Hi, I’m Sally Walker, Director of SW Career Coaching Limited and I’m a Career and Intercultural Coach. I’ll be guiding you through this video which is designed to raise awareness of your cultural identity and will also help you to identify your current level of intercultural competence. It’s hoped that these insights will contribute to you thriving in multicultural work settings. Please refer to the accompanying workbook, as well, for full information and further resources.
As a result of engaging with this recording, and the accompanying workbook, I hope that you’ll gain a greater awareness of your own cultural identity and intercultural preferences, to enable you to build stronger and more empathetic working relationships in a multicultural setting. In addition, you’ll learn how to assess your current level of intercultural competence and identify your intercultural strengths which will be important to highlight in job applications and at interview, as well as clarifying any development areas to be addressed in future.
In this video, I’m going to cover these key areas: identifying personal cultural identities, ways to self-assess your current level of intercultural competence. Thirdly, showing a dimensional framework to highlight your intercultural preferences. Fourthly, how to use external resources to assess your level of intercultural competence. Finally. I’ll help you focus on your intercultural strengths and development areas. Please refer to the recording entitled ‘Intercultural competence and how it can help you thrive in multicultural work settings’ for full definitions of what we mean by culture and multicultural work setting.
As a reminder, intercultural competence, or having a global mindset, is described by Deardorff as, ‘The knowledge, skills and attitudes that are required to get along effectively with an individual or a team with a different cultural identity to you.’ To work effectively with multicultural colleagues it can, therefore, be helpful initially to be aware of your own, cultural identity or make-up. Equipped with these insights will potentially be easier to recognise areas of cultural common ground, as well as differences between yourself and others.
Cultural identity is described by Adrian Holliday as, ‘The collection of our multiple identities.’ These identities derive from the numerous social groupings that we’re part of, including those related to our nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family position, religion, hobbies, occupation, political ties and education. How do you identify yourself? Completing the culture-flower exercise yourself in the workbook might be helpful. Add in one of your multiple identities per petal.
For example, son, French, cricket player, Muslim, only child, university educated. You can see my own examples shared here on screen. The purpose of the exercise is to raise awareness of your own cultural complexity and the output could be shared with new colleagues or your manager in order to build trust and seek out greater common ground together. This is a useful ice-breaker-type exercise. Once you have a sense of your own, complex cultural identity, we can explore your current level of intercultural competence and how well you practice the skills and attitudes which make up this particular competence.
We want to know how well you tolerate newness, ambiguity and uncertainty. We can identify whether you actively listen, evaluate and interpret situations of people without judgement and with curiosity and empathy. Thirdly, reflect on your attitudes towards certain verbal and non-verbal behaviours. Initially, you might begin by asking yourself some self-reflective questions and noting down your responses in the workbook. How do you demonstrate that you value people from other cultures, even if you disagree with their beliefs and opinions? What specific actions do you take in meetings with colleagues to do this? Do you check and verify your understanding when listening to or reading something, rather than jumping to conclusions or assumptions?
How curious are you about other cultures? What have you done recently to demonstrate this? Such as volunteering in a new cultural environment, or inviting a colleague with a different cultural background to lunch. Are there particular verbal or non-verbal behaviours that make you feel uncomfortable? Be honest, how do you feel about eye contact, tone or pace of voice, tolerance of accents?
Finally, what language skills do you have? A dimensional framework, such as the one outlined on-screen, based on the work of Erin Meyer in her book ‘The Culture Map’ which is mentioned in the resources list, can be a helpful tool for raising your awareness of your own behaviours and preferred ways of communicating and interacting. Secondly, this knowledge may enable you to interpret and appreciate someone else’s perspective and behaviour without falling into the cultural trap of othering; that is, labelling others as wrong because their preferences or behaviours are different to your own.
In your workbook, as I describe each of the dimensions, you might want to place an X to mark your own, typical, natural preference on each of the eight scales. The first dimension is about how you prefer to communicate based on your cultural identity and background. You may be a low-context communicator which means you’re explicit and direct; communication is precise, simple and clear, and messages are expressed and understood at face value. ‘I think we should do it this way,’ is an example of low-context communication.
Alternatively, you might be a high-context communicator where you’re more implicit and indirect and where messages are implied rather than plainly expressed. A high-context communicator might say, ‘I wondered if we could possibly consider other alternative options of doing this.’ You may be somewhere in between on a scale. Where do you place your X in your workbook?
If you’re a low-context communicator, you might perceive the high-context communicators to be confusing, difficult to read or understand or know what they really want or mean. A high-context communicator might feel that a low-context communicator is being rude and they prefer their own style which they perceive as being polite and subtle.
The second dimension is around evaluating and how you naturally give negative feedback, whether this is done directly, frankly, bluntly or indirectly where the messages are delivered softly and subtly and positive messages are often used to wrap around negative ones. Place your X in your workbook. The next dimension relates to persuading and whether you prefer initially to focus on principles or applications first. Principles first, means that you present a theory or concept first before moving to practical recommendations and applications first, means you prefer the reverse approach.
When presenting to audiences with different cultural backgrounds to you, this is a really important one to find out about ahead of time. An American colleague who has a preference for taking action and making recommendations started with these in a presentation to German colleagues and was frustrated when they interrupted her early on and asked her to present the background methodology to the project first off. They preferred principles rather than applications first.
Fourthly, on the leading dimension, do you naturally prefer an egalitarian, flatter organisation structure or a hierarchical or multi-layered organisation where status and seniority are often of great importance? What about on the deciding dimension? Do you prefer a consensual approach, sharing decision-making in a group or a top-down approach where decisions are made by individuals, very often the manager, about what’s to be done?
On the trusting dimension, what’s your cultural preference? Do you naturally get stuck straight into a task and build the necessary working relationships to get things done as you go along? Or do you prefer to spend time, initially, building key relationships and trust by sharing meals or having informal coffee meetings and then progressing to the task? On the seventh dimension, are you someone who views disagreement and debate as positive for the team? Open confrontation is accepted and appropriate and will not negatively impact the relationship. Or, are you someone who prefers to avoid confrontation as you view this as inappropriate and believe it will break group harmony or negatively impact on your working relationship?
Finally, where will you place your X on the scheduling dimension? Do you have a linear approach to time where project steps are approached in sequential fashion, completing one step at a time? The focus is on the deadline and sticking to the schedule. Here, the emphasis is on promptness and organisation. Is your cultural preference for flexible time where project steps are approached in a fluid manner, changing tasks as opportunities and needs arise? The focus is on adaptability and flexibility is valued over structure. Please remember that in doing this exercise there is absolutely no right or wrong answer. All of these preferences can be viewed positively if we’re aware that when someone has a different preference to us, they are not doing so to be deliberately difficult or rude but as a product of their cultural upbringing, their background and personality.
Take a moment to reflect before we move on about any specific intercultural incidents that you’ve experienced which relate to one or more of these eight dimensions. Where have someone else’s preferences been different to your own? Was this during an interview process, meeting new colleagues or whilst making a presentation? How can you, now, re-evaluate the incident so that you have greater empathy for someone else’s preferences?
To enrich the self-assessment reflective work that you’ve done here on your levels of intercultural competence, you could also use certain external resources to help you gain even more information and insight about yourself. For example, I highly recommend that you complete the assessment tools available via the website if you haven’t done so already. You could choose to invest in the Intercultural Readiness Check, or IRC profile tool, with a personalised hour of debrief and coaching which is available via an external consultant, Alexandra Beaulieu. Please refer to the resources list in the workbook for more details.
Finally, you might choose to seek feedback from others whose opinions you trust and respect. Often, principal investigators, peers, supervisors and other knowledgeable others can help you to identify your intercultural blind spots which may be talents and strengths that you do not recognise in yourself or potential areas for development in future. You’ll find a feedback template in the workbook, that you can use to send to a number of individuals asking them to rate you on various aspects of intercultural skills and attitudes.
Armed with all this information about your current level of intercultural competence, which combines your own self-reflection with the feedback of others, you now have your baseline. You hopefully know more about your cultural self and the ways that you currently interact with people from different cultural groupings. You should be better able to identify your intercultural strengths such as whether you’ve got strong questioning, listening, evaluating or relationship-building skills.
Do you test out alternatives, pause rather than rush to conclusions? Do you demonstrate attitudes of cultural curiosity and empathy? Many of these skills and attitudes are often naturally evident in a PhD student because of the very nature of the sort of research work you’re involved with. Are you highlighting them in your job applications and valuing them as highly as you should be doing?
Finally, what does the reflective work you’ve done tell you about any development areas or gaps that you have that you want to address going forwards? What actions could you commit to, to develop your intercultural competence further? I hope that as a result of this short recording that you have a greater self-awareness of your personal cultural identity, your cultural make-up and of your cultural preferences in the workplace.
I hope that you’re much clearer about your intercultural strengths and will be seeking to emphasise these in future recruitment processes and when joining new, multicultural teams. Finally, perhaps you’ve identified areas for future growth and intercultural competence development. Please, do refer to the list of resources in the workbook for further information on the topics covered here.
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