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The Group Excluded from Diversity Programs

davidlivermore | November 11th, 2020 No Comments

Whatever you think about the outcome of the US election, it’s clear. The US is a divided nation. The Left believes bigotry and racism are tearing the country apart. The Right believes identity politics and political correctness are tearing us apart. I think both are right. And I’m increasingly concerned that many diversity programs may actually be contributing to the problem. Instead of promoting inclusion and belonging for everyone, some groups seem to be excluded, with people from the so-called working class at the top of the list.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what politically correct term to use to describe this cultural group. “Poor” sounds too derogatory, as does “blue-collar” or “rust belt.” And as with any cultural grouping, the working class of the US isn’t a monolith. Socioeconomics is only one dimension of our identities. But the point is, working-class families have had the lowest upward mobility rates in the US for the last several decades. And for whatever reason, to many white working-class individuals, it felt like the only person listening to them was Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, he somehow tapped into a group that felt like they’ve been left behind by the American Dream run by cosmopolitan elites flaunting their liberal ideas. Many working-class people have had enough, and they made that known in the last two presidential elections.

Diversity leaders have done an excellent job of broadening the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversation beyond race and gender. Most DEI initiatives include other marginalized groups like those who are differently-abled, religious minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community. But what might it mean for DEI programs to reach further to include class diversity more consciously?

FACTS

First, we need to familiarize ourselves with some of the data. Despite the global scope of our work at the Cultural Intelligence Center, I’m focusing for the moment entirely on the US context, some of which may apply elsewhere. Over the last two decades, there has been some improvement in closing the gap on US racial and gender inequity, albeit Covid-19 has demonstrated that those inequities continue to be monumental. But the disparities associated with class have gotten progressively worse over the last twenty years.

Towns all across the US have been gutted from the loss of manufacturing jobs. For many years, manufacturing provided a decent living so that people without college degrees could easily live a stable, middle-class life. But that’s not the case anymore. For average workers in the US, wages haven’t increased beyond inflation for 30 years, while incomes for high-wage positions have soared. 

If you’re born into a family that is struggling financially, it’s harder than ever to break out of it. A person born in the bottom 20 percent of family income only has a 4 percent chance of making it into the top 20 percent. So much for the American Dream! 

Robert Putnam, a sociologist whose work has deeply shaped my thinking, provides powerful insights on life in many of these hallowed manufacturing towns across the country. He describes his hometown in Port Clinton, Ohio, as a “place of stark class divisions where wealthy kids park BMW convertibles in the high school parking lot next to decrepit junkers that homeless classmates drive away each night to live in.” Rich kids have significantly more access to extracurricular activities, particularly as more schools have “pay to play” sports programs. And consider this: Wealthy kids with the lowest standardized test scores have a better chance of finishing college than poor kids with the highest test scores do.

Of course, being poor and Black is a double strike against the chances of upward mobility. There’s an uneasy correlation between economics and racial disparities. 58 percent of America’s poor are racial or ethnic minorities. And unfortunately, working-class whites are too often pitted against working-class people of color, rather than seeing their many shared needs. 

PERSPECTIVE-TAKING

One of the only research-based strategies for developing cultural intelligence (CQ) and mitigating bias is perspective-taking, the ability to perceive a situation from another group’s point of view. Those of us leading DEI work and cultural intelligence efforts should be leading the way in promoting perspective-taking, but when it comes to understanding the working class, and especially the white working class, I’m not sure we’re rising to the challenge. 

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang describes the negative reaction he received when he talked with truck drivers, retail workers, and servers in diners across the US and told them he was a Democrat. For Yang, Democrats are the party of the working class. But he says, “In their minds, the Democratic party has taken on this role of the coastal, urban elites who are more concerned about policing various cultural issues than improving their way of life that has been declining for years.”

The CQ community is diverse politically. I’ve sat in many lively discussions with colleagues and friends debating issues like wealth creation versus wealth distribution, the government’s role in legislating lifestyle, and affirmative action. But let’s be honest. Much of the diversity conversation in the US leans left, and with that comes some blind spots.

What does it mean for DEI leaders to engage in perspective-taking with individuals who voted for Trump? One Trump voter said, “Maybe I’m just so sick of being called a bigot that my anger has pushed me to support this seriously flawed man.” (Chua, 189). To what degree can we talk about the Trump voter in non-evaluative terms? I’m not suggesting we should shy away from calling racism what it is. Nor am I suggesting that polite conversations that treat all viewpoints as equally valid are the answer. But we have to stop and consider why so many working-class individuals feel like diversity programs teach people to tolerate and include everyone except them. 

Let’s take the topic of white privilege, for example. I teach and write about the realities of white privilege in places all over the world, acknowledging that I myself am a picture of privilege. But what’s the culturally intelligent way to teach about privilege to a white person who is barely hanging on financially? I’m not sure. But something doesn’t sit right with me when I hear a DEI leader tell a person who just filed bankruptcy that they need to “Check their privilege.” Do white, poor people have privileges than black, poor people lack? For sure, because of all the systemic reasons that go with racial discrimination. It’s also true that someone with Stage 2 cancer is better off than someone with Stage 4 cancer. But it’s not very compassionate to tell them that. Many working-class individuals believe progressives and diversity advocates have compassion for everyone but them. Might they be right?

ENSURING DIVERSITY INCLUDES EVERYONE

Kimberlé Crenshaw, the originator of the enormously useful concept of Intersectionality, worries that her work has been misinterpreted and used to divide people into more and more sub-groups while missing the point of what she was after. She says her work has been taken too far to become “identity politics on steroids.” We’re right to caution against group blindness (e.g., “I don’t see color”), but at some point, we seem to have lost the value of calling people to see our shared humanity.

One group of researchers found that diversity practitioners are remarkably dogmatic. Most DEI leaders identify as global citizens who celebrate humanity everywhere, but when it comes to flag-waving patriots in rural regions, many workshop facilitators allow things to be said that would be immediately called out as inappropriate if it was said about another group. For workshops that are supposed to engage in openness to different points of view, participants quickly sense that there are many “right” and “wrong” perspectives when it comes to diversity agendas. This kind of approach does little to foster understanding, acceptance, and belonging.

For starters, let’s cancel the “cancel culture” movement where only certain views are celebrated and, instead, create safe places where we can have honest dialogue about many diverse perspectives. There are, of course, times when we need to exert leadership and protect marginalized groups from being further traumatized by hearing bigoted perspectives but hopefully, that will be the exception rather than the norm. I’m calling us to facilitate creative discussions where we can be for Black Lives Matter and support the police. We can dismantle systemic racism and care about the individual realities many people face. We can have compassion for working-class white people and establish policies that address racial inequities. 

This is a far more US-centric article than I usually write. But CQ is lived locally. While I’m not originally from Midwest America, it’s where I live today. I feel my own impulse to rush to judgment when I drive through certain communities or overhear conversations from people who probably perceive me as the coastal elite. But in my quest to build a more culturally intelligent world, I want to do more to hear them, understand them, and ensure that our work includes the working class as well as the many other identities we seek to include.

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Is CQ Enough?

davidlivermore | October 19th, 2020 No Comments

“We’re dealing with really serious issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I’m not convinced cultural intelligence is enough.” 

We’ve heard this more than once from DEI and HR leaders. And it’s a fair concern. Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the capability to function effectively in any multicultural situation. The definition is broad, and our research-based philosophy and approach are straightforward. We help businesses, institutions, schools, and governmental agencies worldwide develop the cultural intelligence of their teams, employees, students, etc. But how does this support DEI work? In more ways than you might assume. In fact, CQ is the strategic link to creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environments

Here’s a brief breakdown of how CQ can be used as a strategy to support your DEI work:  

CQ AND DIVERSITY

When most organizations say they want diversity, they are talking about representation — attracting and hiring people from different cultural backgrounds and identities. This is good. But whether you are trying to recruit diverse talent or ensure the hiring process is unbiased, it requires cultural intelligence to do it effectively. Some organizations have made more progress increasing diversity than others have. But even those who have done well may not be fully reaping the benefits. Research consistently demonstrates that diverse teams with low CQ are outperformed by homogenous teams. You can have employees from a wide range of diverse cultures and backgrounds, including different gender-identities, races, nationalities, generations, differently-abled people, etc. and still not understand how to leverage those differences. Why? Because working with people who are different creates misaligned expectations and conflict, and apart from CQ, increased diversity creates gridlock and reduced productivity. However, the research demonstrates that when diverse teams have high CQ, they outperform homogeneous teams in every area, including innovation, decision-making, building trust, and leadership effectiveness. 

PRO TIP: Are you new to Cultural Intelligence? If so, watch this short video explaining how Cultural Intelligence and Diversity work together to create better solutions.

So what’s the bottom line? Diversity is important, but by itself, it has limited benefits. CQ is the multiplying factor. Facilitate CQ and unconscious bias trainings with your teams. Challenge them to demonstrate how they will leverage the diversity of their colleagues and peers to come up with innovative solutions to challenging problems. In classrooms, have students map out the cultural values of their classmates and require them to show how they will use the differences to work on team projects. In workplaces, facilitate perspective-taking to enhance dialogue and collaboration. Equip people to move beyond political correctness while using language that is respectful for everyone. These cultural intelligence strategies position you to make diversity so much more than just a beautiful mosaic of people from different backgrounds. CQ ensures everyone has the skills to work together effectively. 

CQ AND INCLUSION

While Diversity is about representation, Inclusion is the process of welcoming diversity and creating an environment where everyone thrives. We recently participated in a webinar with Above Difference, our strategic partner in London. It was a fascinating discussion with businesses and health care leaders across the UK, and it shed light on some of the challenges around creating inclusive organizations, particularly in the era of Covid-19. One of the things discussed was how the global pandemic and economic recession is highlighting how quickly many organizations abandon their DEI commitments. In times of crisis, there’s a tendency to retreat to what’s safe, which often means retaining and promoting the people you know you can trust and excluding those you aren’t sure “get it,” which is often code language for people who are different. Virtual meetings begin to occur that inadvertently resort back to the safety of homogeneous groups. It doesn’t take long to lose whatever strides have been made in recruiting and including diverse people. Inclusion is not only welcoming everyone, but it’s having a culture and a set of organizational routines that are explicitly inclusive. What does that look like? 

Last year, the Academy of Management reported the top three factors that influence whether diverse staff feel included: participation in decision-making, information sharing, and informal networking. It’s easier and more efficient to make decisions with a group of like-minded people, but you lack the diversity of insights that come from involving diverse perspectives. CQ allows you to develop a decision-making process that manages bias, enables a variety of ways for a diversity of individuals to share their point of view, and ultimately reach a decision. The same is true for information sharing. Cultural intelligence ensures that knowledge sharing is inclusive and multi-directional. And while not everyone is looking to be best friends with their colleagues, we all want to feel like we belong. There are important links between CQ and diverse groups building collaborative, trusting relationships that go beyond simply accomplishing work tasks. “Inclusion” has been the buzzword in DEI for more than a decade, and in recent years, “belonging” has been added to the mix. In addition to helping people feel they can be authentic at work, CQ provides a proven, research-based strategy for including people in the areas where they most want to be included so that they’re set up to succeed.

CQ AND EQUITY

Last week, Starbucks announced they are tying diversity targets to executive pay. Whether you agree with their approach or not, it highlights their commitment to measuring what they espouse to value. While the primary objective is to increase representation (diversity), a secondary benefit is how this decision influences equity. When reviewing employee demographics, they determined more was needed to help employees from culturally diverse backgrounds develop and advance into leadership roles. This culturally intelligent decision moved them one step closer to creating an organization committed to creating equitable experiences and opportunities for all employees.

For the last two years, we’ve partnered with Dallas Independent School District, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the US. With over 150,000 students and 22,000 employees, the entire focus on our work has been to use CQ as a strategy to address racial equity. Part of the strategy includes requiring all staff, teachers, and administrators to participate in CQ and unconscious bias trainings. Each employee is accountable for creating and implement individual development plans. To measure progress, everyone will complete a post CQ Assessment. We are also reviewing systems, policies, and practices that may be contributing to inequities among students, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

This is what it looks like to measure what you espouse to value. Both Starbuck and Dallas ISD are identifying inequities and implementing culturally intelligent action steps to mitigate them.

In sum, DEI without CQ has limited effectiveness. When we build in CQ solutions, the outcomes are significant and sustainable.

We agree that CQ is not the only strategy for supporting DEI work. There are several critical components. However, cultural intelligence is foundational, and it’s a critical part of any process designed to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment.

We hope you find these ideas useful. But don’t just take our word for it. Join us on Thursday, October 29, at 11:00 AM EDT / 3:00 PM GMT and hear firsthand how our partners and clients from around the globe are integrating CQ into their DEI efforts. You can register for this free webinar below. Seats are limited, so sign up today!

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We’re In A Crisis! Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

davidlivermore | October 19th, 2020 No Comments

A global pandemic has done little to bridge our tribal divides: Maskers vs. Anti-Maskers, Nationalists vs. Globalists, Police Supporters vs. Black Lives Matter…and the list keeps going.

If there was ever a time to put aside our differences, it’s now. We need the creativity, resources, and discipline of all of us to fight Covid-19 and its myriad spill-over effects on mental health, economical progress, education, and the list goes on.

Research from a variety of studies, including some of our cultural intelligence findings, points to a seemingly simple solution—Get divided groups to talk to each other to solve a shared problem. It sounds a little too Pollyannaish to be true—right? If the back and forth on social media is any indication, voicing different opinions is doing little to reduce tribalism. And the sound of manila dialogue about racism, economic fallout, and national elections leaves me bored. But that’s not the kind of conversation I’m after. We need culturally intelligent conversations that use our differences to get us out of this mess.

Let’s begin with a refresher on Muzafer Sherif’s classic Robber’s Cave Experiment. Sherif and his colleagues brought two groups of 12-year-old boys to camp. They were all white kids from similar middle-class backgrounds, and none of them knew each other prior to the study. Each group arrived at camp, unaware of the other group’s existence. The first week, they bonded with their respective groups by hiking, swimming, sharing meals, and doing all the fun things you do at camp. They named themselves the Eagles and the Rattlers.

The second week, the two groups were introduced to each other. Competitive activities were set up like baseball and tug-of-war, with the level of competition gradually increasing. Awards were given to the winning team. The competition escalated from name-calling into burning each other’s flags, vandalizing each other’s property, and getting into physical fights. In a matter of hours, the boys did what we all do by default—they created us vs. them tribes. 

The researchers began to work on ways to break down the divisions between the campers. Fun activities were planned for the two groups to do together—shared meals, watching movies, and pairing up boys from each group to swim, hike, or play ball together. It didn’t work. The minute the boys were back in their groups, they resorted to food fights, name-calling, and brawling with the other side.

Next, the researchers created a number of obstacles that the groups had to work together to solve. The camp’s water supply was shut off, and a truck bringing the campers food wouldn’t start. At first, the groups immediately resorted back to their rivalries as soon as the challenge was resolved. But over time, the continued pursuit of shared goals began to reduce the conflict. Name-calling stopped, meals began to reflect intermingling between groups, and Eagle and Rattler friendships began to emerge. By the end of camp, they all rode the bus back home together, singing and laughing as one group.

There’s compelling research that spending time with the “other side” and engaging in goal-oriented conversations is a critical part of building a more culturally intelligent world. This was an idea first developed by Gordon Allport, something he called “Contact Hypothesis.” Allport offered guidance on how to use solution-focused dialogue to reduce conflict and discrimination:

  • The members from both groups need to have equal status. If one group is treated as subordinate, the interaction makes things worse.
  • There has to be a common goal (such as saving as many lives as possible during a global pandemic!).
  • The members of both groups have to commit to DOING something together. It’s the act of solving something together that begins to change attitudes about one another.
  • Institutional support is needed (e.g., all of this depends on culturally intelligent leadership guiding and supporting the contact between groups).

Each of us can start by applying this social science interpersonally. Think of someone who has a diametrically opposed view about something you both care deeply about. Agree to get together with the goal of seeing if you can accurately understand one another’s perspective and to identify something you can do together to address the issue you both care about. In-person contact is more effective than virtual, but given our current circumstances, virtual still works. 

Use these rules of engagement:

  • Argue like you’re right. Listen like you’re wrong. I first heard Adam Grant say this, and I use it all the time to frame our leadership meetings at the CQ Center.
  • No name-calling or labels. We can do better than that. And it does nothing to move the conversation forward.
  • Avoid media-scripted talking points. Formulate your own point of view. If you never disagree with your trusted media sources, consider whether you’re being duped.
  • See if you can neutrally describe each other’s point of view. No evaluative or judgmental language allowed.
  • Identify a challenge you can work on together.

Next, bring the insights of “contact hypothesis” theory into your professional life. If you’re a teacher, facilitate this kind of goal-oriented dialogue in your classroom. If you’re a manager, use this approach to address work-related differences and then find appropriate ways to get your team engaging in goal-oriented conversations about politics, religion, and social issues.

It’s going to take more than polite conversations to bridge our political divides and tribalism. But the first step toward evolving beyond our tribal camps of us vs. them is spending time with the other tribe. If ever we’ve had a common enemy that doesn’t come from anyone geopolitical place or political tribe, it’s Covid-19. This virus doesn’t care if you’re red, blue, Qatari, Emirati, Arab, or Jew. Our diversity won’t solve this global pandemic. Left to our tribal differences, we’ll continue to act like a group of 12-year-olds fighting over who gets to eat first. But our diverse perspectives, combined with culturally intelligent dialogue and action, can help us move beyond the “cancel culture,” “lockdown or not,” debates to creating solutions we all need.

Many of our appointed leaders across the globe aren’t leading us with cultural intelligence. They’re using this moment to deepen their tribe’s loyalty rather than transcending their in-group perspectives to fight this thing for us. So let’s figure this out on our own. And for those us voting in the coming months, let’s elect individuals who have the cultural intelligence to guide and support difficult, goal-oriented conversations that leverage our differences rather than using them to further destroy us. If a group of 12 year-olds can do it, so can we.

For more information about the book check out this Q+A with Dave below!

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Coronavirus Insight: “I’m More American Than I Thought!”

davidlivermore | May 26th, 2020 No Comments

By David Livermore, PhD

My parents were Canadian. And I’ve spent a great deal of the last thirty years living and traveling across the globe. I’m a US citizen, but I don’t think of myself as a very typical American. And people outside the US often guess that I’m European, Australian, or even Middle Eastern before they peg me as being from the US. But times of crisis bring out the core of who we are. The COVID-19 crisis makes me realize I’m more American than I typically think. I’m not suggesting this is good or bad…It’s just been a time of reckoning to reflect on my reactions in the midst of a crisis. 

Here are a few examples:

1. You can’t tell me what to do!

I’m 100% committed to social distancing and the necessity of restricting travel, movement, and more…but it strikes at the core of my inner locus of control. I’ve found myself internally rebelling against being told that I have to stay home. My autonomy and freedom are important to me, and I want to be able to control what I do, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the right for you to do the same. This is the classic American narrative.

My friends in Singapore often say that their highly regulated, rules-based society is a small price to pay for safety, financial security, and more. I respect their collectivist ideals and often view them with great admiration. But in times like this, I’m reminded that my autonomy is a prized value for me. Tell me that there are choices I can make for the benefit of myself and others, and I’m much more motivated to do social distancing than just telling me to do it because you said so. That’s very American of me.

2. I just want this to be done already! 

Two weeks of no-travel and working from home?! Okay. No big deal. I can do this. But now as two weeks become four, six, and eight, I’m thinking, I’m so over this. When can we get back to normal?

Americans are notoriously short-term oriented. We like quick fixes, and we celebrate quick turn-arounds. Most US publicly traded companies insist on quarterly results. In contrast, companies like Sony and Panasonic make decisions in light of 100 year+ strategic plans and will often suffer losses for what outsiders might perceive as a long period of time because of a long-term orientation. Both mindsets are a critical part of success. But they change how you approach times of crisis.

I’m confident we’re going to get to the other side of this, but there isn’t a quick fix. And I want one.

3. What just happened to all my hard-earned investments?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the future—How can we introduce cultural intelligence to 10 million people by 2030? What kind of team will we have at the Cultural Intelligence Center in five years? How can I help my daughters prepare for the future? How should we invest in preparing for the kind of life we anticipate in 15 years?

When the current crisis began hitting the financial markets, I decided I wasn’t even going to look at my investment accounts. I invest for the long-haul, so there’s no need to panic in light of short-term losses. But eventually, I couldn’t stop myself from seeing how bad things were. My long-term vision evaporated. I can’t believe I lost that much money in 4 weeks! I worked so hard for this, and it’s gone.

Many people, Americans included, think about the future. But I’ve often thought of myself as an anomaly from “typical” Americans in that I think about it a lot and plan accordingly. I pride myself on saying that I’m not overly worried about immediate successes, but I might not be as future-oriented as I think.

4. Can we please hear something positive?

I grow impatient with friends and acquaintances who tune out the news because it’s too negative. I’m sorry you can’t handle hearing about the atrocities in Syria because it’s too dark. C’mon already. Are we really that self-centered? But the bombardment of bad news over the last few weeks leaves me longing for something, anything, that’s hopeful.

Americans like a happy ending. Longfellow wrote, “Be still, sad heart!… Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.” Ronald Reagan built his re-election campaign by saying, “It’s morning again in America,” an approach that fits well with the American psyche. Contrast that to a more typical German approach, where the norm is to look at the downside of things and to linger in that reality. Goethe wrote, “Let me pass the nights in tears, As long as I want to cry.”

I don’t want to be in denial about the enormous loss of life all across the globe as a result of this pandemic. But like most of my fellow Americans, I’m craving something positive…something, anything!

5. I’m an exception!

The virus is following me. I was in Asia for most of January and February. While I could see the growing devastation unfolding, particularly in Wuhan, I silently wondered if the response elsewhere in Asia was an over-reaction. There were virtually no cases in Singapore, but my temperature was being checked everywhere I went. In Seoul, I walked by a massive department store that was closed indefinitely because a customer had been exposed to the virus. Subconsciously I was thinking, I’ll be fine. There are 7+ billion people in the world, and I’m not going to lose sleep over catching this.

I don’t espouse American exceptionalism. Why can’t we be proud of who we are without having to be the “best nation in the world”? But I’ve been reflecting on how quickly I resort to exceptionalism personally. I dismissed my wife’s concerns that I was going to come home from Asia sick. I didn’t think the realities of Italy and Iran would be happening across our own metropolitan areas. It turns out the virus doesn’t care if you’re Chinese, American, royalty, or homeless. Granted, privilege is amplified by how things like social distancing and exposure to the virus play out. But no one is an exception to getting the virus, Americans included.

The very fact that I think of myself as being “not very typical American” is a very American thing to do. Americans are proud of what makes us stand apart from each other. It’s rooted in our desire for uniqueness. While our nationality is only part of our identity, it has a profound, powerful influence on our underlying values.

During this time of disruption, reflect on how your responses expose your cultural identity:

  • How much sacrifice should healthy individuals be willing to make for the sake of others? (Individualism/Collectivism)
  • Should executives take a steeper pay cut than their staff? If so, should they also be paid more during good times? (Power Distance)
  • Are you inclined to wait and see how this all plays out or proactively take charge of your situation? (Being vs. Doing)
  • How does your view toward receiving economic relief from the government align with your espoused views toward socialism vs. capitalism? (Cooperative vs. Competitive)

Now more than ever, we need to function as a global community. Being global citizens doesn’t have to conflict with our national identities. But we each have to hold the two identities in tension. There’s no turning back from globalization. COVID-19 has made that exceptionally clear. We’re all connected. We have a common enemy, and our only hope is to fight it together.

In the words of Queen Elizabeth last week,

“We join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science, and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed. And that success will belong to every one of us.”

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If you have extra time on your hands during this unprecedented crisis, check out MyCV (My Cultural Values), an online tool that includes a survey and personalized feedback of your cultural value preferences. Or you might want to enroll in MyUB™ (My Unconscious Bias), our online course that explores the fascinating science behind implicit bias and how cultural intelligence helps you manage your bias.

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A Guide To Asking Culturally Intelligent Questions As You Travel

davidlivermore | May 26th, 2020 No Comments

Guest post written by Emily Livermore, Content Developer, Cultural Intelligence Center

I was 10 years old the first time I visited China. I had spent significant time in Southeast Asia before that, but my family’s trip to Kunming was one of the first times I remember noticing the significant “Otherness” of the food, city, and culture. My parents always sought out opportunities for our family to engage with culture no matter where we were. This trip to China was no different. 

Upon arrival in Kunming, I’m exhausted and already missing my friends back home when my dad tasks each family member with coming up with 10 observations about this new place by dinner. (It really wouldn’t be a Livermore family trip without some sort of CQ® homework assignment.)

On the drive from the airport to the hotel, I stared out the window collecting observations. I remember observing the overwhelming number of street dogs, the masses of motorbikes, and cars that had every window tinted black. The great thing about actively making observations is that they inevitably lead to questions. Why are there so many stray dogs? Why is the motorbike the preferred mode of transit? Why are drivers allowed to tint all of their windows? 

The nice thing about being 10 years old is that you aren’t expected to have a filter yet. loved asking questions, and being in an unfamiliar place was a breeding ground for this innate curiosity. It was a constant cycle of observing my surroundings and asking whatever popped into my head. 

Today at 22 years old, so many of my questions can be directed to Google but, for the ones that can’t, what’s the etiquette for asking questions as an adult when you’re in an unfamiliar place?

Though my parents don’t “assign” my sister and me cultural exercises anymore, observing and asking questions is still core to how we continue to explore the world together. But there are new approaches I’ve learned as an adult to ensure this practice is both meaningful and culturally intelligent.

What are the right questions to ask? 

In my experience, the most meaningful questions open dialogue or lead to additional questions. A meaningful question has answers that give you value beyond a tidbit of new information. 

Let’s say you are working in Indonesia with a Muslim colleague who is gay. You may be wondering about this colleague’s experience as a gay individual in the most populous Muslim country in the world. This is definitely a meaningful question, but it’s also tricky because it can be a sensitive topic. To address this, try de-personalizing the question. Instead of asking about their personal experience coming out, start with something like How do most parents here respond when they learn their child is gay? If this colleague is an indirect communicator, you may want to distance the question even further by asking What’s something you wish more people realized about your culture? And you can always give your colleague an out by adding No need to answer if it makes you uncomfortable

The other thing to keep in mind in asking meaningful questions while you travel is making sure the question you are asking does not make an assumption of its own. We make assumptions all the time without even knowing it. 

For example, one of my first times in Costa Rica, after a couple of meals out, my family noticed that the servers were bringing the check to my mom instead of my dad. This prompted my mom to ask, I wonder if the woman is considered the head of the family here?  The question was prompted after only two instances. In my mother’s defense, this is extremely easy to do. We all actively look for patterns to learn more about the culture surrounding us when we travel, and when something unusual happens a couple of times in a row, it can prompt some assumptions. One way to turn this kind of observation into a more meaningful insight is to take a step back. Try asking your server or another friendly local, So in my culture, the bill often goes to the most senior person at the table. Is there any standard practice regarding who receives the bill here? Alternatively, you could broaden the conversation to other Ticos you meet throughout your trip. What assumptions do people make about who pays the bill at a restaurant? Does the type of restaurant influence the custom? What if it’s a foreign family versus a local one? The answers will reveal more about the culture and may even teach you some local customs as compared to if you had stuck with my mom’s original question, in which case the only takeaway may be that you just jumped to conclusions too quickly. 

Knowing the right questions to ask is just half of the challenge for the culturally intelligent traveler. It’s just as important to understand…

When is it right to ask them?  

Determining the right and wrong moments to ask your questions falls almost entirely on one key factor: Context

What’s your relationship with the individual(s) you want to ask? Are you at a business meeting or in a social setting? Are you in a cultural context where gender may make a significant difference? How familiar are you with the cultural context? 

These are all questions you should be asking yourself to determine if and when you are in an appropriate context, ask someone a cultural question. 

Questions can make people feel defensive, but without them, we learn little from our travels. There are no hard and fast rules about the right and wrong moments to ask someone a cultural question, but there are some guidelines you can follow to help you distinguish between safe and risky contexts for your questions. 

Here are two lists to help you:

Safe Contexts for Asking Questions

  • You are with a small group of locals or one-on-one
  • You are with peers
  • You have established a friendly relationship with the individual(s) 
  • The context is relaxed, low stress
  • You are aware of communication style differences in the room
  • The individual(s) you are with are already discussing their culture/customs

Risky Context for Asking Questions

  • You are with a large group of people
  • You are with professional superiors or elders
  • You just met the individual(s) involved 
  • The context is high stakes (e.g., negotiating a business deal)
  • There is a language barrier, and you are not sure you can communicate your question clearly

Cultural intelligence allows you to pick up on social cues and body language to give you the information you need to decide when to ask your questions. And even if you misjudge a situation, usually the worst that will happen is an awkward moment that makes for a good learning experience. I’ve certainly had my fair share of miscommunications but not nearly enough to cancel out the cultural insights I’ve gained from persistently asking questions as I travel around the world. 

This article is inspired by some of the content in David Livermore’s newest book, The Curious TravelerFilled with anecdotes and practical advice, the book discovers the links between curiosity, CQ®, and travel. Available for purchase now. 

Read more from Emily Livermore here

For more information about the book check out this Q+A with Dave below!

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When Is It Appropriate To Yell At Someone? Depends On Where You’re From!

davidlivermore | December 17th, 2019 No Comments

By David Livermore, PhD

Someone cuts ahead of you in the security line at the airport. It’s the same woman who cut in front of people at the check-in counter a few minutes ago. Do you say anything, shake your head in disgust, or take a deep breath and ignore it? Some of us would be quick to let her know that we’re all in a rush, and she needs to step back and wait her turn. Others of us would bite our tongue and say nothing. 

Do you scold her loudly on behalf of everyone else in line? Or do you quietly confront her in a more measured way?

What’s the right way to respond to this kind of situation? It depends!

First, there are different cultural norms surrounding queuing. And we need more information about why she’s doing this before we jump to conclusions. But the issue I’m most interested in considering is the wide variance in what we deem as “appropriate” ways to express frustration. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks. Many of the workplace challenges I observe are related to the cultural value difference we describe as Neutral versus Affective. Neutral cultures believe that minimizing emotional expressiveness is a sign of dignity and respect, whereas Affective cultures value expressing feelings. 

Go through a security line in a Japanese airport, and the staff says virtually nothing, other than “Kindly place your jacket in the bin” or “I’m sorry, but you’ve been selected for a random screening.” Go through the same kind of line at a New York airport and TSA agents start yelling at you as soon as you get in line: “Laptops out. Empty your pockets. No water bottles… Some of you aren’t paying attention! Laptops out…” And on it goes. Most Japanese are Neutral communicators. Most New Yorkers are Affective communicators. 

Neutral communicators might view New Yorkers as rude and mean and Japanese as kind and hospitable. Affective communicators might view the New Yorkers as efficient and clear, and the Japanese staff as shy and lacking confidence.

Okay, so some cultures yell at you more than others. It can be irritating, but it’s not a big deal. However, there are some situations where this difference can be a big deal.

Many of the hospitals we work with have safety policies where medical staff is instructed to note their concern if they believe a patient may be violent. Many of the patients who are labeled as “violent” come from different cultural backgrounds than the hospital staff. If nurses come from a Neutral orientation, they believe disappointment and anxiety should be discussed in calm, measured ways. Tears are understandable, but losing your cool isn’t. Many of the patients who are labeled “violent” are Affective communicators. Their response to bad news often results in yelling, crying uncontrollably, and what some might describe as wailing. Are these patients really more violent, or are they just openly expressing their emotions? Once you’re labeled as violent, there’s an implicit reluctance by staff to provide the same level of care. 

A psychologist working with one of the largest police departments in the US describes a similar situation. His chief responsibility is focused on assessing and mitigating threats across a diverse population of over 10 million people. He says, “I believe 75 percent of what we deal with requires high levels of cultural intelligence. Our officers have not been trained to know whether someone from a different cultural background is exhibiting a behavior that should be considered a potential threat, mental illness, a culturally derived emotional response to a crisis, or some combination thereof.” A great deal of what he describes comes back to the difficulty of discerning Neutral versus Affective behavior.

To avoid misjudging someone’s character or behavior, here are some ways to think more specifically about these differences:

Affective: Emphasis on expressive communication and sharing feelings

People with an Affective orientation use a wider range of facial expressions and physical gestures during everyday conversation.

Neutral: Emphasis on non-emotional communication and controlling emotions

People with a Neutral orientation strive to control their emotions. Reason may influence their behavior more than feelings.

  • They talk loudly when excited, and enjoy animated arguments and debate
  • They’re more enthusiastic and spontaneous
  • They consider emotions and intuitions in the decision-making process
  • Statements are often emotional and dramatic and may often be exaggerated simply to make a point. “This is a complete train wreck.”
  • They are more likely to disguise what they’re thinking or feeling
  • Being cool and in control is admired, although sometimes this leads to unexpected outbursts which become all the more jarring
  • Speaking is usually done in a more monotonic manner and lacks an emotional tone
  • Expect others to “stick to the point” and keep to specific, predetermined topics

Examples: African American, Italian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Working Class, Marketing

Examples: Chinese, Ethiopian, German, Japanese, Native American, Upper Class, Engineering

The Canadian home where I grew up was a Neutral environment. We used formal manners at the dinner table, fine china was on the table for Sunday dinner, and there was a very strong rule that you should never interrupt someone. This rule about not interrupting guided our family protocol, and it informed the way we evaluated other people’s behavior. To this day, I become anxious when someone starts interrupting because that was such a taboo in my family. In Neutral cultures, interruptions are rude unless an emergency really calls for it. Whereas in Affective cultures, interruptions are okay, but silence is awkward.

In many Neutral cultures, particularly throughout Asia, silence is not only okay, it’s welcomed. Silence is a sign of respect, and it allows both parties to reflect and take in what has been said. In many Affective cultures, the “silent treatment” is viewed as punitive.

Nurses and police officers may wrongfully label someone as violent based on an Affective response, and overlook someone who is violent because of a Neutral response. Some terrorists never scream and shout. And there are people who scream and shout who aren’t violent. 

Managers may assume a Neutral staff member is disengaged when, in fact, they may have a different way of expressing their enthusiasm. And team members may assume a teammate has a temper when, in fact, they may simply have a different value for how openly and passionately to voice their opinions.

What should we do?

The first step for addressing this communication difference is emotional intelligence. You have to understand your own emotional state and gain the ability to regulate emotions in yourself and others. But emotional intelligence isn’t enough. You may wrongfully identify others’ emotions based on your cultural interpretations of those emotions. 

Cultural intelligence (CQ®) is the only way to effectively understand someone from a different cultural background. With CQ, you have a growing repertoire of tools and strategies for reading a situation, discerning if and how culture may be influencing the situation, and then determining the best strategy for responding respectfully and effectively. 

In the meantime, watch how this cultural value plays out over the holidays. Different family members have different orientations on Neutral vs. Affective communication styles as well as people from different parts of the country. And if you’re traveling, keep yourself occupied in the security line by identifying whose Neutral and whose Affective. And if someone cuts ahead of you, it’s usually better to start with a more Neutral response and regulate your expressiveness accordingly. 

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You Might Be “Mansplaining” If…

davidlivermore | September 16th, 2019 No Comments

David Livermore Interviews Amy Heaton, PhD

Ever since I heard about this idea of mansplaining and its close cousin whitesplaining, I’ve been tripped up by it. Mansplaining is when men feel the need to over-explain something to a woman in a condescending manner. Or it often shows up as paraphrasing what a woman says to others, so they understand what she meant, frequently interrupting the woman so that we men can say it more clearly for the rest of the world to hear… Wait. Did I just mansplain mansplaining? 

I get it. On countless occasions, I’ve watched my male peers needlessly explain what a woman meant as if she isn’t articulate enough on her own. The same thing happens when white people need to explain what a person of color says.

Here’s where I get tripped up. At the core of cultural intelligence is bridging misunderstanding. And a critical part of inclusion is ensuring people understand. So in almost any group conversation, I’m continually scanning the discussion to make sure people know what’s being talked about. If I’m with two friends and one of them starts telling me a story about a friend we both have in common and the other person doesn’t know who they are, I stop to make sure the other friend has a little context. If I hear our staff use insider jargon that I think will confuse someone outside our organization, I suggest different language. 

So now I’m totally paranoid about whether I’m mansplaining. My friend and colleague, Amy Heaton, has a background in Conversation Analysis and Critical Discourse. She’s a Ph.D. linguist who has enriched my understanding of this in previous conversations. So I asked her if we could have a “public” discussion about this.

DL: So Amy. Is “mansplaining” a real thing, or is this just some pop psychology term?

It’s very real, and it happens all the time. When a woman pitches an idea, if someone doesn’t quite get it, instead of asking for further explanation, a mansplainer just ignores your contributions. Then somehow, an hour, week, or year later, he miraculously has the same idea, and he’s convinced it’s his own!. He doesn’t realize you’ve been planting seeds all along. So he comes into a meeting and says, “This morning on my exercise bike, I thought to myself, Hey, we can just do X!!!”

We all need to get better at introspection and understanding the provenance of our creative, new ideas. Who helped you get there? That’s the first step in addressing this.

DL: Okay. I can see that. This kind of self-awareness is something we measure in our CQ Assessment. But can you give me a couple of specific examples of when you’ve experienced mansplaining?

The worst was when we were in a meeting of about a dozen folks, and I pitched an idea that a client immediately nay-sayed. This often happens when an interlocutor doesn’t totally get something the first time they hear it — either it’s too complex of an idea or too far from their current knowledge base. “No no no, we’re not doing that. That would never work. No one would do that.” Then he thinks out loud about what he wants to do, goes on talking for about 10-15 minutes, proposes multiple things, answering himself along the way, and finally lands on EXACTLY the approach I pitched 15 minutes earlier. 

The one I love the most is when men talk about ME when I’m present, purporting to know my thoughts, motivations, and intent better than me in professional spaces. e.g., “Oh Amy just thinks that’s a good idea because of that one time X happened.” Or “Amy is just saying that because she was trained in X and all those people think Y.”

Here’s one more for you. When a client or boss asks you to come in and brief them on your work, but then never lets you get a word in. This happens to me all the time. “Ok, Amy. So what’s going on with X?” I respond with one phrase like, “Well, the project is nearing the end of the Period of Performance, and one of my concerns is that we are not getting the data we originally….” BOOM! I’m interrupted before I even finish one sentence and he continues talking about his ideas and thoughts the entire hour, re-hashing the same things he has been saying, (down to exact examples and phrases) for the last five years instead of ever going back to ask the opinion of the one expert in the room.

DL: I’m annoyed on your behalf just hearing these stories. But how is this a gender thing? Just the other day, someone 20 years younger than me started lecturing me on something I already know a lot about. 

I’m so glad you asked this! People think that mansplaining has to be a conscious manipulation, but it’s not at all – in fact, research shows women interrupt other women twice as much as we interrupt men.

So here’s the key. Whenever we see people from a non-dominant group also contributing to the very oppression of their own group, we know there is a society-wide problem. We have mounting evidence that women are still marginalized in all conversations and discussions in the workplace. Thanks to the work of Jennifer Coates, we have the “androcentric rule,” which basically states that the linguistic behavior of men is seen as the norm. By and large, when women speak as often as men or interrupt as much as men, they are perceived as speaking too much, being too aggressive and bossy. 

Recent analysis of 155,000 corporate conference calls showed men speak a whopping 92% of the time! 

We’ve all been interrupted by an annoying know-it-all. But what makes it mansplaining is the cultural and societal background in which the conversation occurs. It kind of reminds me of the other question we both often get: “How come it’s not considered racist when a Person of Color does something to slight me?’ Oh BOY! We know that both racism and gender norms have critical structural power imbalances that we simply can’t ignore. The fact that men speak so much more than women in general in the workplace sets the stage for anything less than actively changing discourse norms to make more room for women’s voices or ideas to be mansplaining. 

DL: That’s extremely helpful. And it’s a good reminder that this is never solely about the words themselves. It’s the meaning associated with them based on the context, the communicators, and so much more.

So help me out here. I might be mansplaining (or whitesplaining) if….

  • You speak on topics where you are not the known expert in the room. You’re particularly susceptible to this if you are the person of the highest status in the room.
  • You’re interrupting, talking over, or nay-saying a female or person from another marginalized group rather than allowing them to finish their thoughts.
  • Overall, you talk far more than your colleagues from other backgrounds.
  • You are summarizing other peoples’ words or ideas for them without allowing them to do so themselves or asking for clarifications to ensure you’ve adequately captured their thoughts.
  • You co-opt ideas of marginalized speakers and fail to give credit where credit is due.

DL: Those are precisely the kinds of cues to help us differentiate whether we’re offering a useful explanation (e.g., explaining insider jargon to an outsider) or whether we’re mansplaining. Thank you!

Finally, what are a few practical strategies to overcome mansplaining?

There’s no need to get overwhelmed or discouraged by this since there are so many clear ways we can each fix this! Here’s a start:

  1. Practice active listening. When someone else is speaking, stop planning what you want to say next. If you’re afraid you’ll lose your train of thought, make notes you can refer to later.

  2. Stop interrupting others when they are speaking. Let people finish their thoughts completely without assuming you know where their statement is heading.

  3. Don’t ever assume you’re the smartest person in the room. Try to learn from others around you and be aware of your status both in the room and in society at large.

  4. Use your power to hold space for others whose voices need amplifying. Ask yourself if you are contributing to the conversation because you have something ONLY YOU know or if someone else in the room might know more than you on the given topic. Provide agreement and ask for clarification of others’ ideas instead of summarizing or essentializing for them.

DL: Thank you, Amy! What a great application of cultural intelligence. You not only expanded our awareness but offered us practical strategies to address this.

Are All White People Privileged?

davidlivermore | June 13th, 2019 No Comments

You can’t have an honest conversation about cultural intelligence (CQ) without addressing white privilege,  the idea that white people inherit certain privileges simply by the color of their skin.

But privilege is not an easy topic of conversation. People on all sides of the issue quickly become emotional and defensive. People of color are fatigued by having to prove the point to white colleagues while many white people feel anything but privileged and experience what Robin DiAngelo refers to as white fragility.

Are all white people privileged? It depends on how you define privilege. You knew you would get that kind of response from me, right? But hear me out.

Imagine you grew up in a very poor, white family. One reason J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Ellegy resonated with so many people was that he offered insight on what it means to grow up poor and white. His family struggled with poverty, domestic violence, moving from place to place, and navigating the welfare system. His ancestors were day laborers in the southern slave economy and eventually, coal miners, machinists, and mill workers. They’re referred to as hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash by the dominant culture. To be clear, that’s not the same as a history characterized by being forced to the U.S. as slaves, but it’s a perspective worth considering.

Even most middle class, white people don’t easily embrace the idea that they’re privileged. It’s not like someone knocked on their door and handed them their college degree, job, or home. And yet what are the invisible benefits they experience day-to-day that stem from a long history of privilege?

A 1,200-word article won’t do justice to such a complex and highly sensitive topic. But here are a few guiding principles for making the conversation about privilege more productive.

1. White privilege is real.

It’s impossible to deny that being born with white skin affords certain unearned privileges. White privilege is knowing I can walk into a restaurant, use the bathroom, and leave without buying anything, and it’s unlikely that anyone will say anything to me about it. It’s knowing I can go to the front door of my house and not have someone ask me if the homeowner is around. It’s the confidence that I can turn on the TV and see people who look like me. I not only experience the benefits of white privilege in the U.S., I encounter it almost everywhere in the world.

It’s not that you’re privileged if you’re white. It’s that being white is a privilege. A white kid growing up in a poor trailer park living next door to a black kid growing up in the same environment has fewer barriers to worry about than the black kid does. But I’m not suggesting that’s the approach to take with struggling white families. Read on.

2. Privilege exists on a spectrum.

Who is more privileged? A white single mom living on welfare or a black, married man with a professional job? It depends! Both have some privileges the other doesn’t have. Ethnicity and skin color are an essential part of the discussion about privilege, but our understanding of privilege must be broader to include other dimensions of identity. Kimberly Crenshaw’s notion of Intersectionality allows us to see that people can be privileged in some ways and not in others. Skin color is one of the most significant variables of privilege, but there are many others. “Privilege” is anything you are born into, not things you earned. Your privilege often has a direct impact on the opportunities you get.

Consider how you would score on the spectrum of privilege in light of these indicators. A person born with most of these identity traits has the most power in most contexts:

  • Citizenship: Born in a stable, developed country
  • Social Class: Born into a financially, stable family and zip code
  • Skin Color: Born white
  • Sexual Orientation: Born straight
  • Sex: Born male
  • Ability: Born able-bodied/minded
  • Gender: Born cis-gendered

This is by no means an exhaustive list. And I’m not suggesting we should start tallying privilege points. But our discussions about privilege desperately need a more nuanced approach that acknowledges numerous factors that influence privilege. It’s reductive and insulting to reduce any individual to a single story. Privilege exists on a wide spectrum.

3. Don’t dismiss someone’s struggle.

Last week my daughter Grace was in a serious cycling accident. It took an emergency rescue team five hours to get her to the hospital, followed by a lengthy surgery overseas. She’s now on a long road to recovery.  All indicators suggest she will fully recover. The same day of her accident, another girl her age fell in the same forest, broke her back, and will probably never walk again. When my daughter was lying in agony, I didn’t say, “Well, at least you’re not like this other girl who will never walk.” Minimizing someone’s pain and struggle by telling them someone else has it worse is not only ineffective; it lacks compassion and empathy.

In a similar way, screaming that your privileged to someone who grew up in a trailer park with a single parent is tone deaf. Only in very specific circumstances would any reasonable person ask a white person in abject poverty to consider their white privilege. My daughter herself later reflected on how fortunate she is that her accident was not worse. But in an attempt to build awareness and foster perspective-taking, we should always avoid dismissing the reality of someone’s struggle and unique story.

4. Dialogue and reflection work better than debate.

It’s inarguable that white males have privileges others don’t have. But it’s the spectrum of privilege that is most helpful to consider. Debates about who has more privilege put people on the defensive. 30 percent of people feel like you’ve lost your mind when you tell them that their benefits are things that were handed to them. Rather than arguing with someone about whether they’re privileged, structure conversations to move toward reflection about the gradient of advantage they may have had as compared to if they had been born differently. For example,

  • How would your life be different if you had been born a different gender?
  • What about with a different skin color?
  • How would your reality change if you had been born in Sudan?

The point is not to say, “Hey—every aspect of your life is privileged.” That is not true for most people. But we want to get everyone to start thinking about it. The ask for white people is this: Consider the fact that because you are white, there are certain aspects of the world you don’t have to worry about.

5. CQ your messaging about privilege.

Finally, we need to apply cultural intelligence to how we talk about privilege. It’s ridiculous to suggest that white privilege is the same for all white people in the world. It’s equally ludicrous to deny that a white person has certain things they just don’t have to worry about.

Don’t say, “You’re privileged!”. Instead say, “You have access to privilege.”

We need to find the zone of productive disequilibrium where we allow enough discomfort to foster productive reflection and change but not so much that people shut down and feel defensive.

I didn’t choose to be a straight, white, able-bodied male. But I’m ignorant if I don’t acknowledge that I hit the lottery on the privilege spectrum. To be honest, I was leery of writing this article. Who am I to be pontificating about privilege? Our own team at the Cultural Intelligence Center has rigorous discussions about what we all need to consider about this personally as well as in light of our work. My privilege blinds me from certain aspects of this conversation. But the enormous privilege I have makes me all the more committed to engage in meaningful dialogue with others about these realities and to strive toward making the world a more inclusive, equitable place for everyone. I welcome your perspective on this complicated topic.

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Why I Answer Most Questions with “It Depends”

davidlivermore | April 12th, 2019 No Comments

I’ve gained a reputation for being the “It depends” guy. When fielding questions during a presentation on cultural intelligence, my default response is “It depends!”

What’s the best way to manage deadlines when working across borders? It depends!

Do Millennials prefer working remotely? It depends!

Who should adapt to whom? It depends. It depends. It depends.

It’s not that I have no opinion about the right course of action. And it’s fair for individuals to expect me to elaborate on “It depends.” But human interactions are far too complex to issue dogmatic answers without understanding more of the situation. More importantly, the most challenging situations that require cultural intelligence often happen with little warning and there isn’t time to reference an over-simplified list of “do’s and don’ts.”

Cultural intelligence, or CQ, is not just whether you can spout off the norms of different groups. In fact, as I shared recently, our research confirms that knowing a lot about cultural differences can actually be more dangerous than being culturally ignorant. Cultural intelligence is having the ability to accurately assess a situation and predict the best outcome you can. It provides a mental model for understanding and responding to complex, multicultural situations.

But how do we prepare for the situational complexity of life in the unpredictable, constantly changing world of life and work? Here are a few ways to move from “It depends” to a culturally intelligent course of action:

1. Know Yourself

It starts with self-awareness. You need to be clear about your core values and convictions and determine ahead of time, what lines you will and won’t cross. This might be whether you’re willing to flex your dietary preferences or whether you will pay a bribe or have back channel conversations to grease the wheels of the procurement process. CQ begins with a strong understanding of your core sense of self.

2. What behaviors will best express your values in this situation?

People often say to me, Isn’t CQ basically about respect? I think “respect” is a noble value and a really important foundation for cultural intelligence. But the way you express respect is culturally conditioned. I don’t need people to address me with formal titles to feel respected. But I can’t assume that’s true for others. I feel more “respected” if you give me feedback directly. But I can’t assume you feel the same way. Flex your behavior, not your values.

3. What’s the objective?

One of the things I’ve learned from working with military leaders is their relentless insistence on mission clarity. When we talk about the relevance of cultural differences with special operations commanders, it’s all about strategically using CQ in light of the mission. Cultural intelligence isn’t the end all. It’s a tool for accomplishing an objective in light of the cultural complexities. The life and death nature of many military operations has a way of forcing clarity about the objective. But it’s easy to get cloudy on the mission when dealing with the kinds of situations most of us face. Keep the objective in view and determine what kind of action will best support the objective.

4. What adaptations will strengthen what you do? What adaptations will weaken what you do?

Most people criticized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for dressing like a traditional Indian wedding groom to meet with Bollywood executives. Yet New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was praised for wearing a hijab in the wake of the Christ Church mosque tragedy. When does adapting enhance effectiveness and when does doing so undermine the objective? Companies struggle with this quandary too. When Starbucks first opened stores in China, they designed them to resemble a traditional, Chinese tea house with tea as the main offering on the menu. The Chinese were incensed. They wanted the unique Starbucks experience, not an Americanized version of a tea house. Some adaptation is almost always needed. But remember that the goal is to get to the point where you can leverage the differences involved rather than everyone over-adapting to a boring vanilla middle.

The more you anticipate the kinds of scenarios you’re likely to encounter in culturally diverse contexts, the better you will respond during real-life situations. In the stress of the moment, you’re unlikely to explicitly recall what you’ve read or learned about cultural do’s and don’ts. And they might not be accurate for your specific situation. Instead, exercise your discernment muscle during low stress times so that when the real scenarios come along, you’ll have a subconscious inner compass to assess a situation, predict the outcome, and adapt in a culturally intelligent way.

And what’s the worst thing that can happen if you get it wrong? It depends!

Why You Need to Stop Teaching Cultural Differences

davidlivermore | December 13th, 2018 No Comments

If you’ve paid any attention to our work in cultural intelligence, you know that we’ve been saying for a while that cultural knowledge isn’t enough. You need more than a seminar on how to do business in India or how to work with Millennials to work successfully with those cultures. But now, a mounting body of research suggests it would actually be better to not teach cultural differences at all if that’s the only thing you’re going to do. Dozens of studies find that cultural knowledge leads to stereotyping and perpetuating bias rather than building cultural intelligence (CQ).

Why?

Knowledge without curiosity leads to stereotypes.
Once you learn characteristics about Indians or Millennials, there’s a tendency to start putting any Indian or Millennial in a box. Then, when you encounter an inexplicable behavior, you fill in the blank with a crass stereotype rather than suspending judgment and seeking to understand more.

Knowledge without cultural humility leads to arrogance.
Once you get some insight into a culture, you may end up being over-confident about your ability to understand what’s going on. It may actually be better to remain open-minded and culturally ignorant than to go in thinking your cursory understanding about another culture means you “get them”.

Knowledge without intersectionality leads to irrelevance.
The groundbreaking work on Intersectionality, referring to an individual’s overlapping identities (race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, function, etc.) illuminates the danger of reducing someone to any one part of their identity. An Indian woman is not only an Indian, she’s also influenced by her gender, social class, professional role, and much more. How will you know which part of her identity will be most relevant when you interact with her?

Knowledge without skills leads to ineffectiveness.
If knowledge was all we needed to work successfully with diverse groups, we should have this figured out by now. But some of the individuals with the highest level of knowledge about different cultural groups can’t for the life of them figure out how to actually get along with people who are different.

I could keep going but the point is, after several decades of courses, books, and videos teaching people about cultural differences, it’s time to stop. Of course, the best choice is to teach cultural knowledge along with the other CQ capabilities that are proven to predict one’s effectiveness in relating and working with people from diverse backgrounds. But it would honestly be better to do nothing at all than only teach cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Here’s a much more strategic approach.

1. Start with CQ Drive
Over the last decade, we have surveyed nearly 100,000 professionals from over 100 countries and there’s only one consistent characteristic among every culturally intelligent individual. It’s not where you grew up, how many languages you speak, whether you’re part of an under-represented group or how far you’ve traveled. It’s your curiosity, or something we call your CQ Drive. This is your interest and openness to other ways of doing things. And it’s your confidence and ability to persevere in the midst of intercultural challenges.

Before teaching about cultural differences, address the motivation by clarifying the goal. What’s the objective behind improving intercultural interactions and how does it relate to the broader goal you wish to accomplish as an individual, team, or organization?

Also keep in mind that no amount of information about how a culture operates means much if you’re physically or emotionally exhausted. There are times when I understand what’s going on in an interaction with someone from a different background, but I just don’t have the energy to deal with it. It starts with CQ Drive.

2. Teach archetypes first, then cultural specifics
I don’t really think you should fully stop teaching about cultural differences. But my overstated title was intended to be more than just an attention-getter. We really must get the message through that if you only teach knowledge about different cultures, it can actually be far more determinantal than doing nothing at all.

However, when combined with the other capabilities of cultural intelligence, the most valuable knowledge to begin with is learning broad archetypes that help with comparing one group with another. These might include:

  • Key Historical Differences
  • Family Systems (Kinship, Extended, Nuclear)
  • Religious Context
  • Cultural Values

Then within those broad archetypes, you can talk about the tendencies of a particular cultural group. In other words, don’t teach about Millennials or Chinese as a stand-alone topic. Be sure the discussion is rooted in a broader taxonomy of cultural systems and values so that individuals are equipped for the intersectionality of individual’s identities and the diversity that exists within any culture.

Rather than working toward a mastery of cultural knowledge, emphasize the kind of information that is most helpful to know and where to find reliable sources.

3. CQ Strategy is even more important than we thought
Based upon a meta-analysis of dozens of academic studies on CQ, we’ve discovered that CQ Strategy, or Metacognitive CQ, is even more important than we originally thought. CQ Strategy strengthens the effects of the other CQ capabilities. It’s what allows you to use your drive and knowledge to make sense of culturally diverse experiences so you can plan accordingly.

With the objective in mind (CQ Drive) and a broad understanding of cultural tendencies (CQ Knowledge), what plan is going to work best? Meta-cognitive CQ, the more precise concept behind CQ Strategy, is a more sophisticated, nuanced approach to relating and working with people from different backgrounds, rather than just blindly assuming that all Boomers want to be treated the same way.

Driven by Difference is almost entirely devoted to CQ Strategy, with specific application to leveraging diversity to drive innovation.

4. Equip for Adaptive Performance (CQ on the fly!).
I’m often asked for advice about how to handle a specific intercultural dilemma (e.g. “Our partner in Brazil consistently misses agreed upon deadlines. What should we do?”). My first response to most of these questions is, “It depends!”. It sounds like a cop out and it’s fair to expect me to offer some additional guidance. But working and living in today’s multicultural, globalized world requires a much more situational, strategic approach that is informed by understanding about cultural differences without over applying them to every situation.

We’re doing a lot of work currently with the special forces community in the U.S. military. Their leaders consistently tell me they have to find ways to equip their officers with “adaptive performance”—the ability to learn on the fly and figure things out as you go.

CQ predicts adaptive performance. But no one CQ capability leads to adaptive performance, and particularly not CQ Knowledge. All four are needed, otherwise, you end up with an insufficient approach.

Information by itself rarely solves anything. We know that, yet it becomes the easy default as soon as we encounter a need to work better with a different group. Clearly there’s a place for teaching cultural differences but resist the urge to build knowledge too quickly. There are far more important components to developing cultural intelligence.

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