Tag Archives: Cultural Awareness

Cultural Intelligence – Knowledge

Following from the Drive component of CQ I would like to reflect on the Knowledge (Cognitive) component.  CQ knowledge refers to your understanding of cultural similarities and differences; it includes knowledge of the values, norms and practices in different cultures settings.  This knowledge can be acquired through educational and personal experiences; and encompasses the economic, political, legal institutions and social customs to name just a few.

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Why do we need CQ Knowledge?

  • To allow us to have greater appreciation of the systems that shape and cause specific patterns of social behaviours and interaction within a culture
  • Improve interpersonal interactions with people from culturally diverse backgrounds, i.e. communication, relationships and trust
  • Improve your leadership and management skills to ensure that they reflect the cultural setting that you are working, leading and managing in and across
  • To navigate effectively through ambiguity and conflict in culturally diverse settings
  • To have the awareness and skills to instantaneously adjust your behaviours while interacting with people from unfamiliar cultures.

While you cannot be an expert on every culture, you can understand the core cultural differences and their impact on everyday business.  CQ knowledge is not fixed, rather it is a mental habit that can be altered and expanded.  I often find that one of the best methods of seeking new knowledge is from gaining a basic understanding of key past events and basic country history.  This can provide a deeper insight into the general values, behaviours and attitudes that are displayed by individual mindsets and the wider community.

Strategies for Improving CQ Knowledge:

  • Choose a culture that interests you.  Read a novel, magazine or local newspaper from an overseas site; or an author native to that country
  • Listen to overseas radio programs
  • Visit culturally significant places to learn more about them i.e. a mosque, synagogue or sporting venue
  • Visit art galleries or museums that display stories and artworks from other countries. These help you to gain a deeper understanding of why and how they were created and their cultural significance
  • Continuously observe body language, facial expressions, gestures when you are interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, people love to talk about their culture.  This can also be a great way to build relationships.

Reflections:

  • Consider some of your cultural assumptions and expectations
  • How do they impact your views and experiences when you are either traveling or interacting with people of other cultures?
  • How do you gain your CQ knowledge?
  • What are your preferred mediums to attain CQ knowledge? For example is it through reading, travelling, convsersations etc?

You may like to listen to my ‘CQ Knowledge’ Podcast in ‘CQ for Global Leaders’ by clicking here.

Cultural Intelligence – Drive

I would like to delve further into the four components of  Cultural Intelligence (CQ) over the next few blog posts.  This post will focus on Drive.

Drive is one of the key components to CQ.  It is your interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. It consists of intrinsic and extrinsic interests and the drive to learn and understand different cultures, their norms and behaviours.

The intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are culturally determined.  Extrinsic rewards are usually financial, such as salaries, bonuses and benefits.  Intrinsic rewards are psychological rewards that individuals reap from engaging in meaningful work with a healthy balance of choice, competency, challenge and success.

CQ

As an individual you need to establish and maintain your own CQ drive and as a leader you also need to instill and support the motivation of your employees.  Remember that your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators may be vastly different to those of your peers and employees so it is important to have a range of strategies in place.

Strategies for Improving CQ Drive for self:

  • Take some unconscious bias tests, seek feedback
  • Be prepared to make mistakes, learn from them and then move on
  • Identify your passions, what they are and why do you care about them?
  • Reflect on what guides and influences your behaviours and attitudes toward culturally diverse groups
  • Welcome opportunities to mentor others as a ‘cultural broker.’

Strategies for Improving CQ Drive for others:

  • Understand your own motivations, it will assist you when you are influencing and motivating others
  • Provide an exciting and clear vision of what can be accomplished i.e. share success stories and celebrate milestones
  • Ensure that the relevance between task and purpose is transparent.  Help people to make clear connections between the vision and the work
  • Reinforce confidence in the self-management of individuals.  Intrinsic motivation improves when people feel trusted and their expertise and skills are recognised and appreciated
  • Share customer feedback and interactions with individuals and the wider team.  Not only does this promote purpose and goals, it also reinforces the successes and highlights areas for improvement.

Reflections:

  • Take a moment to consider what you find most challenging when you are in culturally diverse settings
  • Consider some of your CQ drivers and those that you have observed in others
  • How do you think improving your CQ drive could assist both yours and your teams overall level of CQ?
You may like to listen to my ‘CQ Drive’ Podcast in ‘CQ for Global Leaders‘ by clicking here.

Virtual Teleconferences for Global Project Teams

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A recent project has prompted me to focus this month on the efficiencies of teleconferences.  Lack of agendas, side conversations, audible background noises, late attendees, accent and language difficulties; alongside poorly facilitated calls that seem to go in circles are just some of the everyday teleconference challenges.

Although teleconferences are not a new phenomenon somehow we tolerate the inefficiencies and frustrations that they entail.  Why is this?  Over time we become unconscious and unmindful of the bad habits and irritations that ‘creep in’.  We often accept them as ‘normal’ and for the most part we ‘switch off’ and allow apathy and stagnation to set in, without us possibly even realising it.

For many global project teams teleconferences are the most common meeting format.  They are a critical mode of communication where key decisions are made and everyday production, innovative and creative ideas are thrashed out. Something worth reminding ourselves of is that the success of teleconferences directly impact overall project outcomes, timelines and ultimately budgets.

Here are some simple reminders of things to be aware of when facilitating and participating in culturally dispersed teleconferences:

  • Ensure that the agenda has been circulated at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. It is particularly useful for those in other locations whose native language is not the language that the meeting is being conducted in.  This provides all participants an opportunity to plan what they will say or questions that they want to propose.
  • Be mindful. When most of the participants are in the same room it can be difficult for the remote participants to engage in the conversation.  They are not privy to the same group/room dynamic.
  • Remember that in some cultures people wait to be invited to speak rather than speak up whenever they have something to contribute. Be specific and invite people to speak at various intervals.
  • Ensure everyone identifies who they are before they begin speaking. Don’t assume that everyone knows each other.  It is not uncommon for offshore project teams to have new staff joining the team at different times. Maintain the practice of introductions at all meetings.
  • Use diagrams and visual aids where possible.  They can be of great benefit as an alternative mode of demonstration and explanation, especially for offshore teams.
  • If you are having difficulty understanding language, accents, dialects or tone, speak up. Let people know.  Chances are that they are having difficulty understanding you also.
  • Don’t confuse silence with agreement.  Take the time to ask each person one by one to give their opinion or share their concerns before making a consensus decision.

How does Behaviour Inform our Perceptions?

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One of the challenges of working across borders is that certain behaviours and styles of communication and body language may not have the same meaning.

For example in countries such as Malaysia the etiquette for shaking hands is a soft hand to demonstrate respect; conversely in Australia a soft handshake can be interpreted as a lack of respect, sign of disinterest, weakness and insincerity. Our mental antenna goes up and we start to look for evidence to support these initial impressions. Are we going to find evidence to support our initial impressions? Most likely yes! The person more than likely will do or say something that will support these impressions. Our biases come to the surface. For example, at the conclusion of a meeting you may be thinking to yourself – “That soft handshake reinforced my initial perceptions. I knew I couldn’t trust him/her.” All of these interpretations can be made from a simple handshake.

I advise clients to not squeeze the hand. Often their response is “but you can tell so much about a person by their handshake.” Think about this for a moment. Is this a universal truth or is it culturally bound? When we interpret behaviours we tend to compare them based on our own cultural practices because we are familiar with them.

There are so many subtle cultural nuances. I had a coaching client from Nigeria who would ask me questions such as, how long do you look at someone in the eye, when does a look become a stare? Have you ever thought about this? My guess is probably no. Conversely, if you are in cultural environments where eye contact should be avoided, how would you know how much is too much?

In countries such as Australia if we go to a bar with friends and colleagues the norm is an unspoken assumption and practice of taking turns to buy the rounds of drinks. We don’t discuss this. It doesn’t matter if you are a guest or not, generally it is an equitable practice where payment of the drinks is shared equally. So imagine this scenario that was shared by one of my clients. He had an Indian manager visiting the Australian office. My client invited him out for a drink after work. My client brought all of the rounds of drinks and was annoyed and irritated that it wasn’t reciprocated. My clients’ internal dialogue was telling him ‘this guy is tight, not generous and has no sense of sharing’.   The following day at work he requested a report that wasn’t delivered on time. The thought processes of my client were, not only is he tight with his money, he is also unprofessional and unreliable. This example demonstrates how one misinformed behaviour can lead to inaccurate perceptions and interpretations. The perception of the Indian manager would have been ‘I am the guest, you are the host therefore you pay. I won’t offend you by offering to buy a drink, and when you come to India I will take you out and I will pay because you are the guest and I am the host.’

It is useful to have a dialogue. It can be uncomfortable raising certain conversation topics but communication and cultural awareness and knowledge can be improved immensely when people can pluck up the courage to raise the uncomfortable, awkward conversations.

The questions that we need to be thinking about are:

  • How can I develop flexibility and cultural agility?
  • How can I learn the important behaviours and values of the cultures that I am working across?
  • How can I understand what are the things in my culture that are important; and what impact do they have when I am dealing with people of different cultures?

 

Bridging the Cultural Gap

This month I invite you to view a short video interview of me with AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) where I discuss what individuals can do to become more culturally aware and communicate more effectively.

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I will be speaking about developing culturally intelligent leaders at AHRI’s National Convention on 26 August. Registration is now open. Click here for more information.

Meeting the Challenges of Cultural Diversity

Last week I was a panelist for the discussion “Building Cultural Capability Networks” to further explore findings from Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century research. The Diversity Council of Australia surveyed over 300 leaders and emerging leaders from Asian cultural backgrounds working in Australia.

One of the challenges that I came away with was a longstanding challenge – how do we get organisations to pay greater attention to cultural diversity in Australia?   There are many compelling reasons to support greater diversity within our organisations, and yet while our diverse workforce continues to expand, we continue to inadequately support it.

Although countries such as Australia (and many other countries around the world) are highly multicultural societies, I believe that part of the cultural diversity apathy that exists in the Australian workplace is in part due to a lack of awareness, education and biases.

Some of the breakthroughs that I believe are needed to overcome these persistent institutional cultural barriers are:

  • Organisations need to review, educate and revise their current practices, strategies and objectives in terms of employee hiring, promotion, mentoring and leadership models; including succession planning to promote cultural diversity.
  • Double sponsorship should be promoted. Companies such as IKEA have a sponsorship/mentorship program that requires two people to be responsible for hiring decisions and sharing the development responsibilities for that individual.
  • Leaders and recruitment staff need greater education around unconscious and conscious cultural biases and the complexities of cultural identity i.e. alternative leadership models and communication styles. They need greater awareness of their own biases and should be made more accountable for their decisions and actions.
  • Improved understanding and appreciation of the value that cultural diversity brings to organisations and the ‘know how’ and skills to actually leverage these differences.
  • Senior Leaders must demonstrate their commitments to cultural diversity programs by truly getting behind them by modelling them through their actions and behaviours.

I urge you to read the Cracking the Cultural Ceiling: Future Proofing Your Business in the Asian Century.

Cultural Intelligence for Entering New Markets

Marchblog

IKEA, a Swedish furnishings company that began in 1943, is now operating in over 46 different countries and territories; having recently opened one of their largest stores in Seoul, South Korea. It is a great example of a culturally intelligent company that continues to adjust, flex and learn from and acknowledge the cultural specific differences and nuances that can influence success and failure in their new markets.

Shop layouts, room sizes, locations, product designs, product names, space usages, local price points, measurements, shopping habits, marketing, even car parking are just some of the many cultural aspects that IKEA considers when they enter new markets and countries. It’s not just about finding the cultural differences, but also where they intersect.

In terms of market research, IKEA recognises that often consumers answer surveys more in tune with how they would like to be, rather than how they actually are. Home visits and installing cameras in homes are just a couple of methods that IKEA employ to gather real data. One such example was conducted in Shenzhen China, where it was observed that sofas have greater usage as back rests rather than seats; or the varying kitchen design needs, whereby there are different appliance space requirements according to country – the coffee machine versus the rice cooker or the need for a kimchi refrigerator. These insights allow IKEA to tweak and modify products to suit specific markets.

A further interesting survey examined the morning routines of over 8,000 people in 8 cities. Beside some very interesting statistics, the outcome was the modification of current products and the creation of new multifunctional products to better suit the needs of particular markets; along with an improved understanding of the different usages of space.

A recent article ‘How IKEA took over the world’ provides us with some great reminders –

  1. Cultural intelligence is a constant process
  2. The more global an organisation becomes, the more complex it becomes
  3. Product design, delivery and marketing across cultures demands cultural considerations, not just in terms of difference but also similarities
  4. The further away we move from our own culture the more we need to learn, understand and adapt.