You have just been appointed a new role which requires you to move from Poland to Malaysia. You will join a diverse team of individuals who were brought together from all over the world to Kuala Lumpur to work on a two-year project. This is your first time working with such a diverse group of people. You are excited, but perhaps a little apprehensive. How would you prepare to take on this new challenge? Let’s do it together, through the principles of the 7 soft skills.
We often find ourselves stuck in narrow social circles with similar people. Yes, it’s comfortable, but that’s not the best environment to develop adaptability skills. If you want to become culturally intelligent you need to learn how to adapt to all sorts of new situations with people who have different views and life experiences to you. You have to expand your cultural comfort zone.
The first step is quite simply willingness. Without an intrinsic motivation and a genuine curiosity, you will not have the mental flexibility to embrace difference, adjust your approach and thrive.
A good example is intercultural communication. Have you noticed that we often unconsciously adapt our communication to build a better rapport with others and to ensure that we are understood as intended? Edward T. Hall suggested that communicating effectively across cultures requires us to adapt to the level of directness, formality or emotional expressiveness in conversations; the length of pauses; the amount of detail; or at least to what’s appropriate to discuss and what is not.
“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”
– Brian Tracy
Adaptability is about keeping an open mind, willingness to innovate, taking risks, allowing yourself to make mistakes and learn from them; it’s about practicing feeling comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Adaptability will help you to become a cultural chameleon ready to integrate successfully into any environment.
One of the key elements of cultural intelligence is being able to see things from other people’s perspectives. Yet, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is not easy. To do so, you have to get out of your own shoes. This means suspending your judgement and fully focussing on another individual instead of looking into your own mirror.
In the intercultural context this is called intercultural empathy – the ability to perceive and feel the world as it is perceived and felt by a culture different from your own.
In addition, an inseparable element of empathy is active listening. Hence the expressions: “empathic listening” or “mindful listening”. The Chinese characters that make up the verb “to listen” tell us something about the skill of empathy:
Dr. Daniele Trevisani argues that mastering intercultural empathy becomes a tool for cultural interventions, allowing us to obtain a deeper comprehension of ourselves and others. When influencing and persuading across cultures, intercultural empathy helps to achieve an outward-oriented approach, creating a deeper rapport and producing a win-win outcome.
Therefore, empathy enhances intercultural relationships and trust – what could be more important for starting on the right foot when working across cultures?
Empathy will help you to gain competitive advantage when working interculturally.
“Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” – Barak Obama
“What’s your culture?”
How would you answer this question?
Mastering intercultural skills begins with understanding your own culture, but it’s not as easy as you may think. Culture is such a complex phenomenon. It creates the background for why we behave as we do in varied contexts, when we often aren’t aware of the why. Yet, life without culture would be chaotic as we would continually have to reinvent how we do things and we would never know what to expect from others with whom we regularly interact. Therefore, cultural self-awareness is crucial, and it’s best expressed through integrity.
Integrity is like a moral compass and an extremely powerful element of cultural intelligence. It’s about the courage to be authentic, honest and true to your values and principles, yet at the same time respecting the values of other people.
Your integrity can have a huge impact on whether people feel that they can trust you, and trust is key in intercultural collaborations.
“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
– Alan K. Simpson
Gabriela Weglowska is an Intercultural Skills Consultant at Learnlight, as well as a coach and trainer for Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and The Advantage soft skills. While working in many multicultural teams, she noticed that to be successful, one needs to develop CQ and a range of soft skills that support intercultural relations. She is therefore determined to inspire intercultural and soft skills learning amongst global professionals.
Part 3 of this four-part blog series will be here next Tuesday.
To find out more about CQ, register for Gabriela’s webinar What is Cultural Intelligence? on June 5th.