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Cultural Intelligence

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Succeed in Any Culture, in Every Situation

In today's global economy, the ability to interact effectively across cultures is a fundamental job requirement for just about everyone. But it's impossible to learn the customs and traits of every single culture. David Thomas and Kerr Inkson present a universal set of techniques and people skills that will allow you to adapt quickly to, and thrive in, any cultural environment. You'll learn to discard your own culturally based assumptions and pay careful attention, in a mindful and creative way, to cues in cross-cultural situations. The authors show how to apply cultural intelligence in a series of specific situations: making decisions; communicating, negotiating, and resolving conflicts; leading and motivating others; and designing, managing, and contributing to multicultural groups and teams.

This extensively revised third edition has been updated with new stories showing cultural intelligence in action. Thomas and Inkson have broadened the focus beyond business to include organizations of all kinds—nonprofits, governments, educational institutions, and more. And they include a reliable and valid measure of cultural intelligence based on a decade of research by an international team of scholars.

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9 Chapters

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1. Living and Working in the Global Village

ePub

I PROMISE TO TRY

Barbara Barnes, alone in her Minneapolis office, pounds her desk in frustration. She has just read an email from an irate customer, who complains that her department’s technical representative, who has been visiting the customer to correct a fault in software supplied by Barbara’s company, is not only unable to solve the problem but seems to have less knowledge of the software than the customer’s own staff. The customer’s business is being seriously disrupted. Can Barbara please send someone else, who knows what they are doing?

Worse, this is the third such incident reported to Barbara this week. It doesn’t seem to be just a single employee fouling up—the whole technical department seems unable to resolve such issues. True, the software is new and initial bugs are to be expected. But Barbara recalls that several weeks ahead of the first delivery to customers, she had a conversation with Vijay, the section manager, who is on a two-year temporary assignment from the Delhi office. She had wanted Vijay’s assurance that the technical staff would all be ready in time.

 

2. Cultural Knowledge

ePub

WE CAN MAKE THE BEST OF IT

Chan Yuk Fai ushered his British guest into the crowded Shanghai restaurant. Around them, the atmosphere was busy with the quiet babble of a dozen conversations. Mr. Chan bowed slightly, then leaned forward and smiled. “I think,” he said in excellent English, “I think the food is not the very best in this restaurant.”

Jeffrey Thomson stiffened slightly. He found it hard to conceal his surprise. What was he to make of Mr. Chan’s remark? Mr. Chan had chosen the restaurant. Did he really think the food was poor? If he thought so, why had he chosen this restaurant? Perhaps criticizing the food was just a Chinese custom—something everyone did that had nothing to do with the real quality of the food. Perhaps it was a joke—Mr. Chan was smiling broadly. After all, what did Jeffrey know about the Chinese sense of humor? Or perhaps it was an affectation of modesty. He had read somewhere that Chinese were self-effacing. But he had also read that they were indirect. Maybe criticizing the restaurant was Mr. Chan’s way of saying he did not have a lot of interest in Jeffrey or what he had to say. Maybe it was even some form of veiled insult!

 

3. Mindfulness and Cross-Cultural Skills

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FINDING HER FEET

Safiyah was a twenty-year-old Muslim exchange student from Malaysia, on her first visit to Australia. On Safiyah’s first day in Sydney she dressed carefully, wearing an especially pretty hijab, and walked from her lodgings down to the nearby shopping mall. Wanting a few personal items, she entered a convenience store and gathered them, then went to the counter to pay. The shop assistant was busy solving some problem with the electronic till, and there was a young man ahead of Safiyah in the line. As she waited patiently behind him, Safiyah became aware of something deeply disturbing about his appearance. Even from behind him she could see that he was unshaven, and his hair was long and unkempt. He was poorly dressed, in a rather grubby sleeveless shirt and khaki shorts. Worst of all, he had no shoes on—his feet were bare!

Safiyah was aghast. Then, to her astonishment, she saw that the man was holding in his hands a huge box of chocolates that he clearly intended to purchase. The shop assistant finished her work on the till and priced the box of chocolates. “Twenty-two ninety-five,” she said. The man drew out a brand-new leather wallet from the hip pocket of his shorts and pulled out a gold Visa card. The transaction was quickly completed. As the man waited for his receipt, he looked around the store. He must have noticed Safiyah staring at him, because as he turned to go, he said, in a voice that was puzzled rather than aggressive, “Are you all right?” The shop assistant and other customers turned to look. Safiyah muttered, “Yes . . . sorry.” She was deeply embarrassed.

 

4. Making Decisions across Cultures

ePub

WHO DESERVES THE BONUS?

Santoso, an Indonesian, and Alice, an Australian, are friends and business partners, working tough road-building projects in Indonesia, where Alice’s civil engineering background and Santoso’s local knowledge and financial skills have complemented each other. Now they find they have a major disagreement.

Two years ago, Adi Perkasa, a senior manager in the company who is independently wealthy, used his high status and connections in the area to secure for the company a major road-building project. Santoso and Alice saw the project as a godsend because they had been facing an uncertain period with few contracts. Moreover, due to the hard work and skill of certain staff, the project has been successful and has made a large profit. Believing in sharing good fortune with those who made it possible, Santoso and Alice have decided to set aside US$100,000 for distribution to the senior personnel involved. The questions they have to decide are who gets paid a bonus and how much?

 

5. Communicating and Negotiating across Cultures

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COMMUNICATION FAILURE

Consider these four vignettes of cross-cultural living, all of them authentic experiences.1

• Brits Clay and Joanne arrive in Auckland, New Zealand, for their holiday—the first time they have ever visited. They are monolingual and like the fact that New Zealand is an English-speaking country. They take an airport bus to the city center. They know their hotel is close by, so as they leave the bus they ask the driver for directions. “That’s easy,” says the driver. “Just follow the footpath a hundred meters and you’re there.” He closes the bus door and drives off. Clay and Joanne look around. There is no footpath in sight. What on earth did the driver mean?

• Stephanie, an American student, shares a dormitory room with Anong from Thailand. They get on well. Then, after they have lived together for several weeks, Anong abruptly announces that she has applied for a transfer to another room. Stephanie is surprised and upset and asks Anong why she wants to move. Anong is reluctant to speak but eventually says that she can’t stand Stephanie’s noisiness, loud stereo, late visitors, and untidiness. Stephanie is even more surprised; all this is new to her. “Couldn’t you have told me this sooner?” she asks. “Maybe I could have done something about it.”

 

6. Motivating and Leading across Cultures

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CLASS CONDUCT

Kenichi Tokuzawa, a Japanese man of twenty-four, was a graduate in languages and was fluent in various languages, including English. Prior to his university study, he had trained as a schoolteacher, had taught for two years in a Japanese primary school, and had been acclaimed as an outstanding teacher. Kenichi put his success down to his clear structuring of lessons, meticulous preparation, effective use of language, and ability to make topics interesting. The results were impressive: when Kenichi taught, every student paid close attention.

In his final year at university, Kenichi won an international scholarship enabling him to spend a semester studying at a university in New England, including the opportunity to teach at a local school, conducting daily classes in conversational Japanese with a tenth-grade class.

Kenichi realized it would be a challenge to teach students from another culture who were older than those he had taught before but believed his thorough preparation and proven teaching techniques could transcend cultural boundaries. He had heard that American students take a more relaxed approach to their studies and expect to participate more in class than do Japanese, but as a the young Japanese well educated in U.S. culture, he thought he would be able to get on the same wavelength as American teenagers.

 

7. Working with Multicultural Groups and Teams

ePub

PARTICIPATE, AND THAT’S AN ORDER!

Harry is the leader of an advertising agency account team that is developing advertising campaigns for a range of clients. The four team members are from different cultural backgrounds and seem to be at odds with each other.

Harry, an American, is clear what the campaigns should be like; he talks about them a lot and tries to persuade his colleagues. But Harry also recognizes the value of diversity, of different ideas. He tells his colleagues that he welcomes alternative ideas. He would be delighted for them to suggest ideas that were better than his. Harry says frequently, “Four heads are better than one.” His three team members eye each other cautiously.

The only person who responds to Harry’s invitations is Ingrid, a recent immigrant from Germany. Unfortunately Ingrid’s ideas are not only different from Harry’s but also completely opposite. Furthermore, with twenty years’ experience in advertising back in Germany, she believes she knows far more than Harry. She therefore backs her ideas vehemently. She too talks, frequently and forcefully. Harry disagrees with her and argues back.

 

8. Developing Cultural Intelligence in an Interconnected World

ePub

THE BULL IN THE CHINA SHOP

Barbara Bull, the American public relations officer of a Beijing hotel, was annoyed with Weixing Li, a Chinese staff member who had repeatedly turned up late.

“Do you know what you did wrong?”

His response was a blank stare.

“Do you know what you did wrong? Do you know why I am upset?”

Another blank look.

“Do you know what you did wrong?”

“Whatever you say I did wrong, I did wrong,” he replied.

Barbara was taken aback. What did he mean? “I want you to tell me what you did wrong!” she said.

“Whatever you say I did wrong, I did wrong. You are the boss. Whatever you say is correct. So whatever you say I did wrong, I admit to.”

This made her even angrier. So she told him exactly what he had done wrong, describing his irresponsibility, immaturity, and failure. He apologized and said no more. He looked downcast. Did he understand the problem? Would he change?

Later, Barbara had a conversation with her fellow manager Chrissie, who has been in China for several years. When Barbara described what had happened, Chrissie nodded. What Barbara had experienced, she explained, was a common problem. Barbara simply did not understand the importance of mianzi to Chinese people.

 

Appendix: Short Form Cultural Intelligence Assessment

ePub

This measure is the result of ten years of academic research on cultural intelligence funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It was developed in response to the need for an easy-to-administer assessment of individual differences in cultural intelligence. The research project that led to its development was headed by the first author of this book and involved dozens of university researchers around the world.

Below are ten statements about one’s experience when interacting with people from other cultures. Please indicate to what extent each of the following statements describes you.

Your score is the average value for the ten items.

In a sample of more than 3500 individuals from around the world, the average score was 3.51 with a standard deviation of .63.

If you answer the questions honestly, the SFCQ is a good indicator of your present level of CQ.

The SFCQ scale has been shown to be equivalent across cultures and has been administered in English, French, Indonesian, Turkish, and traditional Chinese. We know it measures CQ effectively in different languages and cultures.

 

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