Blog Archives

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 while 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.

START BUILDING CQ 

LEARN MORE ABOUT CQ

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.

EQ Does Not Equal CQ

davidlivermore | September 13th, 2018 No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When “Culture Fit” is Code Word for Affinity Bias

davidlivermore | August 17th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Dr. Sandra Upton

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

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

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

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

How To Tell The Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do We Manage Affinity Bias? 

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

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

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

davidlivermore | June 14th, 2018 No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROM AUTHENTICITY TO CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE

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

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

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

FROM CULTURE FIT TO CULTURE ADD

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

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

BE YOURSELF, BUT EVOLVE

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

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

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

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

Each individual needs to clearly identify:

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

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

Cultural Bloopers & Misgivings from an Experience in America

davidlivermore | April 11th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Helga Evelyn Samuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Questions to Assess Your Perspective Taking

davidlivermore | March 15th, 2018 No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A White Guy’s Humble Advice to Black Professionals…

davidlivermore | May 12th, 2017 No Comments

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

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

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

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

Questions to Assess an Employer’s CQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Yourself: When should I adapt? Not adapt?

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

Ask Employer: Whom have you promoted recently?

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

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

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

How to Facilitate Productive CQ Conversations

davidlivermore | February 20th, 2017 No Comments

 

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

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

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

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

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

1. The First Five Minutes

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

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

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

2. Ground Rules vs. PC Language

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

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

3. No Single Stories Allowed

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

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

4. Monitor the Temperature

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

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

5. Provide Some Resolution

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

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

Archives