone might think, hear, or say…

Hiring: “That first interviewee did a fantastic job! He reminds me so much of myself when I was younger. I think he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Promotion/Development: “I’m not sure she’s ready for a leadership position, she just doesn’t quite have the executive presence that I’m looking for and I’m not sure she’ll fit in with the other leaders.”

Day-To-Day: “We think so much alike, I want you working on this big project with me.”

If it is Affinity Bias, what can you do about it? Here are five specific ways to think about how to manage its effect in your organization. By the way, these strategies can also apply to many other forms of bias that show up in our organizations.

How Do We Manage Affinity Bias? 

  • Get out of denial. In a powerful TedTalk, Verna Meyers, a lawyer, activist, and diversity advisor, told the standing room only crowd that one of the first steps to managing our biases is admitting out loud that we have them and that they may be impacting our decisions and actions. It’s not rocket science, but it is truth—and it’s harder to do than most of us think. If our organizational culture is one where we aren’t even willing to create space for the discussion and admit that Affinity Bias may be influencing some of our decisions and actions, we just may be in denial.
  • Start at the top. If leadership isn’t committed to addressing bias in the work environment, your efforts quickly become an uphill battle. In addition, to manage unconscious bias at the organizational level there must be “demonstrated” leadership commitment. This means that leadership must not just say they are committed through verbal expressions and written diversity statements. They must take measurable steps towards the elimination of bias in the work environment. As a leader, you need to create a workplace culture that promotes employee well-being, creates opportunities for positive cross-cultural interactions, and develop policies, practices, and norms that serve as a benefit and not a barrier to embracing all cultural groups.
  • Manage Affinity Bias at all stages of the employee life cycle. This can feel like an overwhelming task and you may not even know where to start. Break down the process and consider it in the three phases highlighted in this article—hiring, promotion/development, and day-to-day. Ask yourself questions such as: Are our hiring policies and practices objective and consistent with all candidates? When promoting people is our criteria for “success” objective, or do certain cultural groups tend to benefit most from promotional opportunities? In day-to-day interactions, do we see certain cultural groups covering up parts of their identity in meetings, on projects, or just in conversations or cross-cultural engagements throughout the day.
  • Track and assess the data. The saying, “we measure what we value” is still true. Because unconscious bias can be so subtle and, well, unconscious, it can sometimes be difficult to quantify its effects. When accessing your efforts to manage bias, look at the hard facts. How diverse is your talent pool? Whose getting promoted? What cultural groups are absent? Why? If the data is revealing tendencies to hire and promote people who primarily reflect the dominant group or certain cultural groups, biases may be at play.
  • Solicit Feedback. Conduct an anonymous company-wide employee survey to understand what specific issues of hidden bias, microaggressions, and inequities might exist in your organization or institution. If you are a leader, solicit direct feedback from your team or colleagues.

Ultimately and most importantly, you must go beyond the unconscious bias conversation. Addressing it is important. In fact, understanding our biases and enhancing our cultural awareness are the critical first steps in the process of learning how to work effectively across cultures. However, awareness alone is no guarantee of success in our intercultural interactions. Not only do we need to go beyond awareness and build habits and behaviors that will help mitigate the impact of unconscious biases, we need to develop our cultural intelligence (CQ). When awareness of these biases and behaviors is coupled with CQ, new habits and behaviors predict intercultural performance.

Culture Fit vs. Authenticity: When Being Yourself Collides with Organizational Values

davidlivermore | June 14th, 2018 No Comments

Last year I had the opportunity to speak to the 75 most senior women from one of the Fortune 100s we work with. This is the kind of opportunity I love. Women with passports from all over the world dealing with all the issues that come with leading across borders for one of the most global brands in the world.

The women took our Cultural Values Profile—an inventory that reveals your individual preferences on ten cultural values, including differences like direct vs. indirect communication or top down versus flat leadership styles. Typically, when we use this tool, even seemingly homogenous teams are surprised at the diversity of their cultural values. But this international group of women were remarkably similar in their cultural value ratings. I actually asked our team to double check the group profile because it seemed impossible that a group of 75 women from all over the world were scoring almost identical on nearly all of the dimensions. But indeed, it was accurate.

When I shared these results with the women, they weren’t the least bit surprised. They said, “How do you think we ended up in these positions? We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think and work like our male counterparts do.”

Were they selling out? Or were they adapting to survive?

This is one of the issues that perplexes me most. Authenticity is the holy grail of diversity efforts: “Bring your whole self to work.” Yet adaptation to the preferences and norms of others is at the core of cultural intelligence. How do we give people the safety to be themselves while also expecting flexibility as a “team player”? And when are an organization’s values unifying and when do they squelch diversity and innovation?

First, consider the upside and downside of “Authenticity” and “Culture Fit”.

AUTHENTICITY: Being true to one’s self and maintaining coherence between one’s values and how one behaves at work or school. An authentic workplace is an environment where you’re safe to be yourself.

  • The Upside
    When people feel psychologically safe to reveal their identities and values at work, they are more engaged and effective. In contrast, covering one’s identify and values results in a high level of physical and emotional stress and the loss of diverse perspectives.
  • The Downside
    Authenticity can become an excuse for inflexibility. The more you work with people who don’t share your values, norms, and expectations, the more you’re going to have to choose between what is effective and what feels authentic. And what’s “authentic” for me may be “offensive” for you.

CULTURAL FIT: The likelihood that a job candidate will be able to conform and adapt to the core values and collective behaviors that make up an organization.

  • The Upside
    A number of studies demonstrate that employees who fit well with their organization, coworkers, and supervisor have greater job satisfaction are more likely to remain with their organization, and show superior job performance.
  • The Downside
    “Culture fit” can easily perpetuate the ills of unconscious bias where managers hire people like themselves and discount those who are different. This type of thinking hinders diversity and leads to homogenous cultures.

Here’s one way this dilemma plays out for me personally. My “authentic” style is to lead with transparency. So, whether it’s with my kids, our staff, or with a client, my default is to share whatever information I have because that’s who I am. And I want our organization to be characterized by transparency. But sometimes transparency is ineffective or unwelcomed. I’ve made staff anxious by sharing my uncertainty about an upcoming change, and disclosing feelings of inadequacy to a new client can create questions of credibility and confidence. And some of our other leaders prefer to keep information much more private. But going against my natural style can make me feel like I’m an imposter.

My need to adapt is minimal compared to many other people. Adaptation is implicitly expected of women more than men, gay more than straight, black more than white, etc. But when should any of us be expected to give up our authentic preferences for the sake of an organizational purpose (culture fit)?

A couple shifts in how we think about this may be one way to get started:

FROM AUTHENTICITY TO CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE

Authenticity is a noble goal but we need to rethink what we mean by it. In reality, we all adapt and filter based on the audience. How I relate to my kids is different from how I relate to my work colleagues. And I relate to each family member and colleague differently based upon their preferences and values. So we have to transcend a rigid notion of authenticity and instead, figure out what it means to be true to ourselves while knowing we always need to filter and re-appropriate how we express ourselves based on the context.

The struggle comes when a core value is challenged. If my “authentic” approach is last minute and yours is planning ahead, then what? If you view shaking the opposite sex’s hand as offensive and I see it as a respectful, professional greeting, which of us get to be ourselves?

This is the same process we go through as we travel and interact with people and cultures in different places. My daughter talks about how she grapples with this as a vegetarian who finds herself traveling and interacting with many individuals and cultures that don’t share her value for avoiding meat. At its core, cultural intelligence is about finding the equilibrium between adapting to the norms and preferences of others without losing ourselves in the process.

FROM CULTURE FIT TO CULTURE ADD

I’m always impressed when I visit a business like Trader Joe’s, the U.S. supermarket known for friendly and helpful cashiers who consistently go the extra mile to provide good service. It doesn’t matter which one of their hundreds of stores you visit, the customer experience is the same. Trader Joe’s has every right to hire people who share their value for greeting people with a smile and a willingness to help.

Organizations, like individuals, need to be true to themselves. So hiring people who are willing to sign on to your core values is essential. But hiring first and foremost based on “cultural fit” quickly leads to group think. How one individual expresses warmth and helpfulness may look very different from another person. So instead of looking for people who fit the organizational culture, ask what’s missing from it, and bring in people who will enrich and stretch it. Hire based on what one can contribute to your culture and take it further rather than one who simply fits who you already are.

BE YOURSELF, BUT EVOLVE

I’m the same person I was twenty years ago, however my style, perspective, and views have evolved significantly. My story has changed based upon what I’ve learned from trying on different styles and behaviors from working and relating with so many diverse groups. Some of those don’t fit me at all, but as I try out new approaches, I keep editing who I am. That’s not being fake. It’s simply learning to adapt based on the role and the preferences needed along the way.

It’s not unlike our evolving palettes. In her wildly popular TED talk, Jennifer 8. Lee, says that what we eat is an accumulation of our life experiences, including where you grew up, the people you’ve dated, and the places you’ve visited. We often pick up favorite foods from various places we’ve lived or encountered along the way but we continue to come back to foods that mean something to us. For most of us, our comfort foods stem from our upbringing but the more you travel, the broader the menu of options for food that bring you comfort.

The same applies to “being yourself”. A culturally intelligent approach to life and work gives us the opportunity to try other perspectives, values, and norms without needing to leave our original perspectives and values fully behind. As we broaden our scope by seeing through the eyes of others, we rarely abandon everything we thought and did before, but we evolve to take on other perspectives and values that fit us well. Transcend and include.

So did the women from the Fortune 100 company sell out? It depends. Each individual has to regulate how much of themselves to reveal and uncover based on the context and the objective. Many of these women sacrificed the freedom to lead with complete authenticity. But by being willing to adapt to the dominant culture, they created room for other women to lead and brought about incremental change to the organization at large. Their willingness to adapt to the dominant norms may have given them some new perspectives and values they wouldn’t have gained if they had insisted on doing things their way. Any individual or organization can adapt too far and lose themselves in the process. But some adaptation is almost always necessary.

Each individual needs to clearly identify:

  • What are my objectives personally and professionally? What are our organizational objectives?
  • Will adapting strengthen or weaken reaching these objectives?
  • Will adapting compromise the core of who I am or expand who I am?

The only way we grow is to stretch ourselves beyond the limits of who we are and to take a more culturally intelligent approach to authenticity and fit. But organizations have to keep strategizing ways to allow people to express their diverse values in ways that move everyone further ahead. And together, we become a fuller, more authentic version of ourselves.

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