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You Might Be “Mansplaining” If…

davidlivermore | September 16th, 2019 No Comments

David Livermore Interviews Amy Heaton, PhD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are All White People Privileged?

davidlivermore | June 13th, 2019 No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. White privilege is real.

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

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

2. Privilege exists on a spectrum.

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

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

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

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

3. Don’t dismiss someone’s struggle.

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

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

4. Dialogue and reflection work better than debate.

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

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

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

5. CQ your messaging about privilege.

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

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

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

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

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EQ Does Not Equal CQ

davidlivermore | September 13th, 2018 No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

davidlivermore | December 14th, 2017 No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

davidlivermore | August 18th, 2017 No Comments

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

WHO NEEDS CQ?

 

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


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

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


NO ONE IS BORN HATING

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

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

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

Wait, What? What Smart Phones do to our CQ

davidlivermore | April 13th, 2017 No Comments

Wait, What? What Smart Phones do to our CQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Sense of Self

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

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

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

  • Perspective Taking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • You’re in Charge, not Your Phone

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

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

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

Wait, what? You can do that??

Hang on, I just got a text….

How to Facilitate Productive CQ Conversations

davidlivermore | February 20th, 2017 No Comments

 

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

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

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

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

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

1. The First Five Minutes

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

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

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

2. Ground Rules vs. PC Language

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

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

3. No Single Stories Allowed

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

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

4. Monitor the Temperature

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

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

5. Provide Some Resolution

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

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

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

davidlivermore | December 13th, 2016 No Comments

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

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

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

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


EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS: WHAT SETS YOU OFF?

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

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

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

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


EMOTIONAL EXPRESSIONS: HOW DO YOU DISPLAY YOUR EMOTIONS?

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

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

Through a series of renowned, peer-reviewed studies, Ekman makes a convincing case that people all over the world signal happiness with the corners of their mouths up and their eyes contracted. Anger is expressed with the corners of the mouth down and sadness is expressed with the eyelids drooping. Even individuals who have been blind from birth manifest the same nonverbal expressions.


EMOTIONAL DISPLAY RULES: HOW SHOULD YOU MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS?

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

Cultural differences come into play by promoting the rules for how to appropriately manage emotional expressions. Parents teach children the appropriate display rules for various occasions, which get reinforced at school, through the media, and with peers. When should you show emotion, when should you exaggerate it, and when should you mask it? Our cultures teach us how to manage our feelings and we learn which emotions are appropriate for which situations. We develop mechanisms for masking seemingly inappropriate expressions.

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


CQ PICKS UP WHERE EQ LEAVES OFF

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

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

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

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

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

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

davidlivermore | November 14th, 2016 No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Does Cultural Immersion Go Too Far?

davidlivermore | April 18th, 2016 8 Comments

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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