Blog Archives

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:


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.


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.


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.

Cultural Bloopers & Misgivings from an Experience in America

davidlivermore | April 11th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Helga Evelyn Samuel

So, you speak English and you think a trip to an English-speaking country cannot be that hard, right? Surely not, because you’ve been there several years ago. On a recent work trip, I discovered, however, that such assumptions are quite careless at the least.

After a couple of days in a room full of North Americans (well, almost!), eating out with the group and socializing in the process, staying at a Canadian-Venezuelan’s place, and navigating through unfamiliar streets, here are some observations from my brief tryst with the American culture:

1. Assumptions are unwise. Never assume that everything is going to be like back home just because the people in the country presumably speak the same language as you! Expect everything to be different: right from the pedestrian crossing symbols to the way people cross roads to the food habits to mannerisms and customs, to the way people mean and interpret the same English you speak!

2. A little preparation goes a long way. Do your homework! So, you think why should you go prepared for a short work trip? What could possibly go wrong in just a few days, right? Actually, anything could go wrong depending on what the purpose of your trip is, who you are meeting, what important deals you are signing et al. When you go abroad on a work trip, you represent your company, and often times your country. You need to do some homework on what you could expect: talk to others who have been there before you, take some reading material on the country you are visiting with you on your plane ride. Also: know enough about your host country you are currently residing in if you are an expat.

3. Allow room for little surprises. How do you lock the bathroom door in your host’s old apartment? Which way do you turn the knob and why doesn’t it lock when you do it the way you do in Europe (panic attack!)? Step into the shower–now, which way does this knob turn? After fumbling a while and breaking into a cold sweat in the process, you manage to solve this great mystery! You later discover after a demo from the host on locking the bathroom door, that the last couple of times you had actually been very unsuccessful! Thankfully, nobody was home at that time! (Phew!) In the kitchen, you debate whether the water from the faucet is safe to drink, and when you reassure yourself that it cannot go wrong, you look in disgust at the very murky, gray-white liquid you’ve collected and are unsure if drinking it is going to kill you! (your gracious hosts later inform you that although water from the tap is safe, they filter it in this fascinating looking water container- and presto, that murky effect magically disappears!) Then you decide to make a sunny side up for breakfast, only to find that the mechanism of turning the knob on the stove is slightly different from what you do back home in Europe. Because within seconds you are nauseous by this overpowering smell of cooking gas. Not intending to set the host’s house on fire, you decide to safely settle for a banana for breakfast that morning! Fast forward to the day of conference. You need a coffee fix, and wander around looking for a stirrer. You find these strange, narrowly constricted white hollow tubes with bright red stripes that resemble straws. Surely these couldn’t be stirrers. They remotely bear any resemblance to the wooden, flat stirrers you are used to. Not wanting to look like an idiot, you politely ask a new friend where the stirrers are: he informs you that those narrow straw-like things are indeed the stirrers (hot flush of embarrassment!) Later you find out that the very same hotel has placed the familiar flat wooden stirrers on a shiny, jet black tray carrying your all-day coffee/tea (aka caffeine fix) supplies! Ha! You look at the familiar with a large toothy grin and run your fingers down the wooden stirrer and go ‘Sigh, just like back home!” The familiar somehow makes the heart very happy. Even something as small and silly as a mundane coffee stirrer! (tears of joy!)

4. An overdose of friendliness. The contrast is so stark that you simply cannot miss it! In The Netherlands, smiles are only reserved for people you know, people do not normally smile at strangers and very rarely exchange small talk. Those travelling by public transport always appear solemn and seldom indulge in any chitchat. A train/bus/tram ride to anywhere can be eerily silent (comfortably if you are used to it!), unless friends or family members ride together. Then you travel to the United States where everyone right from the doorman, the chauffeur, the Target store shop assistants, to even random strangers on the street are SO friendly and warm! On your first day, you are a bit suspicious since this behavior is not normal to you. By the end of the week however, you enjoy the warmth of the people so much that you suffer a temporary memory lapse at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam: you flash a big smile and offer a ‘Hey, how are you?’ to a total stranger waiting in line at the immigration. However, your polite overture is met by a shuffling of feet and a suspicious sideways glance (Ha, she probably thought you were nuts!)

5. Unfamiliar pedestrian signals. At first you are confused by the unfamiliar ‘white man walking’ and ‘red hand’ road crossing signals. In The Netherlands, these are a ‘green man walking’ and a ‘red man waiting’. And what does the countdown after the red hand mean? That this is your last chance to run for your life across the road? You look to fellow pedestrians for cues and find some sprint across quickly. You step forward to follow suit when you notice a car turns into your road during the countdown. A bit baffled and shaken, you adamantly decide to freeze in position on the sidewalk till you see the safe ‘white man walking’ signal again (shudder!). You do want to make it home in one piece after all! In The Netherlands and particularly in Germany, most people adhere to the pedestrian crossing rules. People respect the ‘red man waiting’ signal that they rarely cross–not even when there are no vehicles on the road!

6. Shocking supermarket facts. You wander around in Target trying to spot familiar groceries, let out an audible gasp at the unbelievably overpriced feta cheese, peppers, and salad ingredients. You are surprised by the numerous bread assortments–everything appears intriguing and some look rather unappetizing. You are impressed by the very friendly woman at the counter who even bags your grocery contents. In The Netherlands, the customer must hurriedly transfer her grocery contents into bags, so the next customer can be served immediately thereafter. A newcomer to the country has to learn to quickly shove grocery contents into shopping bags or be prepared to meet some impatient, disgruntled customers waiting in line. (Don’t tell anyone but you recruit your kids to bag the groceries with an ice cream bribe. It works like a charm every time!)

7. A warning to the foodies. Oh, the food! You are utterly delighted by the sinful array of culinary indulgences in the U.S. and eagerly dig into the large portion sizes. This is foodie H(E)AVEN (caps on intentionally)! Having been raised Indian, it is unconsciously ingrained in your mind to never waste any food on your plate (“Remember the many starving poor in India!”, your parents solemnly reminded you while growing up) and you gladly oblige–this is good stuff, after all! A week later though, when it is time to fly back home, you discover when your jeans tightly hug your lower body like a boa constrictor how quickly those extra pounds add up. Yikes!

8. Now, did you say English is universal? After a wonderful few days of getting to know new acquaintances and friends, you go around saying your goodbyes. Remember those familiar yet vital four and a half words that you reserve only for people you really like and want to sincerely make an effort to be in touch with? The magical “Let’s keep in touch!” You generously dish it out to a couple of people in the room with absolute genuineness. Only to find out much later that this sentence actually means “Goodbye, I DON’T like you that much!” in America! You recoil in horror at the subtle message you’d sent that week to the amazing, warm, friendly people whose company you had thoroughly enjoyed! (Oh nooo!)

9. Are colleagues friends? You learn that in America, colleagues rarely socialize or stay in touch as friends. They make acquaintances easily but rarely make ‘friends’ among colleagues. Such a stark contrast to The Netherlands where colleagues socialize every Friday night over the famed Dutch ‘borrel’: when drinks and conversations freely flow over raucous background music. Even strikingly different from your experience with former German colleagues you briefly worked with, who have been in touch since nearly twenty years when life took you places and are cherished friends. Some so close that you fondly call them ‘family’. Now, how do you define the connections with these delightful people you briefly hung out with in America? Colleagues? Acquaintances? Friends? How do you follow through on your word to ‘stay in touch’ with them? Your brain is certainly muddled dealing with this.

10. A little lesson on culture. Now, what do you do when the opportunity arises to travel back into the same country? A culturally intelligent person learns from previous mistakes, mentally readjusts to expectations, and applies past learnings to new experiences while still keeping an open mind to learn something new. It is important to remember, however, that your past experiences are not standards for others to gauge theirs against. Your experience does not necessarily have to be similar to another’s. It is also absurd to base your opinion on a country or its people from a few subjective experiences, so don’t be too hasty to translate your experiences into a “Do’s and Don’ts” list for that country. Be open to the sights, sounds and sensations that a new place brings. Dive in fearlessly, be prepared to fall on your face a couple of times, laugh about it, and learn from it. Have an open mind and a receptive heart. Savor the similarities. Respect the differences. Embrace the change.

Note: This article is purely based on personal experience and is merely written to entertain. However, some generalized content offers insight into learning how to deal with new and unfamiliar cultures.

  Helga Evelyn Samuel is the Founder & CEO of Curry & Culture Company based in The Netherlands, as well as a CQ Certified Advanced Professional.

7 Questions to Assess Your Perspective Taking

davidlivermore | March 15th, 2018 No Comments

Whether I’m talking with my kids, interacting with our staff, or speaking to a group of executives, one of the themes I talk about more than any other is the importance of “perspective taking”. Perspective taking is the ability to step outside our own experience and consider something from another person’s point of view. It’s something we do unconsciously all the time. What kind of gift would they enjoy? How is my colleague going to interpret this email? What does that group think about me? But we’re less likely to engage in perspective taking if the individuals with a different perspective aren’t part of our in-group. —

Research reveals that perspective taking is a skill that can be developed—and that’s good news. Perspective taking is one of the most critical skills needed to manage unconscious bias and lead with cultural intelligence. You can’t motivate people and negotiate effectively if you don’t know how others think and feel about something. And there’s mounting evidence that perspective taking makes a critical difference in whether diversity training actually works.

Most of us do perspective taking quite naturally with those from our in-group—our friends, loved ones, and people like us. But we’re less likely to slow down and consider another’s perspective if they are outside our in-group. Think of the age-old psychological notion of fundamental attribution error—the assumption that someone’s negative behavior stems from a character flaw while excusing the same behavior in ourselves due to external circumstances. Here’s how fundamental attribution error works: If someone’s phone rings in the movie theatre, my default assumption is that they’re a rude or forgetful person who is inconsiderate of others. But if my phone rings, surely people know that it’s only because I’m awaiting an urgent phone call in the midst of a crisis.  This isn’t my usual behavior! According to fundamental attribution error, I’m more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to people who “look like me.”

The greater the cultural distance, the more important it is to exercise perspective taking. Use this informal inventory to reflect on your perspective taking skill:

1. When giving someone directions to a restaurant, do you change the way you explain the directions based on whether the individual is an out-of-town visitor versus a local?

2. When telling a story, do you tell it differently based on the audience? (e.g., amount of details provided, references to things they do/don’t know about, etc.).

3. When providing instructions on how to do something, are you aware of how much the other individuals already know about this task? Do you over-explain the instructions even though they provide cues that they understand? Or do you use lingo that leaves them confused?

4. When an acquaintance asks where you live, do you give the same response to someone on the other side of the world as you do someone from your own region? (e.g., “Grand Rapids, Michigan” versus “In the central part of the U.S., near Chicago.”)

5. Think about a work challenge you’re currently facing right now. To what degree can you accurately describe the perspectives of 3-5 colleagues who are also facing the same challenge?

6. Identify an issue you feel strongly about (e.g., climate change, politics, gay marriage, etc.). To what degree can you offer a coherent argument that represents the opposite of your perspective?

7. How often do you say things like “As you know,” or “Given your experience in this area…”?

Perspective taking doesn’t mean you give up your own perspective or lack conviction. In fact, this is one of the critical differences between perspective taking and empathy. Empathy may go too far in some situations. A member of the special forces who empathizes with the enemy or a sales person who is distraught about a customer’s complaints may fail to fulfill the mission of their respective organizations. But there is no way to succeed without some understanding of the “other side’s” perspective.

Perspective taking is best developed in relationship. Many people change or at least reevaluate their dogmatic views about sexual orientation, religion, or politics when a friend or loved one is the one who represents the opposing perspective. Conversation and dialogue are the best ways to learn about another’s perspective. But there are some other practical steps you can use to develop the skill of perspective taking.

—Curate a more diverse social media feed. You’ll quickly see wildly different interpretations of the same current events.

—Use the ten cultural value dimensions to consciously consider the differences in how someone from either extreme would view a new initiative (e.g., an individual with a low uncertainty avoidance orientation may be more drawn to something new than someone who is high uncertainty avoidance).

—Use Bezo’s “empty-chair strategy” at important meetings to represent a perspective that won’t likely be present by the individuals in the meeting.

—When discussing a challenging issue with someone, see if each of you can articulate the other person’s perspective. Clarify whether you have an understanding of each other’s perspective.

—In the words of our friend and colleague Adam Grant, “Argue like you’re right. Listen like you’re wrong.”

Seek to understand. It’s one of our mantras at the Cultural Intelligence Center. We know that diverse perspectives x CQ creates better solutions. We don’t do it perfectly ourselves. But we’re resolved to keep at it. I hope you will continue the pursuit with us.

[See Chapter 3 in Driven by Difference to learn about the critical link between perspective-taking, CQ, and innovation. ]

A White Guy’s Humble Advice to Black Professionals…

davidlivermore | May 12th, 2017 No Comments

Last week I was at Indeed to speak to a group of black IT professionals about how to use cultural intelligence when trying to find their dream jobs. It’s one of those times when I was very aware of a question I’m often asked: “Isn’t it a little awkward talking about the topics of cultural intelligence and diversity as a white guy?”

It’s a fair question. Some of the things that emerge from our research and work are primarily theoretical concepts to me. I rarely worry about how my kids will be treated when they walk out the door. I never wonder if I was invited to speak somewhere so I can add a little diversity to the lineup of speakers. But I still have something to offer the conversation and so do you.

We’re never going to address the challenges of nationalism, cultural misunderstandings, and discrimination unless we all speak up. There are things I can contribute to the conversation that stem from my research and experiences. And there are things we need to hear firsthand from those who are often misrepresented or marginalized.

These realities were foremost in my mind as I thought about what to say to my colleagues of color at this recent gathering put on by Indeed, the number one job site in the world. Particularly in the world of tech, companies are chasing diverse candidates. But how can those candidates use CQ to help them find the kind of employer who will include their diverse perspectives as a critical part of their strategy rather than using them to up their diversity counts?

Questions to Assess an Employer’s CQ

I offered the following suggestions to my colleagues of color. I organized these around the four CQ capabilities with recommended questions for the job candidates to ask themselves and questions to ask their prospective employers.

  • CQ Drive: Your interest, persistence, and confidence during multicultural interactions

Ask Yourself: How can I leverage my ability to code-switch?

Although under-represented groups don’t automatically have higher CQ, most bring a lifetime of experience code-switching—learning how to change the way they speak and act based on the culture/s involved.  Understandably, some people of color resist the admonition to develop CQ. After all—they’re expected to be the ones adapting all the time and isn’t it time someone else did so? But consider how the ability to code-switch is a tremendous advantage. If you’re from an under-represented group, you can leverage this skill you’ve been developing all your life as an advantage to your career. In a world of mounting artificial intelligence, the ability to code-switch will set you apart.

Ask Employer: What are the characteristics of team members who are most difficult for you to manage?

Don’t ask whether your prospective employer is committed to diversity. Of course they’ll say yes to that, particularly when talking with someone who looks like you! But ask what characteristics are most difficult for them to deal with. Then ask them the reverse: What are the characteristics of team members who are easiest for you to manage? Pay attention to whether they primarily describe people like themselves and you’ll gain insight into their interest in adjusting to different cultures (CQ Drive).

And be sure to stalk your prospective boss on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.

How diverse are their social networks? Do they only follow people who look like and agree with them? Or is it hard to tell their political bent based on the diversity of people they follow?

  • CQ Knowledge: Your understanding of how cultures are similar and different

Ask Yourself: What do I know about the markets served by this company?

No job candidate can be expected to know the ins and outs of every culture. But take the time to see what key markets exist among the company’s customers. Even if you have limited direct experience working with many of those cultures, the cultural values of your own background may be much more similar to the cultures of these markets than what is true for other job candidates. For example, African Americans and Latinos place much greater importance on extended families and their communities than most Caucasians do. That means many African Americans and Latinos operate from a cultural value that is shared by 70% of the world (“collectivism”).

Ask Employer: What kinds of differences exist across the markets you serve?

Likewise, no boss can be expected to understand every culture either. But look for whether they have something more than a cursory understanding of cultural similarities and differences. For example, if your interviewer tells you that they design for Latino users differently than Caucasian ones, press further. How does that design further change when programming for a Brazilian user as compared to a Mexican one?

  • CQ Strategy: Your awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions.

Ask Yourself: How can I accurately identify biases without rushing to judgment?

When people of color are told that they’re “incredibly articulate” or have an “impressive resume” that’s often a signal that an interviewer is biased, and they may well be. But before you immediately assume your interviewer is making a biased statement, seek some additional information to test this further. Beware of confirmation bias in yourself as well as others—the tendency to look for and favor information that confirms what you already thought.

Ask Employer: Tell me about a project you managed that was different as a result of the diverse skill sets and perspectives involved?

Job candidates are advised to share concrete, specific examples rather than vague ones. Expect the same from your prospective boss and colleagues. Don’t settle for empty platitudes about the value of having a diverse team. How? What specifically has been different about an innovation or project because there were diverse people involved in the project?

  • CQ Action: Your ability to adapt when relating and working interculturally.

Ask Yourself: When should I adapt? Not adapt?

This is a tough one. Should an African American woman straighten her hair just to be “perceived” as more professional? Should you change your tone so others don’t interpret your communication as angry or militant? Each individual has to wrestle with what it means to remain true to one’s self while adapting just enough to be appropriate and respectful. And here’s where being a white guy can be a limiting factor because so many places I travel—even across the globe—people are quick to accommodate to my preferences. But it’s important for all of us to consider when adapting to others is a smart, strategic way to ensure our intentions are understood and when doing so is selling out. Find mentors to guide you through this discernment process.

Ask Employer: Whom have you promoted recently?

Don’t simply ask your prospective boss how they adapt their management style for people from different cultures. You have to be more coy than that. I recommend asking something more like the above question. The individuals they have promoted tell you something about what they value. Or you can ask them the reverse: Tell me about someone you hired that didn’t work out. Why? Listen for language like “She wasn’t a good fit.” “Fit” is often code for “She didn’t act like the rest of us.”

I’m well aware of my limitations in talking about how cultural intelligence applies to people of color. But I refuse to be a silent bystander and I’m continuing to learn what it means to be an ally.

Next month, we turn the tables and my colleague and friend, Dr. Sandra Upton will share “A Black Woman’s Advice to White Professionals.”

How to Facilitate Productive CQ Conversations

davidlivermore | February 20th, 2017 No Comments


The day after the U.S. election, I was having breakfast with some friends in Toronto. They looked at me white faced. “What happened last night?” They were in shock and a bit bewildered about what a Trump presidency meant for them as Canadians. Two days later, I was back in Michigan having lunch with a friend who was doing a victory dance that the days of the Obama legacy were over. Both conversations and dozens since then have pushed me to think more deeply about how to engage in productive conversations with people who have different perspectives. The vitriolic social media posts and cable news arguments do very little. But neither does playing it safe and avoiding all potential conflict.

Diversity fatigue is not going away. Particularly with political riffs dividing friends and family, many people have had enough of it all and long for the days when recipes and cat videos filled their Facebook page. While this applies to political conversations, I’m actually interested in thinking about it far more broadly than that.

Whether we’re designing a diversity workshop or engaging in conversations with friends about immigration and national security, there’s a fine line between discussion that moves the conversation forward and those that simply make things worse. Those of us committed to building bridges and removing barriers for intercultural understanding have to find the zone of productive disequilibrium. This is an idea that stems from the field of adaptive leadership and it refers to finding the optimal zone of discomfort that yields productive understanding, reflection, and change. If we’re too disoriented and uncomfortable, we’re unlikely to learn. But without any disorientation and discomfort, growth won’t happen.

Most people who facilitate diversity workshops and global leadership courses are zealous about exposing the cultural blunders and injustices that occur as people from different cultures interact together. But we sometimes forget our own journey toward discovering these things and we attempt to bring others along in a single workshop. Other times we become too timid and don’t push the envelope far enough in order to avoid too much backlash.

This is something I’m still trying to figure out myself but here are a few guidelines for designing productive CQ conversations:

1. The First Five Minutes

The first five minutes with a group sets the tone for the entire conversation or workshop. The first place we as CQ practitioners need to apply our own CQ is to understand the audience. The very “cultural understanding” we exhort in our seminars is the kind of work we need to do when preparing to teach or discuss CQ and related issues.

The first five minutes is crucial. When I talk with business leaders, I get to the “bottom line” implications of high versus low CQ as quickly as possible. With military leaders, I’m learning to move swiftly to describing the relevance of CQ for providing strategic gains and mission success. And with non-profit leaders, a little bit of discussion about CQ and productivity is okay but in most cases, I better address issues of justice and equity within the first few moments or I’ll be dismissed. I would hope every CQ session would be customized to the specific audience but the first five minutes is perhaps where that customization is most important.

Surely business leaders need to think beyond financial implications just as non-profit leaders need to eventually consider the relevance of CQ to issues of productivity and fiscal responsibility. But an understanding of the immediate needs will help ensure that we begin by assuring individuals that CQ will address some of their deeply held concerns and pain points.

2. Ground Rules vs. PC Language

I’ve often told groups that I think politically correct language is counterproductive to building cultural intelligence. If people can’t honestly discuss some of their biases and frustrations, there’s little hope we can truly build CQ.  But I’ve sometimes observed that my admonition for us to speak candidly has been misinterpreted by a few as a license to say anything, no matter how offensive it might be.

Part of finding the productive zone for CQ conversations is liberating people from feeling like they’re walking on eggshells to even enter a conversation about politics or race. On the other hand, the whole thing goes sideways fast if participants in the group start speaking pejoratively. Take the time to establish some ground rules upfront and don’t hesitate to enforce them and take charge of the room if someone says something that violates the rules. It’s a lot easier for people to experience disequilibrium if they know the boundaries.

3. No Single Stories Allowed

A number of studies are emerging that suggest if not done well, intercultural training can lower CQ rather than improve it. In responding to the requests for training about Brazilians, Millennials, or Latinos, we can end up perpetuating the danger of the single story. This idea comes from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk where she says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

I encountered this up close recently when my friend, Betsy DeVos, was nominated as Secretary of Education. Betsy and I have different views politically and I have concerns about how the privatization of education affects the disadvantaged. But I’ve also worked alongside Betsy for nearly a decade, both of us serving on the board of a non-profit organization and she’s not the ignorant, power-grabbing, homophobe she was made out to be as a part of the confirmation process. She’s a resilient woman so I’m not worried about her ability to endure SNL clips about Grizzly bears. But what saddens me is that the process never moved toward a constructive debate about the varying views on what’s best for education in the U.S. All of us are more complicated that a single story based on where we’re from, how we voted, or the color of our skin. Challenge any attempts at reducing an individual or group to a single story.

4. Monitor the Temperature

In facilitating CQ conversations, we have to keep our hand on the thermostat. If the temperature of the discussion is too cold, people won’t feel the need to ask uncomfortable questions or make difficult decisions. If it gets too hot, people are likely to dismiss it all together or simply become more calcified in what they already thought.

As much as possible, depersonalize the conflict in the room—particularly if it comes to you personally. The purpose is to disagree about the issues and perspectives rather than to defend yourself. If at all possible, find someone else in the room who can help you monitor the temperature. Someone who isn’t directly responsible for facilitating the session will often observe things you miss. One CQ facilitator recently told me she and her colleague actually have a hand symbol they use with each other to note when the temperature of the discussion and interaction seems too hot or cold.

5. Provide Some Resolution

We don’t have to end a session with a “happily ever after” story line, but we do need to provide some sort of resolution to the disequilibrium we create. I’ve been guilty of exposing groups to issues of privilege or cultural ignorance and then just leaving them with it. That’s unfair. There aren’t simple answers to many of the tensions we expose, but if we’re going to make people aware of something like implicit bias or the ways others perceive their culture, it’s unfair to do so unless we offer some direction on what to do with that understanding.

I’m still sorting this through. So I’d love to hear what others are learning about how to facilitate productive conversations that build cultural intelligence.

Weird, Rude, or Different?! Awkward Cross-Cultural Moments

davidlivermore | November 14th, 2016 No Comments


A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with a group of newly acquainted colleagues. As soon as we ordered drinks, Klaus, the German in our group asked Jake (an American), “So who are you going to vote for?” The table suddenly fell silent. All eyes were on Jake.

Jake laughed nervously, looked around at the table, and said, “Hah…let’s not talk about U.S. politics. It’s too embarrassing with a table full of internationals.” Klaus wouldn’t let up. “C’mon man! Are you for Trump or Hillary?”

Jake said, “Okay. I’ll tell you. But here’s the deal. In the U.S., we would never ask someone that question, especially not a new professional acquaintance.

Klaus was dumbfounded. After all, he had loads of American friends on Facebook who were spouting off their opinions about the election. Why on earth would it be taboo to ask someone their candidate of choice? Klaus went on to explain that Germans love a raucous political debate and see it as a favorite topic of conversation.

Neither of the above characterizations is true of all Americans or Germans. But that’s not my point. Whenever we encounter “rude” or unfamiliar behavior, it’s a trigger.

I recently polled my social network for examples of behaviors they had encountered cross-culturally that seemed “rude”. My feed lit up with responses. Here is a small sampling:

  • Asking questions that are too personal (Chinese)
  • Not starting an email with a friendly greeting (Argentina)
  • Looking a superior in the eye (Nigerian)
  • Not looking me in the eye (Canadian)
  • Using my first name in an introductory email (Slovakian)
  • Wasting time on a business call with small talk (German)
  • Returning to China and being told, “Wow, you’ve become fat!” (Austrian)
  • Not responding to an email (British)
  • Asking why I haven’t responded to an email (Emirati)
  • Asking how much I paid for my car. (American)
  • Spitting on the street (Hong Konger)
  • People cutting in line (Australian)
  • Standing far apart while talking (Brazilian)

The examples continued…from an Asian businessman who was caught off guard when his new boss told him details about his recent divorce… A U.S. woman who insisted on not hiring domestic help in Morocco only to find out she was insulting the locals…and loads of examples about struggling to find appropriate conversation topics, greetings, knowing who pays for dinner, etc.

Is it any wonder that diverse groups are susceptible to far more misunderstanding, frustration, and gridlock than homogenous ones?

Cultural differences are more pronounced in social settings than in work settings. Yet in many cultures, the social context is the most important environment for building trust.

First, context matters. One Canadian woman with a Pakistani background told me she was always annoyed by the question “Where are you from?” when living in a Canadian suburb. To her, it sounded like, “You’re obviously not from here.” But when she moved to Dubai, she welcomed the question. Given that 90% of the people in Dubai are not from Dubai, it was a natural way to get acquainted.

In addition, there are things my African American friends can say that are appropriate coming from them, and rude and offensive coming from me. It’s never “just words.”

Some people say…this is where political correctness gets you. Everyone needs to just “Lighten Up” and not take things so personally. I think there are times when we’re too quick to be offended. But let’s be honest. Especially when we’re tired or under pressure, a “rude” behavior quickly causes annoyance, and telling someone to “lighten up” helps no one. This is all the more the case if you’re the underrepresented individual in the mix.

Here are a few suggestions for a culturally intelligent way to respond to awkward cross-cultural encounters

1. Begin with positive intent. Before assuming someone was rude, inconsiderate, or “clueless”, start with assuming the best. You might eventually conclude that someone is indeed being rude, but the more the cultural differences between you, the slower you should be at making that judgment.  And be aware that some of your behavior, no matter how well intended, may be perceived differently than you intend.

2. Seek additional information. Most any behavior makes sense once you get additional information to explain “why” someone acts the way they do. You might still find the behavior offensive. For example, if you’re easily annoyed when people don’t line up in a queue the way you do, stop and consider what it’s like if you live in Asia (6 out of 10 people do!). Pushing is often a necessity, otherwise, you’ll never get on the bus. Someone is going to get left behind and some measure of assertiveness is required to survive.

3. Decide in advance how to address the situation. Look at some of the frustrating situations you most often encounter. Then determine some effective ways to respond. In some cases, it might be helpful to use the uncomfortable moment to talk about the differences—just as my dinner mates did when Jake was asked about his preferred presidential candidate. In other cases, it might be practicing how to use a greeting the way locals do.

4. Be yourself but adapt just enough. With all the emphasis these days on “being authentic”, some may feel that adapting to these different protocols of etiquette is being inauthentic. But most all of us adapt how we dress, behave, and talk based on the situation. We should do the same thing during intercultural encounters. Consider what behavior will best communication your intentions.

Some of you will notice that the four suggestions above are in fact the four CQ capabilities (CQ Drive—Positive Intent; CQ Knowledge—Gather Information; CQ Strategy—Plan Ahead; and CQ Action—Adapt Just Enough).

What have been some of your most jarring encounters with “rude” behavior cross-culturally? And what are your strategies for handling it? Post this with the addition of your own examples and we’ll see what we discover together!

Dealing with a Different Sense of Urgency Across Cultures

davidlivermore | November 17th, 2015 3 Comments



One of the biggest frustrations when working across cultures is a different sense of urgency, follow-through, and deadlines. You can easily find books and websites that list which cultures are more likely to adhere to schedules versus those that don’t. But that information does little to actually solve the dilemma.

I hear this challenge from both sides. People working in highly structured environments like the U.S, Germany, or Japan are forever frustrated by a disregard for deadlines and follow-through. And people from contexts like Qatar, China, or Mexico hold time more loosely and are often irritated by the inflexibility of the seemingly arbitrary deadlines that are imposed on them.

There are no simple answers to this dilemma. But there are a few things that can help. First, a little perspective. And then, some guidelines to address this challenge.

First…Seek to Understand
When I first started working in cultures with a different time orientation than mine, advisors told me to give people a start time that was an hour earlier that the actual time. But that didn’t really work for me. First, it wasn’t consistently an hour that people were delayed. Sometimes it was a half hour. Other times it was 3 hours. Furthermore, once word gets out that you do this, it reinforces the idea that a “close of business” deadline doesn’t really mean anything.

It’s rarely the case that people consciously shrug off deadlines. It’s that societies have entirely different orientations toward time. For many cultures, an event begins when all the people who need to be there arrive; and a project is completed when everyone has contributed their part. It’s not about some arbitrary time that was created previously before anyone knew what kind of weather, circumstances, and unexpected events might be going on. There’s a flexible understanding that life’s circumstances can’t possibly be anticipated with any consistency so why expect it of yourself or others? And a great deal of what happens to you is believed to be beyond your control. The boss may insist you work on a different project or your aging parents may suddenly need your help and surely others understand that must take precedent over a project deadline.

Those from cultures more oriented around schedules and timelines are brought up hearing that “time is money.” There are precise times that events and appointments should begin and end. Respect and efficiency are accomplished by adhering to a schedule and the way you build trust is by following through with doing what you say you will when you say you will, even if you don’t understand the purpose of the deadline. In these contexts, there are few legitimate excuses for being late. If you got held up in traffic, you should have left early enough to allow for that possibility. If you became sick, you should have built in some margin to allow for that. This perspective is usually shared by cultures that are more individualist in nature where it’s believed that the individual retains control over her schedule.

Rather than think you’re going to change other people’s view on time, focus on what you can learn from the strengths of both orientations, and then use the following guidelines:

1. Process — Relationship or Relationship — Process
Figure out what comes first for the other party in developing trust: process or relationship. For “process-first” cultures like Germany, the dominant norm is to minimize personal conversation and relationship building upfront and focus on the task at hand. That builds trust and creates more opportunity for developing relationships. For “relationship-first” cultures like the Emirates, the norm is to begin with building the relationship and allowing the tasks and process to flow from that. The initial time spent developing relationships will help the tasks flow much more effectively. As always, beware of assuming all Germans or Emiratis are this way. These are merely tendencies to use as a starting point.

2. Discuss “If-Then” Scenarios
Research consistently reveals that multicultural teams that spend time anticipating different situations upfront are far more likely to respond in a culturally intelligent way when the real-life scenarios come along. One of the best ways to integrate an emphasis on process and relationship is to work together on some hypothetical situations. Creatively develop some culturally intelligent responses that account for both perspectives on time and the overall objective that needs to be accomplished.

Imagine for example, one of the following:

  • A customer needs a fully functioning prototype delivered by the end of the first quarter. Since the prototype will be manufactured in one of your regions where you consistently encounter delays, what can you do to ensure on-time delivery since the customer will not tolerate receiving it late?
  • Your team has been asked to plan a global event for all your senior leaders. Hundreds of leaders will attend from around the world and the meeting needs to occur within the next 18 months. The public holidays in some of your regions aren’t published until the calendar year itself. How will you schedule and plan the event while allowing some flexibility?

Teams comprised of individuals from both time orientations are more likely to come up with creative, culturally intelligent solutions to these kinds of scenarios. Use the diversity on your team plus CQ Strategy to anticipate these kinds of situations upfront and you will be better able to handle the real-life scenarios that come without warning.

3. Build in extra time upfront
An ancient African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Working collaboratively across cultures will inevitably require more time, effort, and patience. So be prepared for it. But when done well, it will yield a better result. The prototype that needs to be manufactured and the global conference that needs to be planned is more likely to be accomplished successfully when you’ve used a diverse team to address the varying approaches to timing and schedules.

You’re setting yourself up to fail if you simply use the same kind of timeline you use when everyone from the same culture is working together. Create more time than is actually needed to accomplish a task because you’ll undoubtedly need it.

4. Speak their “deadline language”
One of the most tangible tests of your CQ is whether you can describe the urgency of a project or deadline in ways that resonate with the other party. For cultures with a built-in priority for punctuality and deadlines, simply informing them that you have a firm deadline is enough. Whereas those for whom delays and fluid timelines are expected as a “given”, it may be necessary to provide additional context about if and why a deadline is significant.

Share what the consequences are for you and the organization if the deadline is missed. If the delay truly harms the interests of the organization, most individuals will be far more motivated to help ensure timely follow-through. In addition, if appropriate, describe the relational fall out that may occur for you or the others involved if timely follow-through doesn’t occur.

On the other hand, those coming from cultures where time is handled more fluidly, may need to explain to their counterparts that certain aspects of the process may be beyond your control. Help your more deadline-focused colleagues understand that different priorities may take precedent. But don’t wait until the 11th hour to explain this. The more opportunity there is to address a delay upfront, the better everyone can deal with it.

5. Check-in Periodically
Ask questions along the way to get a pulse on the progress being made. Sometimes delays occur because the other party is confused about what they are supposed to do. They’ve been trying to indirectly ask for clarification but it’s been missed.

Create several incremental milestones than you might do if you were just working on the project with the “home team”. That way, you aren’t waiting until the very end to find out whether things are on track.

6. Leverage Authority and Relationship As Needed
Consider how the perceived importance of status and authority may influence what occurs. How does this person perceive you and your level of authority? What’s your relationship with this individual? Do you need to bring in a superior to help get things moving? Do you need to talk to a superior on the other side?

Use this very judiciously. You don’t want to start going above and around people. But understand how strongly status and relationship can influence the situation. Most of us are quick to drop what we’re doing when the boss asks us to do something or someone to whom we feel indebted. This reality is multiplied many times over in a more hierarchical, high power distance society.

When all else fails, take a deep breath and try to keep it all in perspective. In many Western-oriented cultures, following through and meeting deadlines is one of the primary ways trust is established. In many other cultures, demonstrating an ability to flex with unanticipated circumstances is one of the primary ways to build and sustain trust. The most productive teams leverage the strength of both orientations. But few things become irreversible because of a missed deadline. Take a deep breath and consider timelines and schedules within the broader scope of life. Not only will it improve your success, it will work wonders for the soul.

How to respond to low CQ, racist comments, and Facebook rants

davidlivermore | August 14th, 2015 1 Comment


What should you do when you’re on the receiving end of low cultural intelligence (CQ)? Ideally, CQ is a two-way street where all parties seek to understand each other and use their diverse perspectives to come up with better solutions. But in reality, we continue to encounter friends, family members, colleagues, and clients who make little effort to engage with cultural intelligence.

There are so many variables to consider, including the nature of the relationship and whether one party comes from a more dominant cultural group than the other. But here are a few suggestions for how to respond:

1. Begin with positive intent
Start with assuming the best. It’s possible the other party was intentionally offensive but it’s just as likely it stems from ignorance. So perhaps the greatest test of your CQ is seeing whether you can take on the perspective of someone who exercises low CQ. How does this appear from their point of view and is there information that will help you better understand their perspective?

Beware of confirmation bias—the tendency to look for and favor information that confirms what you already thought. Confirmation bias occurs when you interpret something that is ambiguous or anecdotal and automatically assume it further supports the viewpoint you already have. We tend to scour social media, the news, and conversations for confirmation of what we already believe and ignore information to the contrary.

Sandra Upton, one of my colleagues at the Cultural Intelligence Center, recently interacted with a group of friends about an incident involving Kevin O’Leary, a.k.a. Mr. Wonderful from the TV series, Shark Tank. Some of Sandra’s friends felt O’Leary was being racist when he told two African American entrepreneurs selling colorful lipstick, that they were “colorful cockroaches”. O’Leary frequently uses inflammatory language (including “cockroach”) with all kinds of individuals whose pitches he doesn’t like. Granted, cultural intelligence would help him understand that calling two African American women “cockroaches” is not the same as calling two Caucasian men that. But before too quickly assuming ill intent, applying CQ when observing something like this requires stepping back to see through the other individual’s eyes. What was the intent from what was said?

Good intentions don’t eradicate inappropriate behavior. But consideration of the intent is required before figuring out how to respond.

2. Use it as a teachable moment
Next, look for opportunities to have courageous conversations about why a behavior may be inappropriate or culturally ignorant. This has to be done carefully because most of us don’t want to be told we’re insensitive. But look for a chance to privately share how you interpreted the behavior and ask whether the other individual has ever considered that. If you believe their intentions were good, begin by reiterating that assumption. Then share your concern that you wouldn’t want others to misinterpret their intentions.

An effective solution for the Shark Tank incident may have been for Daymond John, the African American shark on the show, to talk with Kevin privately afterward. Daymond could affirm Kevin for his ongoing commitment to investing with people of color and ask if he’s aware that “cockroach” is sometimes used as a racial slur and may reflect on him in ways he didn’t intend. For that matter, any of the other sharks who have moderate CQ could have had this conversation with O’Leary.

When a family member, colleague, or client engages in culturally offensive behavior, speak up! I’ve made my share of stupid comments and if no one ever told me the negative connotations of what I said or did, I may continue to needlessly offend others.

There are several contingencies to speaking up. If I encounter a group or culture that doesn’t respect women, I’m not going to just sit back; but it’s also unrealistic for me to challenge every sexist comment I hear when I’m with that group. We have to figure out which interactions are most important and have the most potential for transformation to occur. And then we need to use our CQ to develop strategies to have these crucial conversations.

3. Don’t obsess over PC language
By now you’re probably assuming I’m advocating politically correct language. Not at all! In fact, I’m confident that an obsession with political correctness prevents us from having real conversations about these issues. Far too many students and people in the workplace are fearful of ever speaking up about these issues for fear they’ll be labeled a racist or an overly sensitive person.

I would never call anyone a “cockroach”, much less someone from a culture that has been consistently marginalized. And I think word choice is a big deal because of how quickly people form impressions based upon our language. But part of exercising our own CQ means not getting too caught up with policing people over whether they use the exact “correct” terms and instead, creating space for honest, heart-felt conversations focused on mutual understanding and solutions. Consider Amanda Taub’s viewpoint that “political correctness” doesn’t really exist but instead, is a used against people who ask for more sensitivity to a cause than we’re willing to give—a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them.

4. Remember your own CQ fails!
If you have a brain, you’re biased. So while giving people the benefit of the doubt, I’m not denying the inevitability that many comments stem from a position of bias. In fact, we’re spending a growing amount of time at the center researching and teaching about the connections between diversity, unconscious bias, and CQ. Stay tuned for more on that front.

My frustration with others’ CQ fails is tempered by remembering my own implicit biases and the ongoing journey toward living and leading with cultural intelligence. I recently gave a keynote presentation, during which I said “That’s insane!” and “He must be crazy!” One of the audience members wrote me a scathing note about my abysmal CQ by using such offensive language for those who struggle with mental illness. While I wish she would have started by assuming positive intent, I immediately understood her point and it got me thinking about whether I have some unconscious biases in that area. Those kinds of incidents increase my grace toward others’ when they have CQ fails.

5. Avoid Social Media Arguments
Whether it’s debating sanctions for Iran, flying the confederate flag, or integrating Muslims in Europe, I’ve yet to see someone change their perspective based upon a Facebook argument. I’m sure there are some rare exceptions but social media seems to do little to move these conversations forward.

This comes back to confirmation bias. Most individuals post diatribes on social media that reinforce what they already believe and they aren’t interested in being challenged, even if their viewpoint is proven to be false. Pick up the phone, go to coffee, and see what can be discovered together through conversation, mutual understanding, and disagreement!

Cultural intelligence is an ongoing journey for all of us. The next time you are on the receiving end of low CQ, take a deep breath, seek to understand, and allow the experience to broaden, enrich, and expand your perspective….and see if you can nudge the other party to do the same.