February 2005

Thank you for reading the February 2005 L’Epée Coaching & Consulting Newsletter.

The New Year is always a time to make new resolutions and bring about effective change in our lives. At the same time, it’s important to keep the objectives of these resolutions clearly in sight. For that reason, when planning strategies with clients to realize their goals and objectives, I always ask the question: “What do you want?”

Much of coaching is about helping people identify their goals and creating action plans to help them see those goals through. In fact, coaching has a lot in common with managing. A good coaching manager helps team members identify their goals, the strategies necessary to reach them, and is able to make necessary adjustments along the way. At the same time, a good coaching manager needs to make sure that the team members’ values, goals and behaviors are aligned.

Leadership Power Lunch

In October 2004, I began a new series of Power Lunches to provide participants with a forum to share experiences and knowledge about effective leadership across cultural contexts. Each lunch is devoted to a specific leadership topic allowing participants to analyze their own leadership experiences while receiving feedback from the facilitator and one another.

Negotiation was the focus of the January 20 Leadership Power Lunch. Participants were reminded that negotiation is a process requiring patience and understanding and the ability to adapt one’s own negotiating style to the cultural expectations of those across the table.

The upcoming February 17 lunch will be dedicated to Public Speaking. This lunch will give you with the confidence and skills to make your next public speaking experience a sure-fire success.

Calendar

February 7 WIB – Women in Business dinner at Mlynec
February 17 Leadership Power Lunch: Stress Management
March 7 WIB – Women in Business dinner at Mlynec
March 17 Leadership Power Lunch: Networking

Communication Tip of the Month

Using Cultural Intelligence to Build Bridges of Understanding

A very exciting and closely watched US election race has come to an end. The majority of Europeans, it would seem, are not too optimistic about the prospect of another four years of George W. in the Oval Office. Having followed the election race closely myself, I thought that the following headline, “US election disaster: how can 59 054 087 people be so dumb?”, which appeared in one of the British dailies, encapsulated what many people on both sides of the Atlantic, think this election came to represent. Namely, a question of intelligence.

To the majority of Europeans, John Kerry came across as more intelligent than George W. Bush, as were those Americans who voted for Kerry. However, to judge the election on the basis of a candidate’s Intelligence Quotient, or that of the electorate, would give us just one side of the story. This election, and the passion and energy that surrounded it, allows us to take a look how a society’s Cultural Intelligence (CQ) comes into play.

After all, 59 054 087 Americans are not dumb; they just have a different outlook on the world than Europeans do.

For example, many Europeans could not believe that Americans would cast their vote on the basis of moral and religious issues rather than on hard, rational facts. This disbelief stems from a cultural ignorance on the part of Europeans and an inability to understand the cultural forces now playing such a big role in US politics.

Regardless of how tolerant and open European society may be, Europeans are also inclined to adopt a biased position when relating to the world around them and can sometimes fail to see the large role cultural differences do play.

Through the window of Cultural Intelligence, we can get a more complete view of the world around us, in the arenas of international relations and in our own lives. To build and develop one’s own Cultural Intelligence, it is necessary to know how the concept is defined.

In the article “Cultural Intelligence”, published in the Harvard Business Review, authors Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski define the three aspects of Cultural Intelligence:

The Head: This is the cognitive aspect of Cultural Intelligence, which we use to distinguish the beliefs, customs and taboos of other cultures. This is also the aspect of Cultural Intelligence that will prevent us from making potential gaffes or misunderstanding when communicating.

The business world is full of examples of how an individual’s cultural background, and the expectations that background gives way to, reveals his or her own Cultural Intelligence. An Israeli businessman was recently trying to negotiate over the phone the purchase of a certain good or service in Prague. Not aware of way in which Czechs approach negotiations, the Israeli immediately began pressuring the Czech sales representative for a better deal, expecting a straightforward answer. The Czech sales representative, not comfortable about giving the potential client a negative answer concerning what he knew to be an unrealistic demand, resolved the situation indirectly by sending an email the next day stating simply that the request could not be fulfilled.

The upshot of this story is that the Israeli businessman left the bargaining table thinking that by not giving him a direct answer, the Czech representative was playing games with him. Meanwhile, the Czech representative walked away convinced that the Israeli businessman was an insensitive fool to be asking for such an unreasonable discount. Neither the Czech nor the Israeli were culturally intelligent enough to be aware of the differences at play in the negotiation process.

Understanding that cultural differences are inevitable and acknowledging that our worldview isn’t identical to the reality of others is the first step toward building Cultural Intelligence. It starts by consciously acknowledging differences and respecting others for the unique traits that distinguish them from other cultural groups, including your own.

A valid concern is that this acceptance might lead to the submission of one’s own culture. Appreciating and accepting another culture doesn’t imply renouncing our own and acceptance does not have to mean agreement. We can respect a different cultural without incorporating it into our own lives.

Body: The physical aspect of Cultural Intelligence requires that our actions and behaviors demonstrate that we are capable of entering another cultural context. It is the stage where we are willing to venture outside our comfort zone to adapt our behaviors to the surroundings. Moving from one cross-cultural environment to another also forces us to step outside of comfort zone and to consciously change some of our habits. To a degree, it means letting go of control. Each person needs to find the right balance between being inside and outside his comfort zone.

Again, adapting doesn’t mean assimilating. Rather it entails a temporary shift in perspective, changing the behavior where and when needed. For example, its well known that the French greet each other by kissing on both cheeks. This custom is something that can be quite unsettling for the reserved Czech. But because Czechs working in French companies are willing to acknowledge and demonstrate their own awareness of these cultural differences, they soon begin to adopt this familiar way of greeting each other.

One’s ability to receive and reciprocate cultural differences reflects a high level of this physical component. By adapting our behavior to the differences around us, we make others feel respected and thereby gain their trust.

Heart: This is the emotional facet of Cultural Intelligence. Accepting and adapting to a new culture involves overcoming obstacles and setbacks that we can do only if we desire to do so. Aligning our “heart” with our thinking and our behaviors will allow us to better integrate with the differences we are exposed to. The integration phase occurs when we are able to hold different frames of reference in our mind at the same time. When we understand and use frames of reference of the people around us, we can accommodate life patterns different from our own and can psychologically and socially come to terms with a diverse range of cultural realities.

The simple act of smiling is a universal way that people connect with one another. While living in the United States, I soon noticed that people smile more often than I was used to growing up in France, and I soon began to smile more often too. However, after moving to the Czech Republic I was again reminded that not everyone feels comfortable smiling to strangers, nor do they always feel that they should be smiling.

Disconcerted by the lack of smiling faces on the streets of Prague, I shared my discovery with a Czech friend. “Why should I smile if I don’t feel like it?” she said. And her reply taught me another valuable Czech lesson and after 10 years in the Czech Republic. I have integrated the “Czech Moods” into my daily life and smile when I feel like it rather than just when I think I should be.

In La Soci t Culturelle, Gilles Verbunt wrote that “individuals characterize themselves culturally less and less in relation to a nationality and more and more with respect to a value system, social and political aspirations, mode of production and of consumption”.

Now that the US elections are over, America’s political differences will take a backseat to the hard work that needs to be done on both the domestic and international fronts. We can only hope that all our leaders will make more Culturally Intelligent decisions when deciding the fate of our global community.

On a personal level, we can develop our own Cultural Intelligence by constantly immersing ourselves in new and culturally diverse situations and environments. By accepting, adapting and integrating to various cultural differences, our identity will become a dynamic synthesis of the cultures around us.

This article was written for the Prague Club Magazine: http://www.clubmagazine.cz and published in the December 2004 issue.

Karin