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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.

China Through the Eyes of a German Expat Spouse [guest post]

davidlivermore | March 8th, 2012 7 Comments

Expatriate Spouses need more than cultural knowledge to thrive. They need high CQ. –Guest post by Regula Sindemann

I am not a cultural intelligence expert. As a matter of fact, it was only 18 months ago that I first came across the term. I was looking for an interesting topic for my Master’s thesis in the field of Coaching, Training and Development. As a German Expatriate Spouse (ES) living in China and studying in Hong Kong, I have a keen interest in the cultural interactions I experience and witness on a daily basis. School meetings, book clubs and study groups always contain participants from at least three different cultural backgrounds; an inspiring but also draining environment – an environment in which some ES thrive and some despair.

To me, being an ES in China is exciting and wonderful. Now, do not get me wrong: I do not claim to love every single bit of it, I have my highs and lows. But then I tend to view highs and lows as part of normal life. After all, back home not every day was sheer laughter either. Still, I guess it is fair to say that I thrive on the experience. I would not want to miss it for the world. At the same time, I know this woman who just moved here under similar circumstances as me—same age, same cultural background, same company support, same family circumstances. And she is struggling immensely. Why?

When I started to grasp the concept of CQ, questions relevant to my circumstances popped up: Are ES with a higher CQ more satisfied? Do they cope better with the challenges? And if so, do all four CQ capabilities play an equally strong part?

Six months, 153 data sets and 15 qualitative interviews later, I am happy to share the following from my study: CQ and ES satisfaction correlated positively, however not on all four CQ capabilities. For my sample, CQ Drive (motivation), Strategy (metacognition) and Action (behavior) all correlated significantly with ES satisfaction; CQ Knowledge (cognition) did not.

Correlations varied slightly depending on age, expatriation experience, and native tongue. But the general pattern remained the same: CQ Drive, Strategy and Action influenced ES satisfaction most, and CQ Knowledge not as much.

This even held true for Non-Asians (n=55) living in China, Hong Kong or Macau: They showed no significant correlation between their satisfaction and their CQ Knowledge. One is tempted to believe that the wider the culture gap the more important ‘knowledge’ of the host culture becomes. But this confirms what the wider body of research on cultural intelligence has found: that cultural knowledge by itself isn’t enough to predict one’s cross-cultural adjustment.

When asked what advice the expat spouses would give future individuals embarking on expat assignments, they highlighted: Be open-minded and positive, get involved in local social networks quickly, learn the local language and get cultural training. They realize that several capabilities are necessary for a successful expatriate assignment. They do not use the CQ lingo, but it does not take much effort to group their advice into the four CQ capabilities.

So? My study and experience confirm what has been discovered elsewhere: The traditional approach of cross-cultural training alone does not guarantee assignment success for the ES. CQ Drive seems to be the deal breaker, supported by CQ Strategy and Action.

I encourage organizations and practitioners to extend the scope of cultural training by including interventions for improving ES motivation, strategy and behavior.

As for me, my results on the CQ Multi-Rater Assessment reveal that my CQ Drive is exceptionally high, my CQ Knowledge rather poor, and my CQ Strategy and Action are average. I love being an Expatriate Spouse, even though it meant I had to give up my job. I am heartbroken that our assignment will end after four years, and would love it if our company sent us to other challenging countries. Isn’t that the family support all companies wish to have for their expatriates?

Regula Sindemann | Zhuhai, China
MA WBS (Coaching, Training and Development)
Certified Cultural Intelligence Facilitator
MBTI Practitioner