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.

Is 2017 Done Yet? Brace yourself…there’s more to come!

davidlivermore | December 14th, 2017 No Comments

What a year! From Brexit battles and alt right groups to countless women (and men!) saying #MeToo, not to mention an alarming number of terrorist attacks in mosques, churches, cafes and rock concerts…it’s been quite a year. Even for an eternal optimist like me, there are days when it’s hard to remain hopeful. Even so, our team at the Cultural Intelligence Center has never been more committed to our work of building bridges across cultural divides than we are now.

I believe we’re in the midst of a massive global disruption. More people than ever before are working, studying, and living next to people who come from vastly different backgrounds than they do. This is true across the U.S., Canada, and Europe—but it’s also occurring throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and almost everywhere else. I’m confident that the extremists, haters, and abusers are not the majority. But the fear people feel about seeing their communities, work places, and worship gatherings change so dramatically creates a lot of anxiety. A few trite clichés about everyone getting along and celebrating diversity are not going to solve this. But, I’d like to suggest that those of us working together to develop cultural intelligence are uniquely positioned to help others navigate the complexities of today’s world.

Our team at the Cultural Intelligence Center recently pushed “pause” and looked back at some of the highlights from this past year. Here are just a few:

  • Figuring out how to implement unconscious bias and CQ solutions in large multinationals like StarbucksGoldman SachsiRobotAmway, and Fiat Chrysler, to working alongside county governments, small consulting firms, and charitable organizations in a variety of places across the globe. We’ve delivered over 100 workshops on cultural intelligence and unconscious bias.
  • Supporting hundreds of universities and high schools across the globe in assessing and equipping their students to develop the skills to live and work in today’s diverse, multicultural world. In some cases, that means working with an individual class or study abroad group; in other cases, it means working with the administration to conduct a complete audit of their strategy for building CQ and creating an inclusive environment. In cases like the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan, it means every incoming student was introduced to CQ as a part of the school’s commitment to “cultural intelligence” as one of its core values. More than 83,000 individuals from 164 countries have taken the CQ Assessment.
  • We’ve had the delight to work with pharmaceutical companies, research institutes, and hospitals like Spectrum Health in Michigan and Sidra Medicine in Qatar to integrate cultural intelligence as a critical part of providing world class care to families and patients from a diversity of backgrounds.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense made it possible for us to launch a military-specific version of the CQ assessment. And we’ve been privileged to work with special operation groups and military leaders in a variety of contexts across the world.
  • 243 people went through our public certification programs so that they can build cultural intelligence and unconscious bias training and coaching into their work. Additionally, 11 organizations sponsored in-house certifications to equip an internal cadre of facilitators to integrate CQ.
  • Meanwhile, we opened a new office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, added 10 new staff and 14 new associate trainers.

We have big dreams for the next year and even bigger dreams for the next 5 years. This isn’t about us. It’s about partnering with likeminded researchers, practitioners, and organizations to respond to the tribalism or our age and to navigate through the social disruption going on domestically and internationally.

Thank you to the thousands of individuals and organizations that are committed to this work with us. We look forward to introducing you to a number of new products and services in the new year but for now, we wish you the happiest of new year’s! There are more challenges on the horizon but together, we can do this!

Charlottesville, Google, and why some need CQ more than others

davidlivermore | August 18th, 2017 No Comments

From the Google engineer who attributed inequality in tech to gender differences to the U.S president’s soft response on white supremacy groups, our commitment to the work we’ve been called to do has never been stronger. Cultural intelligence, or CQ, is most often lauded for its academic rigor and the emphasis on developing skills for working effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. But at its core, cultural intelligence is a deeply human pursuit. It’s about how the 7 billion of us get along together.

WHO NEEDS CQ?

 

  • Families need CQ
    Anthropologist Oscar Lewis says children form their basic values by the time they’re six or seven. CQ begins at home. Conversations about people who look, think, and behave differently begin on the playground and over the dinner table.
  • Peers need CQ
    Our friends are the ones with whom we’re most unfiltered. And for many of us, the opinions of our friends matter more to us than anyone else. Most of us don’t know a single person who would be caught anywhere near a KKK rally. But comments about “those people” or the questions about “safety” when seeing certain groups need to be addressed. Don’t be a bystander. Speak up when discrimination and bias rears its ugly head.
  • Schools need CQ
    School is one of the first places many individuals enter a more diverse world. Some of our partnering universities in the U.S. tell us they have incoming students who never had a conversation with a person of color before they arrived on campus. Yet as students begin to be bombarded with messages about privilege and bias, these programs can further marginalize underrepresented students and embolden white students to feel like they’re the ones experiencing discrimination. A strategic approach for building a culturally intelligent campus is essential.
  • Workplaces need CQ
    Companies have cultures of their own that dictate what kind of behaviors are deemed appropriate and acceptable in the workplace. Many of us spend most of our waking hours at work. Effective training programs are an important part of this but the bigger need is creating an overall environment where meaningful conversations can take place about how to understand and effectively use differences in the workplace. Don’t roll out an unconscious bias program or diversity initiative too quickly. If not done well, these programs backfire and perpetuate stereotypes and reinforce biases.


WE ALL NEED CQ. BUT SOME NEED CQ MORE THAN OTHERS!

  • Leaders
    The words, actions, and decisions of leaders carry more weight than others’. What Trump, Netanyahu, and Larry Page say in these moments of truth matters more than what the average person says. Leaders play a critical role in responding with clarity, vision, and compassion for all. These aren’t the times to defend yourself or protect your personal image. It’s about owning the weight of leadership and calling people to something more transcendent than nationalism or the bottom line. The CQ needed in how you use 140 characters is directly tied to the scope of influence you have.
  • Dominant Group
    Language is never neutral. Two people saying the exact same thing carries very different meaning. A Muslim comedian making fun of white guys or an African American mocking the way white people dance is not the same as me making jokes about Arabs or people of color. What’s up with that? Our words happen within a long history of inequality and oppression. Therefore, the dominant group needs to weigh the impact of our actions and words more carefully. In reality, most underrepresented groups feel like the greatest onus of responsibility for CQ is on them. Everyone needs CQ but dominant groups need it more.


NO ONE IS BORN HATING

Despite the heartache that can come from watching the news, I’m incredibly hopeful. The most “loved” tweet of ALL times was the Mandala quote posted by Barack Obama last week. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.”

Hate crimes and racism live on all across the planet, but that’s not the trajectory of the people I encounter across the globe. The incoming MBA students I met at University of Michigan last week voiced their desire to be culturally intelligent leaders of the future. The executives I was with at Goldman Sachs earlier this summer talked at length with me about how they can promote cultural intelligence across all levels of the firm. The special forces officers I talked with a few weeks ago owned the very real struggles they have to view certain groups with dignity and respect.

Who needs CQ? I do. And so do you. So let’s get to work.

Wait, What? What Smart Phones do to our CQ

davidlivermore | April 13th, 2017 No Comments

Wait, What? What Smart Phones do to our CQ

Part of this article came together for me in the shower. Why is it that ideas so often come to us while doing mundane tasks? It’s because moments of boredom free up our mind to think creatively. And regular bouts of boredom play a powerful role in building cultural intelligence (CQ).

Yet who has time to be bored these days? As I travel across the U.S. and around the world rarely, if ever, do I see people who are bored. Thank you smart phones!

You can fast forward through the boring commercials watching your favorite show, pass the time waiting in line by scrolling through your social media feed, or sit through a religious service or class by surfing the web and texting. I’ve even seen security personnel and traffic cops using their phones to alleviate boredom. I recently stayed at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur where a VIP was staying. Security was everywhere. Yet several of the security officers were leaning against the wall scrolling through their phones every time I walked by them.

Our smart phones are an insurance policy against ever being bored. And granted, not everyone across the world has a smart phone. I still catch glimpses of elderly people in certain communities who are simply sitting outside doing “nothing.” But the reality is, most of us reach for our phones whenever there’s a minute to spare.

Boredom is directly linked to creativity and innovation. Researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman conducted a study where a group of participants were asked to come up with creative ideas for how to use a pair of plastic cups. Prior to the brainstorming session, one group of participants was asked to copy numbers from a phone book while a control group was not given the boring task. The group who slogged through the phone book assignment came up with more creative ways to use the plastic cups than the others.

What our brains want is new input—fresh, stimulating, and social. But our smart phones spare us the hard work to get that new input and thereby lessen our creative insights. Creativity and cultural intelligence are directly linked. Accomplishing the same task with a group of individuals who have a different set of cultural values requires a creative, culturally intelligent approach, something described in our most recent book Driven by Difference.

But there are a few other seminal issues we need to consider when pondering the relationship between boredom, smart phones, and CQ.

  • Sense of Self

Without boredom, we’re less likely to think about our inner lives. The very starting point of cultural intelligence is awareness of one’s own background, implicit biases, and cultural identity. Sherry Turkle, one of the foremost social scientists studying the impact of technology, describes her observation from doing extensive research on how adolescents and young adults relate to their smart phones.  Most of the students she interviewed see their phones as an extension of themselves. They describe a sense of panic when their phone is dying and they don’t have a way to charge it. In her book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle writes,

I see how happy these students are [with their phones]. They like moving in and out of talk, text, and images; they like the continual feed. And they like always having someplace else to go. They say that their greatest fear is boredom. If for a moment students don’t find enough stimulation in the room, they go to the chat. If they don’t find the images compelling, they look for new ones.” (p. 10)

But don’t be too quick to pin this all on the younger generation. The average U.S. adult checks their phone every 6.5 minutes. There’s little need to pay attention to what’s going on within you when the world is at your fingertips.

  • Perspective Taking

Allowing for boredom increases the capacity for empathy and perspective taking. Perspective taking is the capability to step outside ourselves and imagine the emotions, perceptions, and motivations of another. It goes beyond the platonic admonitions of cultural sensitivity programs that teach “respect for everyone.” Instead, perspective taking steps into the shoes of others and realizes they may not want to be treated the same way I do. Sitting on a bus in a new place and watching the people around me offers me all kinds of insights I miss when my head is buried in my phone.

There’s mounting research that reports a 40% drop in empathy among college students in the past 20 years, as measured by standard psychological tests. Social scientists suggest this drop in empathy correlates with the spike in online, mediated communication by both students and the parents who raised them. Many kids are growing up in homes where parents don’t get through dinner without stopping to read and respond to text messages.

It’s tough to enter the shoes of another person when you’re phubbing—the skill of maintaining eye contact while texting. It’s difficult to understand your colleague’s point on a global call when you’re simultaneously emailing while “listening” to them. It’s difficult to fully engage with an unfamiliar culture when you’re still fully immersed in the world of email and social media updates from home. Boredom allows you to look around and observe details and nuances you miss when multi-tasking as you engage with others. And this leads to one more critical issue.

  • Face-to-Face Conversations, “Wait, What?”

Teens and 20-somethings told Turkle that the most commonly heard phrase at dinner with friends is “Wait, What?” And this is happening as much among 30 and 40-somethings as it is among teenagers. More and more conversations are extremely fragmented because everyone is in and out of the conversation at hand. Everyone is always missing a beat because of being available to everyone else who isn’t physically together.

The beauty of smart phones is the way they allow us to retain connection and relationship with people who are far away from us. It’s what our phones do to our in-person conversations that is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on a table (even turned off) changes how people talk. If two people are talking and there’s a phone sitting on the table, each feels less connected to the other.

Being constantly available to everyone else means I’m only partially available to the people in my presence.  And cultural intelligence is best developed face-to-face, one conversation at a time.

  • You’re in Charge, not Your Phone

Rest easy. I’m not interested in launching a campaign to ditch smart phones…as if that would have any success even in my own household. But it’s time we consider more seriously the ubiquitous ways our phones are changing our lives, relationships, and ways of engaging with one another.

The ability to text my college age daughter from across the world makes me feel closer to her. And the fact that I can easily contact my aging mother, wherever I am in the world, is a gift I treasure. But we need to get serious about taking charge of our phones and putting them down to engage in real, face-to-face conversation, force ourselves to sit on a bus with nothing to do, and know when to fully unplug.

I just read an interview with Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank’s real estate guru who said, “When I get home at night, I focus 100 percent on my family. There’s dinner, the usual homework, bedtime routines….but at night I don’t check emails or answer the phone. I plug the phone into the charger at the front door, and the next morning I grab it as I walk out the door. I realized a while back that the constant flow of emailing and texting was my personal enemy and I declared war.”

Wait, what? You can do that??

Hang on, I just got a text….

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.

We’re All Scared of the Same Things…or Are We? Emotional Differences Across Cultures

davidlivermore | December 13th, 2016 No Comments

dec_newsletter2

Last week I had the misfortune of seeing a Chinese man jump from a tall building in Shanghai to his death below. My heart stopped. What could possibly lead this guy to such immense despair?

What happened next traumatized me almost as much as the actual suicide sighting. Several people gathered around and were quietly laughing. Some took pictures and others were calling to their friends to come see what happened. I was so unnerved by the whole scene. Why were people laughing? Why wasn’t anyone covering his body? Moments later, the police showed up and I went on my way.

Times like these bring our humanity up close. How do we respond to the existential questions of life? And how do we face tragedy together? Yet these situations also highlight our profound differences.

Paul Ekman’s groundbreaking work sheds some light on the similarities and differences in how all 7.5 billion of us react emotionally to the same events. Ekman is a clinical psychologist who has spent the last several decades researching how to read emotions through facial expressions. Among the many seminal findings from his work, there are a couple critical points that are relevant to cultural intelligence:


EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS: WHAT SETS YOU OFF?

First, there’s a set of universal triggers that elicit the same emotion in nearly all of us.

  • The sight of something coming straight at you triggers fear, regardless of your personality or culture. From people in rural China to urbanites in London and Capetown, the sight of an oncoming car elicits the “flight” response (“Danger! I need to move out of the way”).
  • A similar trigger occurs when experiencing unexpected, rough turbulence in flight. Even seasoned flight attendants admit that when they don’t expect it, a sudden jolt in the air frightens them.

Ekman claims that every human being has an auto appraisal system that monitors when we’re in danger. With practice and experience, some overcome these universal fears. But a primal response has evolved within all of us toward a certain set of triggers.

Second, there are unique triggers that are a result of how we’ve been socialized. Individuals from some cultures feel extremely annoyed when people cut in line while it doesn’t even faze others. People from some cultures are irritated when people speak loudly and others couldn’t care less about that. Some cultures are afraid of the oceans. Others seek it out. These variances stem primarily from how we were brought up. In addition, there are other triggers, which are rooted in our unique personalities and experiences (e.g. post-traumatic stress).


EMOTIONAL EXPRESSIONS: HOW DO YOU DISPLAY YOUR EMOTIONS?

Next, Ekman contends that people across all cultures have a universal way of expressing seven emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, surprise and happiness.

Initially this claim didn’t ring true to me. Surely we can’t say that Germans, Chinese, and Italians all express happiness the same way. Isn’t nonverbal communication culturally conditioned? Yes and no.

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.


EMOTIONAL DISPLAY RULES: HOW SHOULD YOU MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS?

How does this explain the fact that some cultures (e.g. African Americans and Italians) are usually far more affective in expressing their emotions while others cultures (e.g. Japanese and Germans) are far more neutral.

Cultural differences come into play by promoting the rules for how to appropriately manage emotional expressions. Parents teach children the appropriate 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? Our cultures teach us how to manage our feelings and we learn which emotions are appropriate for which situations. We develop mechanisms for masking seemingly inappropriate expressions.

This brings me back to the horrific suicide I witnessed last week. It may well be that the giggling by my fellow bystanders was a disguise for their horror. Fake laughter and giggles are a very common response to nervousness and discomfort among many Asian cultures. In all fairness, others looking at me in that moment would have had little idea that I felt a sense of grief and despair when encountering this event. I stood there for a moment with a very staid, neutral response given that my parents taught me that a neutral, stone face was the appropriate response to solemn occasions. Someone who learns how to read microexpressions can discern when a facial expression is masking something else.


CQ PICKS UP WHERE EQ LEAVES OFF

Cultural intelligence stems from the same body of research as emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence is the first step in improving the way you work and relate with others. There’s little hope we can interact effectively in culturally diverse settings if we first can’t understand and regulate the emotions of ourselves and others like us. But cultural intelligence allows us to have those same social sensibilities when interacting with people who display their emotions 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.

When you’re irritated by a behavior that seems rude or awkward (last month’s topic), consider alternative explanations for the behavior (e.g. giggling may not mean someone thinks a tragedy is funny). In addition, careful consideration in the midst of an emotional trigger can diminish the power of the trigger when used repeatedly. If you consistently reflect on whether turbulence really puts you in danger or whether a spider is really going to harm you, you can begin to diminish the power of the emotional response. The same is true for behaviors that annoy you. If you reflect on the intent behind a loud talker or someone who spits in public, it can diminish how much it upsets you.

We’re remarkably different in how we go about our profound similarities. When your counterpart seems foreign, start with what you have in common. And perhaps our shared humanity is the starting point for providing one another with the hope each of us needs to get through one day after the next. After all, we’re in this together.

___

Use the Cultural Value Profile to assess the degree to which you and your teammates have a more “neutral” vs. “affective” approach to managing your emotions.

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

davidlivermore | November 14th, 2016 No Comments

rude_hand

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!

When Does Cultural Immersion Go Too Far?

davidlivermore | April 18th, 2016 8 Comments

 

IMG_5165

It’s easy to travel far away from home and experience very little of the local culture.

Study abroad students are encouraged to get off Snapchat and soak up the local culture.

Business travelers are told to go beyond the hotel lounge to meander through the local streets.

And staff and students are told to move outside their in-groups and interact with peers who are different from them.

This comes pretty naturally for me. I describe myself on my Twitter bio as “insatiably curious” and my family shares my curiosity for all things cross-cultural. Whenever we travel together, we try to encounter the local culture up close. We prefer to stay in locally run hotels or better yet, we usually rent an apartment or house in a local neighborhood.

We did this a couple weeks ago when we took a brief vacation together in Panama. We stayed in an apartment in Panama City and rented a little house in Bastimentos, a coastal village on the Carribean side of the country. We asked locals to tell us their favorite places to eat and we used public transit. When the water stopped running for awhile in Panama City, we asked our neighbors what to do.

As much as I loved being in the cosmopolitan world of Panama City, I particularly enjoyed visiting Bastimentos, a sleepy island that is only accessible by boat taxi. Soon after we arrived in Bastimentos, we headed into Old Bank, the little town on the island that has a mini supermarket, a few cafes, a couple churches, a police station, and no cars. I felt completely alive. This was a curious traveler’s dream! Most everyone we walked by appeared to be locals. And given that there are no cars or roads, it was pretty tough to walk around without seeing the culture up close. While trying not to stare, it was impossible not to get a glimpse right inside people’s homes where men were chasing chickens, women were bathing their children, and teenagers were heading off to school up the hill.

Whoa! And all of this was just a short flight away from the U.S.! It was intoxicating!

But then…I started to wonder if we were intruding. The pathways around the island went right alongside people’s homes. Our home in Michigan sits alongside 11 acres (45,000 m2) of public woods and I was trying to imagine how I would feel if I looked out my window and saw a Panamanian family strolling by our house with smart phones in hand.

Bastimentos has only recently been discovered by travelers like us. We had lunch one day at a local café. We were the only foreigners there. We started talking with the grandmother who runs it. She’s lived on this land her entire life and we asked her how she felt about people like us coming to her village. What’s she supposed to say, right? But in between her hospitable welcome, we picked up on her growing concern that gringos are taking over the island. She was grateful for the new opportunities for business—though she said most of the foreigners simply stay and eat at other foreigner’s businesses. And she wonders what her homeland will look like in the years ahead.

These same realities happen closer to home. A neighborhood near us is often lauded as a compelling picture of revitalization. It’s gone from having little more than a liquor store to being filled with hip boutiques, coffee shops, and foodie haunts along with lofts and condos. A woman who has lived there her entire life recently said, “I don’t feel comfortable walking around my own neighborhood anymore. I suddenly feel like an outsider and like I’m invading the newcomers’ community.”

There’s a lot of useful research that analyzes the complexities related to tourism and gentrification. We ought to resist easy answers and I’m certainly not suggesting we should all stick to ourselves and leave others well enough alone. But for curious travelers like me, our CQ Drive—the interest and motivation to engage with different cultures, must be combined with CQ Strategy—the ability to plan accordingly in light of the cultural context.

Vincent Mattox, an administrator from Kentucky State University attended our CQ Certification program last week. Vince introduced me to the idea of “delayed curiosity”. He suggests that while curiosity about other cultures is a good thing, it runs the risk of being offensive and may sometimes need to be restrained. Vince agrees that political correctness is not the way to create a culturally intelligent environment, however, he sees the importance of tempering our expressions of curiosity when we aren’t sure how our questions and observations might impact others. Just think of the wildly-popular video where the Caucasian runner asks an Asian-American woman, “Where are you from?” Curiosity is a huge asset for creating the necessary interest and motivation for working and relating with people from different cultural backgrounds; but it needs to be guided by the other three CQ capabilities—knowledge, strategy, and behavior.

I will continue to advocate for getting to know a culture up close and moving beyond surface-level encounters. But I’m going to think further about when I need to delay my curiosity or even give up some of the cultural experiences I’d like to have because they may do more harm than good.

When has your curiosity gone too far? How do you encourage others to get outside their comfort zones without needlessly making another uncomfortable? My curious mind wants to know!

Oscars So White? Welcome to the Film Industry!

davidlivermore | February 28th, 2016 No Comments

Guest post by Emily Livermore

osw

As a first year film student, I’ve been watching the controversy surrounding the whiteness of the Oscars with great interest. Media is accessible all over the world by people from all backgrounds and cultures. When I spent time in Asia as a child, I was struck by seeing the same movie posters from the U.S., displayed on the sides of buses and billboards across cities in Asia. It was bizarre to watch thousands of Malaysians walking by life size images of Reese Witherspoon on a Legally Blonde poster. Back then however, the number of locals who actually saw the advertised movies was more limited, because it required the resources to go to a movie theatre or have a television.

Today, people from every age group, culture, and socio-economic status are watching the latest movies on their smart phones in any given environment. In doing so, they enter a world where white men are in charge, women are sexualized, and people of color are rarely seen much less heard. It is unlikely that Hollywood is consciously trying to create this kind of world any more than the Academy is intentionally trying to focus on awarding white actors. But the consequences are real and the Oscars look a whole lot like the world of Hollywood as a whole.

Consider just a few alarming statistics from this study:

  • 12% of the protagonists in the top 100 films of 2014 were women.
  • 4% of speaking roles done by women are Latinas.
  • You’re more likely to see an alien on screen than an Asian or Latina female,

It all seems somewhat unimportant when thinking about a single film or series but when you think about an entire industry built around an image where white males are in charge, women’s primary role is to be sexualized, and other ethnicities are virtually invisible, it becomes deeply problematic. Therefore, placing diverse people in key positions on and off the screen is more than just good and right…it’s literally creating the world in which we all live.

The field of social psychology sheds some light on all this. Our brains and bodies are hard wired to perceive people as friends or foes and we implicitly categorize people largely based on appearance, something researchers describe as unconscious bias. This explains the difficulty of obtaining equal representation for underrepresented groups on and off the screen. When directors are making casting decisions or when studios are looking for a director, their unconscious biases impact their decisions. Particularly if directors need to make a decision under high stress, unless they consciously manage their implicit biases, they will hire based on instinct, which will inevitably favor people like them.

Stereotype threat, another interesting idea I learned about last semester in a book by Fiske and Taylor is when the expectations of a certain group, positive or negative, determine how the group members behave in reality. For example, people often lack confidence in women’s ability to lead. Knowing this stereotype adds pressure to female directors and can negatively impact their performance. When hired, women may get caught directing dramas or romance films because these are the types of films that require less special effects and a smaller crew, resulting in fewer factors for the woman to lead.

One of favorite classes so far at USC was with Dr. Stacy Smith who is a leading researcher examining diversity in the media. Dr. Smith led an extensive study, which analyzed the characters and directors of the top 100 films from 2007-2014. Of the 779 directors of the films included, only 28 were women. In the most recent year of films examined (2014), 27% of the characters were non-white and 28% of the speaking characters were female. In the real world, half the world is female and 85% can be classified as non-white.

Smith addresses the recurring argument that there just aren’t enough diverse candidates in the film pipeline and the person most competent for the job has to be hired. When a scarcity of talent is assumed, it impacts the hiring of female directors in a couple of ways. First, when a position becomes available, the people who find out about it are usually in the same network of the people hiring. If the person who is hiring happens to be a white male, then the majority of his network and the people that interview for the job will be other white men. In addition, producers want the most competent individuals and assume they must know which women are competent for the role since they assume there are so few to even consider. In the interviews done for this portion of Smith and team’s research, 12% of the people interviewed (film executives, filmmakers, buyers, and sellers) brought up the fact that women may not be able to handle large productions, especially ones with large crews that she would then have to control. This uncertainty in women’s abilities or competence diminishes the number of females that get hired to direct. This is the same reason many women do not get to play certain roles on-screen. Women are less likely than men to be cast in action/adventure films. From a sample of the top 100 films in 2014, Smith’s research revealed that women only played 21.8% of the speaking characters in action/adventure films. This likely stems from the stereotypes people have about the appropriate role of women in general and the implicit biases of the casting directors.

As an aspiring film director, it’s a bit daunting to enter the male-dominated world of Hollywood. But I’m resolved to do whatever it takes. Someday, I hope to hire, cast, and direct a diverse set of actors who create award winning films. I want to use my time in film school to be the best filmmaker I can be. And tonight, I’ll be watching the Oscars with my classmates from around the world. Alongside our laughter and dialogue, our diversity will undoubtedly make the conversation richer. And together, we will be a generation of filmmakers that will create a film industry that more accurately displays the colorful, diverse mosaic of the world….and hopefully make the world a better place at the same time.
—-

Emily Livermore is a film student at University of Southern California and is inspired by the power of film to communicate globally. She grew up getting to travel the world and views herself as a global citizen. When she’s not making films and studying, she loves to make music, go rock climbing, and explore LA with her friends.

The Dilemmas of a Traveling White Guy

davidlivermore | October 19th, 2015 33 Comments

thumb_checkin pic_1024

Last week I walked into the Mumbai airport to check-in for my flight to Abu Dhabi. I was flying economy but as I entered the queue, the airline representative immediately said, “Right this way sir.” And just like that, I was escorted to the posh lobby and check-in section for Etihad business class passengers.

This hardly sounds like a dilemma, right? I was all too grateful to avoid the long lines winding around to the economy counter. But I felt a bit hypocritical. So I stopped the guy and said, “Actually sir. I’m flying economy today so I can just check in there.” To which he emphatically protested that this was where I belonged.

Throughout the next several steps in the process—baggage check, security screening, passport control, boarding etc.—I was directed through special lines for people “like me” with no one questioning why I was there while holding an ECONOMY boarding pass. This is a stark contrast from what happens when I stand in the premier boarding lines in the U.S. and some of my fellow passengers take it on themselves to police whether an interloper has slipped into the wrong line.

Earlier this month, I was staying in a luxury hotel in Dubai and I was walking with a Jordanian woman who was attending the same conference as me. She was also staying at the hotel and as we walked together to return to our respective guest rooms, the hotel staff stopped her and said, “Excuse me ma’am. This section is only for hotel guests.” She pulled out her room key to verify that she was staying there while I showed them nothing. And as we walked away, she said to me, “They think I’m a prostitute.” What?! I was determined to go back and set the record straight or see if maybe it was just that they recognized me and not her. She laughed and said, “No, No…I’m very sure that’s what they thought. But don’t go talk to them about it. It will just cause me more grief.”

The examples keep going. Some of the hotels where I stay overseas have an x-ray machine you have to walk through as you enter the hotel…unless you look like me. I’m consistently waved around the machine while my Chinese, Indian, and Arab colleagues are directed to go through it. And I’m routinely given the best places to sit in restaurants and cafes and granted access to exclusive lounges I haven’t paid to visit. (And this is one reason my family loves traveling with me!). Before I know it, I start to think I deserve this kind of treatment.

I’m not automatically given these kinds of perks back home. But the benefits I receive are often as real.

  • Many of my African American friends worry about whether their sons will be shot dead because they “looked” like they were up to no good.
  • People with “white sounding names” on a resume are 50% more likely to receive an interview in a U.S. company.
  • The average “attractive male” will earn $250,000 more in his lifetime than the average “unattractive male” will.
  • And people with northern U.S. accents are perceived to be smarter and more in charge than people with southern accents are.

My daughter just started film school at USC. She tells me that we’re more likely to see an “other worldly character” in a mainstream movie than we are to see an Asian woman. Aliens have more visibility in the “progressive” world of Hollywood than Asian females do, even though Asians make up 60% of the global population. The on-screen representation of Latinas is similar.

I’m equally troubled by the more subversive forms of bias that benefit me. I was very conscious that I did nothing to merit the business class perks I received last week. I knew I had only paid for an economy ticket. But when I get called back for an interview or look back at my accomplishments, it’s harder to know how much of it I earned and how much of it was enhanced by implicit assumptions that I’m a competent, successful guy.

What’s a culturally intelligent way to respond to these dilemmas? My typical modus operandi in these articles is to offer 4-5 practical takeaways. I’m not short on suggestions for how to respond to these kinds of realities—don’t be a bystander, use privilege to open doors for others, work for systemic change, etc. I’ve written broadly about these points and we teach seminars on it. But I spend so much time researching, teaching, and writing about this topic that it sometimes starts to become depersonalized for me.

So for today, I’m compelled to delay my impulse to teach other people what they should do and instead, to simply sit with the dilemma for a bit. I refuse to become paralyzed with shame for something that is much bigger than me; but neither do I want to too quickly assuage my responsibility. I want to keep feeling the rub of my experience versus the experience of most people in the world. And I never want to lose sight of the shared humanity that exists among all of us—from the sheik to the taxi driver.

Ironically, as I sat at my gate waiting to board my flight to Abu Dhabi, I was staring at an advertisement that says “Brown is in”, with a picture of a Bollywood actress and a magnum ice cream bar. I applaud Unilever for this kind of ad campaign and I hope they expand it to include darker faces (the woman in the ad looks as white as she does brown). But either way, it’s going to take a lot more than an ad campaign or 4 simple steps to address the ways our implicit assumptions limit our potential as individuals, organizations, and the world at large.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back to strategizing ways that cultural intelligence can better address these dilemmas. But for today—I’m sitting with the tension to think critically about how to responsibly steward the privileges I inevitably receive most anywhere I go. And I invite you to do the same.

 

[Stats from the research on implicit bias at Harvard University and the Media, Diversity and Social Change initiative at University of Southern California]

Archives