Category Archives: Cross-Cultural Intelligence 101

Creativity and Cross-Cultural Ties — is there really a connection?

In a recent BNET blog (5 Ways to Foster Innovation) Kimberly Weisul says that:

“Roy Chua, of Harvard, believes that creativity is not necessarily about coming up with something totally new. Instead, he says, “most often it is about connecting ideas to create something different. If you have a multicultural social network, you are more likely to receive ideas that are different.” Chua surveyed a group of media professionals about their social networks, and then asked each to brainstorm about the future of the newspaper industry. A group of outside judges ranked the ideas based on how creative they were, and it turned out those professionals with ore multicultural social networks came up with more creative ideas. Chua conducted a similar experiment with college students, surveying their social networks and asking them to come up with a new advertising campaign for a fruit drink. Those with more contact with different cultures came up with more creative ideas.”

Now we’ve heard before that moving to another country and becoming an expat encourages creativity just for the simple reason of being in a different environment and being exposed to new perspectives.  By the same token, cross-cultural interactions and connections do the same job of exposing us to different perspectives and ideas.  But what’s our role here and who do we have to be to actually become more creative?

There are a couple of traits I think are very useful in taking advantage of your cross-cultural ties when it comes to becoming more creative:

  • Open-mindedness – if we are closed to new perspectives and ideas, no amount of them around us will help;
  • Courage – new things can be scary and taking them on can be even scarier;
  • Curiosity – digging deeper is part of adopting something new.

What do you think?  What other traits can be helpful here?

Want to take advantage of this opportunity to become more creative and productive when working across cultures? We have a couple of openings for executives who want to improve their intercultural competency.  Our individual cross-cultural coaching program is based on Culture Mastery 4 C’s Process™ — the program that helps people build their cultural competency.  For more details please visit here.

A coach or a trainer? Want to help your clients improve their intercultural competence?  Get licensed to use Culture Mastery 4 C’s Process™ in the upcoming webinar.

Individualistic-oriented cultures and greed – any relationship?

This morning listening to the NPR (National Public Radio) I caught an interview that the Morning Edition host did with an American venture capitalist Bill Frezza.  The conversation centered around job creation and the age-old debate that rages regularly between liberals and conservatives on whether or not taxing the rich affects job creation in a negative way.

What struck me was not the tax question, but rather the view that Bill Frezza held on jobs and on how jobs are actually not beneficial to business.  Jobs is an expense, he said, and creating jobs isn’t the goal of any business.  The goal of a business is making money for the owner and the shareholders as well as satisfying customer demand.  In other words, business owners aren’t supposed to be concerned about the American economy and the state of the country in particular – but simply about how much money they’ll make and how much profit they’ll take in.

Perhaps not quite the view I would relate to, but that’s beside the point.  His pragmatic approach seemed very ego-centric, very “as-long-as-I-make-money-nothing-else-matters”, and very … individualistic, if we want to put a culture dimension on it.  What about the world, I wanted to ask?  What about making sure that your money-making is contributing good to the world and to the society you live in?

It seems that Bill and many like him don’t care very much for that (at least that’s what came through in this interview).  And that makes me wonder – do individualistic societies where “I” is a lot more important than “We” create more ego-centrism and more greed?  Does the US with its very individualistic orientation lead the world in the number of greedy and I-don’t-give-a-f$#@% individuals?

Has this attitude been exported elsewhere? And how is this export thriving in your country?

The low point of a Culture Shock experience – judging the other

In our day-to-day life we often pass judgments on other people without even noticing that we do.  We judge and we compare ourselves to others.  We compare achievements; we compare appearance; we compare education and intellect; we even compare social behavior and social acceptance.  Remember Susan Boyle?  Remember how everyone judged her by what she looked like, by what romantic experience she had (or didn’t have), and by the dream she dared to have (in her age and with her looks!).

It’s similar with cultures.  We judge each new culture and its people from the point of view of how it compares to our own.  That especially becomes true if are in the grips of Culture Shock and nothing is going right.  However, each comparison is ultimately an illusion – an illusion that creates either a superiority or inferiority complex.  Both these complexes contribute to misunderstandings between people; prevent them from truly knowing each other, and make it this much harder to build bridges and friendships.  If you judge someone to be better than you, how easy is it going to be for you to establish the connection?  Or, if you judge that person to be worse than you, would you even want to make a connection?  The process of judging doesn’t only make you feel bad, but it also robs you of an opportunity to open your mind and soul to an experience that can change your life.  It stops you from enjoying new things from an “uncluttered” — from judgments — perspective.

Being in judgment is one of the horsemen of apocalypse as identified by Dr. John Gottman in his research on successful marriages  and in his book, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.  Gottman says that allowing this horseman to run rampant and allowing it to persist in a marriage pretty much dooms the marriage.   It’s similar with cultures.  If you keep judging a culture and its people, you’ll never “make friends” with it/them and, thus, you’ll never adjust enough to live a happy life there.

So stay judgment-free.  Consider everyone and everything as it comes into your life – new, exciting, and full of possibilities to explore.

And if you need any help with this and with Culture Shock, have a look at our Culture Shock Tool Kit E-book where we offer 3 tips on how to manage Culture Shock (some tips are based on Dr. Gottman’s research).  Available in English, Russian, Spanish, and French!

Introducing QATAR

Qatar is one of the countries that’s profiled in the Global Coach Center Academy within the course “Living and Working in Qatar” In this post we interview one of the course’s co-trainers on some of the most interesting tidbits on Qatar.

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a writer and educator who has lived in Qatar since 2005. A scholar of literature, she has a PhD from the University of Florida with a focus on gender and postcolonial theory. Her work has been published in AudioFile Magazine, Explore Qatar, Woman Today, The Woman, Writers and Artists Yearbook, QatarClick, and Qatar Explorer. She has been a guest on Expat Radio, and was the host for two seasons of the Cover to Cover book show on Qatar Foundation Radio. She is the Associate Editor of Vox, a fashion and lifestyle magazine published by Vodafone Qatar. Currently Mohana is working on a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf and a novel based in Qatar. She believes words can help us understand ourselves and others. Catch up on her latest via her blog or follow her on Twitter @moha_doha.

Global Coach Center Blog (GCC Blog):  What would be 1 to 3 tips you’d give to someone who is moving to Qatar?

Mohana:

  • Be prepared for heat for 4 months of the year (May – August)
  • Ramadan is a time when restuarants are closed during the day and most shops; plan ahead and avoid driving on the roads at peak times
  • Make the effort to get outside of your ex-pat work/compound bubble to meet new people

GCC Blog:  What was the funniest cultural misunderstanding you’ve experienced in Qatar?

Mohana:  People often think that the five pressed together fingers — which is a symbol to wait — is an insult or rude gesture.

GCC Blog:  What’s the most popular proverb and why?

Mohana:  There are so many Arabic proverbs but one of my favorites is “one hand cannot clap” meaning that teamwork is important.

GCC Blog:  What do you love about Qatar?

Mohana: Qatar is booming and everyone from Hillary Clinton to Wycleaf Jean has come through Doha in the last five years that I’ve been here.

GCC Blog:  What do you dislike about living in Qatar?

Mohana:  The pressures of living in a city that is still being built (new buildings, new roads, the sounds of construction) can sometimes be frustrating.

On June 9, 2011 Global Coach Center and Mohana hosted a free teleclass on “Culture Tips for Qatar”.  Please listen to the recording here.

Working across cultures – difficult or different or both?

How often do you hear similar sentiments expressed by expat managers and team leaders working across cultures:

  • There is zero initiative among my staff. 
  • No one knows how to follow up and deliver on time – I spend half of my week every week requesting things that have been long overdue!
  • All meetings that I have ever attended have been interrupted by at least one cell phone call – and the recipient always took it!
  • Even though I have a separate office (and close the door!), I find myself constantly interrupted by people dropping in to ask me (or tell me) something.
  • A meeting that should last an hour often goes for 3 hours.  It’s so difficult to get people to stay on topic and come to the point.

These examples of frustrations I hear from clients all point to how difficult – and different – it can be to create something together when working with people from diverse cultures.  The words difficult and different represent two different (no pun intended) perspectives of looking at this challenge.

If we look at it from the point of view of “how difficult” it is and nothing else, frustration, hopelessness, and an overwhelming desire to go home drive all of our actions and responses.

If we look at it as “difficult and different” we open up for the possibility of creating out of the difficult by looking at and considering the differences.  How can we create out of what’s different here?

Creating out of the differences requires not only this open-minded perspective but also a good knowledge of where the differences lie — it requires Culture Mastery:

  • What cultural preferences do you and your colleagues differ on?
  • How big/small is the gap?
  • How possible is it for you to adjust your cultural preferences – that is, will it infringe on your values/identity or will it simply be about changing your habits?
  • What cultural alliances can you create to be more effective?

What has been your experience in creating from the different and the difficult?

NEW at the Global Coach Center: Culture Mastery Course (online) that specifically addresses challenges described in the post above.

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

Expats — choosing not to belong or choosing transformation?

When I look at the search words that bring people to my blog, the combination of “why people chose not to belong” comes through again and again.  It seems that making a choice not to belong to a community/group/religion/etc fascinates quite a few.  And so I get curious – are people really choosing not to belong or are they choosing to transform?

When we move abroad, we make a choice.  And while that choice can be influenced by quite a few factors (interesting career move, fascinating culture, financial reward, etc), at the root of that choice lies our innate desire to achieve transformation – to grow and evolve in all (or some) parts of our lives.  So choosing not to belong is really choosing to forego convention and embrace something different.  What I mean is that – choosing not to belong isn’t really about quitting something, it’s about gaining.

Evolution has always been driven by transformation – change, sought and brought about by people, moved our times forward.  And so as we get closer and closer to each other and as we live across cultures, each culture brings about a transformation in us.  By the same token, we bring about transformation in that culture.

So next time you are feeling down and missing the familiar, think of the transformative nature of your experiences and of how these experiences can help you grow, evolve and be at the forefront of the new evolutionary turn.

How has your expat experience been transformative for you?

People who read this post also enjoyed:

To expat or not to expat: 3 tips that can help you decide

To belong or not to belong: is that the choice we make when we move abroad?

Your identity in expatriation: will it stay or will it go?

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

Of stories and cultures

In his book “Spontaneous Evolution” Dr Bruce Lipton suggests that, as meaning-making species, we — humans – live both by the stories we create and by the meaning we give to those stories.  Throughout history we have built lives on the foundation of our stories – and the more invested we become in our story, the more important it becomes for us to continue investing in that story… even if the story no longer works.

Some of our stories have been with us for hundreds of years, others have been around much less time.  Branches of different religions can be considered stories (think, for instance, of some religious zealots protecting the “purity” of their religion by rejecting gay rights in day and age when the humanity has embraced it as basic human right); on-going conflicts between nations can be considered stories (think of the conflict in the Middle East where animosity continues regardless of how useless it has become); and political regimes (think Egypt, Tunisia, the Soviet Union).  These collective stories often define and influence the way we live our lives – even if it no longer works for us.

Reading about this got me wondering about the connection between a story and a culture.  For instance, let’s take the collective story of the United States.  For many years the US has been known as “the land of opportunities and freedom where anyone can make something out of their life.”  Recently though it feels as if the story has been shifting towards something along these lines: “capitalism is great; socialism is awful; business interests first; money is the only thing that matters; guns need no control; social justice equals communism; corporations rule; survival of the fittest; it’s a dog-eat-dog world.”  Many people continue to invest in the story that capitalism the way they have been practicing it is the only way to go even though the system has marginalized a lot of people.  Many swear by their right to bear arms – when in today’s world of machine guns this is a much more dangerous preposition than when this amendment was created.  How do these stories contribute to the culture? And how does the culture contribute to – or maybe change – these stories?

What about the story of your country or the country you are living in?  What is it?

How has this story influenced the culture – and vice versa?

A to Z of Successful Expatriation™: X is for X-Cultural Training

Let’s start by playing a game.  Choose an answer for the question below – an answer either in Column A or Column B – that most accurately describes you.  For each line you can only select an answer in Column A or B, but not both.

What do you find most effective for your style of work?

COLUMN A COLUMN B
Informal schedules and timelines Formal schedules and timelines
Flexible task-list A well organized task-list
Variety of tasks at the same time Completing one task before moving on to the next
Different issues can be discussed at the same time in a meeting Focus on one issue at a time in meetings
Little or no notice on schedule changes Sufficient notice on schedule changes

Sum up your Column A answers.

And now ask a few of your local contacts to do the same.  What’s their sum for Column A?

If you discover that your sum is different from theirs – congratulations!  You’ve just learned where you differ from your counterparts on one of 11 cultural variables (in this example the cultural variable is Time-Focus).

You may ask – and?  So what?  How is that useful?

It’s useful because it’s usually the first step of a cross-cultural training (although trainings can differ in their approach). Cultural variables form part of our cultural blueprint.  The cultural blueprint — derived from influences of our country, our traditions, our religion, our place of work, etc – defines who we are starting from our habits/behaviors/skills/talents and ending with our values/identity/life purpose. When you know where your preferences lie in relation to each cultural variable, you know your own cultural blueprint.

Once you know your own cultural blueprint, you can compare it to the cultural blueprint of people around you – and, thus, understand what’s at the root of the difference between you and them.  That’s step number two.

And step three is to find ways to negotiate the difference for the benefit of all concerned.

Of course cross-cultural training includes a lot more than this.  It also includes information about the country, its history, traditions, and values.   When this information is complemented with the process of negotiating through cultural blueprints, you get both the background information and the course of action you can take to make your adjustment easier.

We offer online cross-cultural trainings based on that model for Russia, China, Germany, Spain, the Philippines, the Netherlands, and Israel through the Global Coach Center Academy (more countries are coming up soon).  If you are interested in contributing to this effort and covering a country, please contact us directly.

For all the letters in the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ click here.

Remember to sign up for the Expat Club: 10 Weeks of Wisdom program. It has been specifically designed around expatriate issues and concerns and it’ll help you feel supported, encouraged, and inspired.  BONUS: if you sign up before December 1, 2010, you get FREE access to the “7 Habits of a Happy Expat” online course. Sign up here.

Copyright © 2010 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

A to Z of Successful Expatriation™: U is for UNDERSTANDING

Understanding and being understood is the base for creating connections. It applies both in situations within your own culture and when you find yourself living and working in a different culture(s).  The latter can often be a trickier undertaking.

Let’s start with being understood.  NLP teaches us that “I don’t know what I said until I know what you heard.”  What it means is that we all listen through different channels and pay attention to different things within what’s being said.  Some may listen with attention directed at people in a story, others with attention to events, yet others with attention to surroundings, so on and so forth.  Ever played a game of telephone when you were a child?  Do you remember how a story changes completely when passed from ear to ear?  That’s because we recount what we hear and we all hear different things.  This fact becomes even more acute in different cultures.  So, when you are communicating across cultures make sure your message is understood the way you intended it to be – and not the way you assumed it to be.  Failure to do so may result in many misunderstandings and sometimes even in ruined relationships.

Now what about our skill of understanding?  Provided we know the language and its nuances (a big if), how do we make sure we understand what’s being said – and what’s being unsaid?  Here I’d like to focus especially on what’s been unsaid.

Almost every time a person speaks – if you listen closely – you can hear the dream(s) that person holds for him/herself.  The dream(s) that express their hopes, wishes, and aspirations – the dreams that give meaning to their lives.  Sometimes they themselves cannot hear those dreams, but your job is to be able to hear them.  Because if you do, you connect with them on a much deeper level, you learn what’s important to them, and that makes you capable of knowing how you can structure your relationship to help them achieve their dreams.

What are your thoughts on understanding and being understood?  And do you have any other U’s to contribute?

For all the letters in the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ click here.

Check out our Expat Club: 10 Weeks of Wisdom Program. It has been specifically designed around expatriate issues and concerns and it’ll help you feel supported, encouraged, and inspired. If you ever thought of getting an expat coach and didn’t get the chance/finances/courage to do it, this Club is your opportunity to try a virtual coaching environment.  Register for it here.

Copyright © 2010 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

A to Z of Successful Expatriation™: Q is for QUESTIONS

When kids are young, they ask a lot of questions.  The constant flow of what, how, where, why, and what if can even drive a parent crazy.  But we know that this is how our children learn about the world and we happily oblige.  As they grow, however, and become adults, the questions become less frequent – and what’s even more frustrating, less curious.  Gone are the what, the how, and the why, replaced by a simpler form of close-ended questions.

It is an unfortunate fact that most questions we ask as adults are questions that don’t require any more than a simple yes or a no.  These questions carry no curiosity and in its place they express assumptions.  Instead of asking “What language do people speak here?”, we ask: “They speak English here, right?”; instead of asking “What was interesting about living in…?”, we ask “Was it interesting to live in…?”; instead of asking “What do you suggest I do when I…?”, we ask “Do I do this and this when…?”.

These examples may not be perfect, but if you watch yourself over the next few days, try to notice how many of your questions are open-ended and how many are close-ended.  Once you’ve done that, try to catch yourself every time you want to ask a close-ended questions, and ask an open-ended instead.  How much more do you hear in response?

Open-ended questions are powerful questions — not only because they contain curiosity, but also because they open the flow of information and energy in a much potent way than close-ended questions.  Try it.  You’ll be amazed at the difference.

For all the letters in the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ click here.

And remember to check out our on-line courses on Culture Shock, 7 Habits of a Happy Expat and on Cross-Cultural Training at the Global Coach Center Academy!

Copyright © 2010 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!