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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?


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. 


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?


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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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.”


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.


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

davidlivermore | August 18th, 2017 No Comments

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



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


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


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

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

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

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

davidlivermore | August 14th, 2015 1 Comment


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural Intelligence in an Age of Terrorism

davidlivermore | January 13th, 2015 2 Comments


What’s a culturally intelligent response to the horrific events in Paris last week? I’m not sure. Seeing one more “breaking news” alert about another terrorist attack fills me with a sense of sadness, disgust, and hopelessness. On the other hand, my resolve for promoting cultural intelligence (CQ) is greater than ever. Bear with me as I ruminate in a bit different direction than my usual posts about culturally intelligent work and leadership.

We’d expect that our increased connectivity through travel, technology, multiculturalism, and global trade would have made us better at interacting with people of difference. But culture runs deep. And as we become more global, our tribal identities assert themselves more powerfully than ever.

The greatest divisions of our day stem from vastly different views about how we should live together.People who believe in the ultimate right of free speech are living next door to people for whom following a set of creeds trumps all else. There are no easy answers to the hatred and rage that drives someone to kill a fellow human being in cold blood simply because they disagree with them. And thoughtful debates are needed for when free speech and satire is in part responsible for inciting that rage.

But I’m convinced that a culturally intelligent response begins with refusing to lose hope. The terrorists are not the majority. They’re a tiny minority among our population of 7+ billion people and they’re not getting the last word. And our best denouncement of terrorists’ misogynistic rage is to refuse to resort to their intolerance ourselves.

Don’t shut off the news in denial. And don’t resort to profiling all Westerners or all Muslims, police officers, or black men. We must unabashedly denounce terrorism, misogyny, and oppression, whatever the source. But as we do so, we’re wise to also step back and ask what’s behind the behavior. Every behavior makes sense if you have enough information. That doesn’t mean we accept or agree with it. But what might we learn if we step back to consider why someone believes something so strongly that they’re willing to kill others and themselves to uphold their beliefs? And why might some societies believe it’s in their best interest to give people the freedom to express vitriol?

My sadness by the events of last week was quickly turned into hope when I saw the global outpouring of support that happened in the hours following the attacks in Paris. The evening it happened, I walked by the French Embassy in Copenhagen and saw a diversity of people standing in the rain and cold for hours, simply to pay their respects.

Twitter erupted with Muslims denouncing the attacks and claiming that terrorism does far more to damage the image of Muhammad than a satirical cartoon does.

Non-Muslims in Paris started a #VoyageAvecMoi movement that mirrored the #IllRideWithYou campaign in Sydney. These are campaigns started by non-Muslims offering to escort Muslims who were fearful of revenge attacks.

Social media lit up with not only #jesuischarlie support, but also with outcries for the lives lost in Yemen and northern Nigeria last week.

Cultural intelligence begins with the motivation to learn and understand others’ cultural perspectives (CQ Drive).You can’t eradicate terrorism on your own; but you can make a difference in your own circle. What might that look like?

Speak up when someone in your network starts religious profiling. The vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are going about their lives peacefully. Just as the average Christian had nothing to apologize for when Christian fanatics engaged in genocide against Muslims in former Yugoslavia, Muslims shouldn’t be expected to apologize for horrific acts done by a few fanatics. When someone mutters some monolithic description about people from another religious or cultural group, challenge their ignorance.

Have lunch with your Other. Think of someone you know who views the world in a vastly different way from you—religiously, politically, or otherwise. Share your perspectives with each other and don’t try to convince the other person to see things your way. Seek to understand each other.

Don’t lose hope. Alongside the vicious acts of hatred are stories of people reaching across faiths, cultures, and languages to forge relationships and work together. Jews and Arabs are aligned together [e.g. Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies].  Police officers and African Americans are embracing and looking for solutions together. Hutus and Tutsis have worked together to rebuild Rwanda into an increasingly vibrant economy. Don’t let the stories of violence crowd out the larger stories of mutual understanding, reconciliation, and cultural intelligence.

I’m not suggesting we should ignore the violence and terrorism with blind optimism. Something has to be done. And I’m not interested in politically correct, culturally sensitive conversations that minimize debate and over-emphasize common ground. But for the majority of us who believe strongly in our own values and perspectives but also want to learn from the perspectives of others…let’s use the power of our differences to stop terrorism in its tracks. Now that’s something that gives me hope!

How CQ could have kept a British expat from getting chased out of Singapore

davidlivermore | February 19th, 2014 No Comments

–Guest post by Philip Merry, Global Leadership Academy and CQ Certified Facilitator

British wealth investor Anton Casey recently caused a firestorm when he posted a picture of his son on the MRT (local rail system) with the caption: “Daddy where is your car and who are all these poor people?” He later posted a picture of his son in a silver Porsche with the caption: “Normal service can resume, once I have washed the stench of public transport off me.”

The Singapore public responded angrily and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam described the posts as “deeply offensive“. Mr. Casey and his firm, Crossinvest Asia parted ways, and the company issued a statement saying Casey’s comments went against “our core corporate and family values that are based on trust, mutual understanding and are respectful of diversity“. Mr. Casey and his wife, former Miss Singapore and son fled to Perth saying they had received death threats.

 Having spent the last 24 years helping people live together better and understand cultural conflicts, I have a particular understanding of the recent furore in Singapore. I too am a Brit, married to a Singaporean and I’ve lived in Singapore for 24 years.

Was Mr. Casey’s behaviour reprehensible? Absolutely. Were Singaporeans correct to be upset? Absolutely. Does every culture (including Singapore) have ethnocentric and rude people? Absolutely. This case is a prime example of the type of behaviour from expats that causes outrage to host cultures. There are many such examples. PR executive (yes PR) Justine Sacco was sacked in 2013 following the upset she caused to a whole continent with her post on Twitter: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m White!”

Let’s not underestimate Casey’s rudeness. This was not something said in the heat of a discussion, it was not a mistake made while in the middle of a sales pitch or while discussing an important project. This was active behaviour where he chose to post offensive statements. Singaporeans, a government minister and his employers have responded in an appropriate way. He has asked for forgiveness. Twice.

Why did his words cause such outrage? It’s because this was a reminder of a colonial behaviour that many Singaporeans have experienced. And this is not just a Caucasian issue. I know countless stories of other cultures insulting Singaporeans in subtle and not so subtle ways, like when patronizing foreigners tell Singaporeans, “Your English is sooooo good“.

To me this is a prime example of the need for enhanced cultural intelligence (CQ) for Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike. Although it may upset some Singaporeans to hear, let’s not imagine that Singaporeans don’t also insult other cultures when they venture abroad. I have worked with many regional cultures that complain about the “ugly Singaporean”. Diversity programs can involve learning the facts and figures about a country, but the cultural intelligence I’m talking about is not just awareness of other cultures. Awareness alone does not help with face-to-face interactions. Understanding that your new culture is collectivist, for example, satisfies the brain but does not help with day-to-day behaviour and it is behaviour that needs to change. We need to go beyond cultural awareness – it is our cultural intelligence that needs to be developed.

Drawing upon the four CQ capabilities based upon the joint research of the Cultural Intelligence Center in the U.S. and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, it is likely that Mr. Casey had some understanding (CQ Knowledge) of Singaporean culture but probably had very low CQ Drive, Strategy or Action. Is it possible for him to develop the other three skills? Without knowing him this is impossible to answer because it all comes down to whether he has the desire to do so. What I can say is that when somebody has offended the host culture in such a dramatic way, it is best that the organisation reconsider before the person does any more damage.

In this global world where we all work face-to-face or online with people from different cultures, CQ can be the difference between success and failure for global leaders, teams, communities and countries. We must recognize that whether we are expats or locals, we are ALL guilty of making cross-cultural mistakes with foreigners or with our fellow citizens. These lessons also apply wherever you work in this global world.

 Cultural awareness is not enough. Behavioural change and cultural intelligence are essential for expats and their families to succeed.

Philip Merry a CQ Certified Facilitator, is a cross-cultural coach, consultant, and trainer who has spent 42 years conducting global team and leadership projects in 57 countries.

2nd Edition of Serving with Eyes Wide Open Releases Today

davidlivermore | November 30th, 2012 4 Comments

Since the first edition of this book released in 2006, I’ve sometimes been approached at conferences by people who say, “Hey—you’re the guy who hates short-term missions, aren’t you?”

It’s not exactly the way I want to be known. And it’s not really true. I don’t hate short-term missions. But I understand why some have heard my critiques about short-term missions without also hearing me say that I think there’s tremendous potential in short-term missions done well.

But what has surprised me far more about is the way this book has been generously received by so many people. Many readers have said things like, “These were things I always wondered about but never really voiced”. Or “This doesn’t only apply to a short-term missions trip. I see the same things in how we interact with culturally diverse people at home.”

Here’s the deal. I don’t hate short-term mission. I’ve been participating in short-term missions for more than 25 years—as a participant, a leader, and a researcher. And even to this day, I travel overseas several times a year to various places around the world. It’s because I think short-term missions can be such a transformative experience for everyone involved that I’ve been motivated to examine the good and bad of our North American endeavors.

What’s in the book?
The second edition includes the core of what was in the first edition—a wide angled look at the realities of our 21st Century world, a focus upon some conflicting perspectives between how many North American Christians describe their short-term missions experiences versus the locals who receive them, and an introduction to cultural intelligence as a way to improve the ways we learn and serve.

What’s Revised or New?

  • Updated statistics and research related to short-term mission and global realities
  • Additional insights and a nuancing of my initial claims based upon continued reflection, interactions, and research
  • Updated material on cultural intelligence that aligns with our CQ Assessments and resources
  • A Checklist for how to plan an effective short-term mission
  • And updated list of resources from the many other good pieces that have been published on this topic since the first edition came out.

On the whole, I’m encouraged by the direction short-term missions is moving. Growing numbers of groups are working hard to develop reciprocal, honoring relationships with the communities and churches they visit. Orientation and even de-brief sessions have come a long way. And there’s a spirit driving the short-term missions movement that appears much more thoughtful than what I observed when I first began researching and talking about this fascinating phenomenon.

We still have much more we can do. Not all groups are equal. There are compelling, missiologically-sound pictures of short-term missions happening among countless groups. And there are still plenty of appalling examples of seemingly thoughtless, adventure-seeking programs.

I invite you to join with me in taking a careful look at the world in which we live and zooming in on how short-term missions can be part of what is happening, for such a time as this. You can order the revised edition here or at your local bookstore.

[Portions excerpted from Preface to the 2nd edition of Serving with Eyes Wide Open]

Stress Tests your Cultural Intelligence

davidlivermore | October 2nd, 2012 8 Comments

Most people I meet acknowledge the need for cultural intelligence. There’s growing consensus that life in our globalized world requires respect for one another. But the comment I often hear is, “Isn’t this pretty much common sense?”

Respect people’s opinions, follow others’ cues for how to behave, and never criticize someone’s family or culture, even if they do it themselves.

I agree that common sense and social intelligence will get us through many of the cross-cultural situations we face. Although I can’t resist pointing out that it’s not a given. For example, “following people’s cues” presumes you know what the cue means in the first place–e.g. Does someone giggling mean “I’m amused” or “I’m really embarrassed right now”.

But as soon as we’re stressed, annoyed, or under pressure, “common sense” won’t cut it cross-culturally.

An Annoyed Customer
The other day I was walking through a shop in Singapore and the shopkeeper hovered around me at every turn. I was dead tired and the tight quarters in the shoebox-sized store were already making me claustrophobic. I suddenly felt so annoyed by having a shadow that I abruptly turned and walked out of the store.

I’m quite sure the shopkeeper wasn’t worried about me shoplifting. More than likely, she felt her best way of serving me was to be very attentive to whatever I might need. Now that I step away from the experience, it hardly seems like something to get worked up about. But in a moment of tiredness, I didn’t take the time to temper my internal frustration.

Fortunately, I don’t think much damage was done by my momentary impatience. But what about when these things happen with someone we encounter regularly? We need cultural intelligence most when we’re stressed or when we experience something that seems “rude”. We have to stop, take a deep breath, and consider the true intention of the Other-something that requires growing amounts of CQ.

An Annoyed Country
Singapore as a whole is getting more stressed and annoyed by different cultures. A few years ago, many Singaporeans would hear about the work we do in cultural intelligence and would respond, “CQ isn’t needed much here. Singapore is such a harmonious place where so many ethnicities get along great.”

Over the last few years however, the population has nearly doubled and most of the growth has come from foreigners. A growing number of Singaporeans are feeling like second-class citizens and their increasingly frustrated by the way Western expats are driving up the cost of living. And many locals are annoyed by foreign workers from neighboring countries who some believe are messing up the pristine city-state and crowding up the public transit.

Racial harmony and multiculturalism seemed great until it got annoying dealing with the influx of foreigners.

Annoyed Church Members, Work Teams, and College Students
I’ve seen this same phenomenon occur in religious communities.A church gets excited about the prospect of becoming more multicultural until the worship and teaching have to change and the teenagers from different ethnicities start dating each other.

Work teams are happy to work with their colleagues spread across the globe until they have to keep explaining the same procedure to an overseas team week after week after week. In a nice, sterile training room, it’s easy to say, “Oh I get it. Their culture is ‘high uncertainty avoidant’ so we just need to be patient with their endless questions.” But when the fiftieth email comes through asking for yet another assurance, apart from cultural intelligence, the “common sense” question is, “Why don’t they trust us?”

Or how about on campus? Most of today’s college students have grown up in the age of multiculturalism. They welcome attending a university with cultural diversity. But when a roommate starts cooking something “smelly” or when “all” the students from a certain culture never join in on the dorm room banter, a growing chasm grows between “us” and “them”.

Or just watch how a group of passengers respond to someone “cutting in line” during the boarding process. It’s amazing how quickly this triggers broad sweeping statements about entire cultures.

Common sense isn’t enough to help us sort through the jarring impact of cultural differences when we’re stressed or offended. There are indeed times when someone is simply being rude or selfish. But by consciously applying cultural intelligence, we’ll be better able to discern when it’s inappropriate behavior and when it’s simply a matter of cultural difference.

Presidential hopefuls are reviving the Ugly American Reputation

davidlivermore | March 19th, 2012 11 Comments

Just about the time I think we’re beginning to overcome our ugly American image, the men who want the top leadership role in our country take us two steps backward. Think about how these words sound when you read them from another part of the world:

 Senator Santorum: “I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business.”

Governor Romney:  “China is stealing (the US’) intellectual property, hacking into our computers, artificially lowering their prices and killing American jobs. [The Chinese] are smiling all the way to the bank….and taking our future.”

President Obama: “Our workers are the most productive on earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you—Americans will always win.”

I get it. You won’t get elected in this country by saying, “Alright my fellow Americans. We had our time being superpower. Let’s take a back seat for awhile and let China have a turn.”

But do these guys remember that 6.7 billion people are listening and not applauding? Okay—only a fraction of that number actually give a rip about what’s being said by these men but plenty outside the U.S. are paying attention.

I’ve spent most of the past couple months outside the U.S. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had so many conversations with individuals who have asked me why the U.S. is in denial that we’re moving into the global era? One thoughtful friend said, “It feels like there’s a resurgence of the ‘Us vs. Them’ rhetoric going on in the U.S.”

I don’t have a Pollyanna view that presumes China just wants what’s best for us. Nor am I convinced that a congenial summit sipping tea with Iranian leaders will make everything better. But do we have to resort to the other extreme?

Recently one of my daughters hated her new haircut. In trying to console her, I said, “I think it looks great. You’re so beautiful.” She replied as only an adolescent can: “You have to say that. You’re my dad.”

For the record, I really do think her haircut looked great. But she raised a fair point. Is what’s being said truly what these men believe or is it simply what they knew they “need” to say to get elected. So maybe my beef is most with the rest of us who cheer and applaud when we hear these “U.S. is best” mantras without pushing for a third way.

Call me a hopeless idealist but can’t we handle a leader who talks to us like “grown ups”. Something like, “Look. The world has changed. The days of one superpower are over. But let’s use our influence and creativity to be the world’s finest global broker. We must continue to attend to our interests and needs. But if we take on a posture of openness, collaboration, and even compromise, we may regain a reputation for innovation and as a place where people from all over the world can share a common dream. Let’s work with China to understand their best contribution. And with Germany…and Panama…and Russia…”

I’m proving why I should never run for office. But I’m unwilling to give up the wild idea that maybe…just maybe, each one of us can be an influence in our circles to tone down the “Us vs. Them” rhetoric, and creatively think about solutions that allow us to simultaneously care for our “own” while also having an eye on what’s best for our global community.


In a Global Economy, Can you Trust your Gut?

davidlivermore | August 8th, 2011 No Comments

Everyday we get reminders about life in our borderless world…

  • GE made $14.2 billion in profits in 2010 yet they owed no U.S. corporate taxes because most of their activity was abroad.
  • The Hispanic population in the U.S. just hit 51 million, more than the population of Spain.
  • And last year, 67% of commercial flights were operated by Middle Eastern and Asian airlines as compared to 29% by North American and European air carriers.

Success in today’s world is directly connected to your ability to work effectively in a variety of different cultures. But a lot of the conventional wisdom about cross-cultural effectiveness is based upon myth and anecdote.

The research on cultural intelligence or CQ is rooted in the work of academics scattered across the globe. And it points to many promising discoveries for working across borders, whether they be national, ethnic, or even organizational or generational borders.

When introducing people to the findings from CQ research, here are three places to get started in talking about cross-border effectiveness:

1. Don’t Trust your Gut
Great executives often talk about leading from the gut. Some of the research on social and emotional intelligence has supported the advantage of having good instincts for leaders when they need to gauge the climate of their organization or read the intentions of a potential client. But this instinctive ability is born out of extensive experience-something that won’t necessarily apply when interacting with a business or individual from a different cultural background than one’s own. As much as we might like to think that our gut instincts will help us get by anywhere, research suggests otherwise. Working across borders does not accord with our intuition. People with cultural intelligence deliberately test their intuitions.

2. It’s a Bottom Line Issue
Sometimes capabilities like emotional and cultural intelligence get written off as soft skills with limited tangible benefit for the bottom line. But the research finds a number of consistent pay-offs for leaders and organizations that prioritize the development of cultural intelligence. The most consistent results you can expect from having higher CQ are: Superior cross-cultural adjustment, improved job performance, enhanced personal well-being, and greater cost-savings and profitability. Cultural intelligence and diversity initiatives shouldn’t just be delegated to the HR office. The organizations that are most successful working across a variety of cultural contexts take a more integrated approach because of the direct connection between CQ and the bottom line.

3. Anyone Can Be Culturally Intelligent
Your CQ has very little to do with where you grew up, how much you’ve traveled, and how smart you are. It’s a capability anyone can develop and while your CQ is most evident through your behavior, increasing your CQ is more related to developing internal skills—e.g. internal motivation, consciousness, and decision-making abilities. Of course hands-on experiences cross-culturally are a key way of developing your CQ but it’s not a foregone conclusion that just because someone has lived or worked overseas that he or she has high CQ. Sometimes an individual’s international experience keeps them very isolated in an expat community or without CQ, the experience may actually reinforce inaccurate stereotypes.

To improve the way you work in our rapidly globalizing world, take a CQ assessment and use the feedback to create a personal development plan that builds upon your CQ strengths and allows you to focus upon the areas where you need the most work.

You can learn more about the promising discoveries emerging from the academic research on CQ by visiting the Cultural Intelligence Center or by picking up the newly released book, THE CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE DIFFERENCE. This book is packed with dozens of strategies for improving your CQ. In addition, purchase of the print edition of the book comes with access to the only academically tested CQ assessment in the world.

–Originally written for CNBC