Cultural Intelligence – Keys to Working with Diversity

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Since I was a child, I have pursued “cultural intelligence.”  No, I didn’t call it that at the time, but that is when I began developing an appreciation and affection for cultural and linguistic differences.

58260025Later, as an ESL instructor, I came to recognize and appreciate measures of individual difference – personality, learning styles, talents and abilities.

These observations and experiences brought me to a point where I operate with an unusual tension:

  • The more I meet people from around the world, the more I realize we are all really the same – same hopes, fears, dreams, and needs.
  • The more I work with individuals, the more I realize we are unique; I see each individual as a culture of one – there are no two people who are identical on all points (even identical twins will have differing personalities or interests!).

Most of my adult life has been learning to operate within this tension.

In today’s globalized and interconnected world, we are often in the position of working with people who seem to have little in common with us.  

IMG_0899Cultural differences abound, even between people who come from the same country and speak the same language!  Today, living in the Washington, DC, area, I see cultural differences all the time: East Coast vs. West Coast, public sector vs. private sector, Democrats vs. Republicans.

In fact, the longer I observe cultural differences, the more I have begun to see each person as “a culture of one”!

If we are all so very different from each other, how can we possibly work together?

I believe the most effective leaders today demonstrate the ability to read cultural differences and navigate those differences to bring successful outcomes for all involved.

I believe the Apostle Paul figured this out.  In First Corinthians 9:19-23, he describes his approach:

… I am free of obligations to all people. And, even though no one (except Jesus) owns me, I have become a slave by my own free will to everyone in hopes that I would gather more believers. When around Jews, I emphasize my Jewishness in order to win them over. When around those who live strictly under the law, I live by its regulations—even though I have a different perspective on the law now—in order to win them over. In the same way, I’ve made a life outside the law to gather those who live outside the law (although I personally abide by and live under the Anointed One’s law). I’ve been broken, lost, depressed, oppressed, and weak that I might find favor and gain the weak. I’m flexible, adaptable, and able to do and be whatever is needed for all kinds of people so that in the end I can use every means at my disposal to offer them salvation. I do it all for the gospel and for the hope that I may participate with everyone who is blessed by the proclamation of the good news. (The Voice version)

This level of dedication to reaching people where they are is not an easy thing to attain!

  • It requires not only knowledge but also maturity and character development.
  • It demands selflessness and a focus on others.
  • It engages emotional intelligence and interpersonal wisdom.

For the past several years, I’ve been working to develop my cultural intelligence for the sake of my students and clients, enabling me to work with diverse groups to achieve individual and group goals.  I have learned some hard lessons, but I’ve also gained invaluable knowledge about effective intercultural leadership.

 

 

So Foreign Yet So Familiar

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Two days ago I returned from a one-week trip to Haiti with a small team from my church, Capital Life Church in Arlington, Virginia.

While an entire report on the trip would not be in keeping with the themes of this blog, there are a few observations I’d like to share with you.

Short overview of the trip:

 

First Impressions:

While the arrival at the airport was a bit overwhelming, my first impression of being in Haiti was that it felt familiar.  This was my first trip to Haiti, but it was not my first trip to an underdeveloped country or region, and it simply felt similar to being in Mexico along the border or in the countryside of South Korea.

Interesting Observations:

In fact, there were many things I saw and experienced in Haiti that reminded me of things I’ve seen and experienced in other places around the world, from Mexico and Korea to Thailand.  It really emphasized again to me that we are more similar than we are different.

Next Steps:

Knowing that Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, I asked my hosts many questions about the condition of Haiti and what might be underlying causes for this situation.  Their answers have led me to believe I need to return to Haiti to collaborate with Tom and Bev Brumbley in conducting leadership seminars and workshops, starting with the pastors associated with Evangelistic World Outreach, the organization that hosted our trip.

In fact, this trip has served to re-affirm my life’s purpose and to help me clarify my future direction even more.

Stay tuned – Haiti hasn’t seen the last of me!

 

 

Where do we go from here?

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I have been watching current events closely.  It appears that the divisions in the US between different groups are only continuing to widen, and a resolution to our issues seems more and more unlikely.

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US Supreme Court, April 28, 2015; photo by Tasha M. Troy

In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen clear evidence that the racial, social, and ideological divide (which I am trying to bridge) continues to widen.

  • The June 17 shooting at a historic Black church, killing 9 and setting off a series of church burnings.
  • The June 26 Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, causing great rejoicing at the affirmation of civil rights for some and deep mourning at the loss of civil liberties for others.

 

At this point, it seems the only voices I clearly hear are from either extreme end of the spectrum, spewing fear and hate; only those who are deeply entrenched in their positions are heard.  Under these conditions, the situation will only continue to get worse.  Some have voiced concerns of a coming race war; others fear the further loss of first amendment rights.  The future, indeed, looks bleak.

However, I believe that as long as there is life, there is hope.

Yes, I still hope that things can and will get better.  I believe communication is the root of all relationship, and if we are going to truly bridge the divides we see here in the US (and in other countries as well), we have to stop broadcasting our entrenched opinions and start listening.

In the coming weeks, I will write more about what I believe we as a nation need to start doing in order to begin healing the divisions and schisms among us.  I truly believe it begins with what Mark Goulston and John Ullmen call “connected influence.”  If you’ve been reading Bridging the Divide for very long, you probably know I think very highly of their book Real Influence.

I believe their four-stage model is the key to turning things around in our country.

  1. Go for great outcomes: the US was once considered the greatest nation in the world, but not today.  I believe the US can be great once more – if certain criteria are met.  (Clarification – I am not talking about “American Exceptionalism” here; I will write more of my thoughts about this next week.)
  2. Listen past your blind spot: we do too much talking and not enough listening.
  3. Engage them in their there: we have to meet others where they are, not expecting them to come to us first.
  4. When you’ve done enough … do more: there is no short-term fix; we have to take the long view and invest for the future.

In the weeks ahead, I will lay out my thoughts on how we, as a nation, can walk in connected influence in such a way as to bring healing to our society.  Yes, I know I am a bit idealistic, but I am still hopeful that we can find common ground and move forward as a nation.

 

Links and Resources:

Read my review of Real Influence

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

YouTube Playlist of interview with Dr. Mark Goulston

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

 

Embracing “Otherness”: Appreciating Individual Differences

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By Tasha M. Troy

When we own our story, we become able to hear and empathize with other people’s stories.  That empathy allows us to embrace our differences and become stronger as a community.

The challenge of diversity facing the church and other organizations today is the challenge I encounter on a smaller scale in my classroom on a daily basis, that is, creating a community from a collection of diverse individuals who start out as strangers on the first day of class.  My students are a very diverse mix of individuals in terms of: IMG_7071

  • socioeconomic background
  • profession and career
  • religion, beliefs, and values
  • passions and interests
  • cognitive strengths and weaknesses
  • learning styles and personalities

Many times the only thing they have in common is a desire to improve their English communication skills, but even then precisely which skills each student wants to work on varies.

Individual Differences

As an educator, I have come to embrace a view of humanity through the lens of “individual differences.”  In other words, I see each individual student as a unique makeup of strengths and weaknesses, learning styles, cognitive profile, and personality type.  I further believe that our unique makeup is part of God’s intentional design.  Pastor Rick Warren says in his book The Purpose Driven Life that “God never does anything accidentally, and he never makes mistakes.  He has a reason for everything he creates.”  That includes everything under the umbrella of “individual difference.”

A Diverse Community

This brings us back to the question of creating community with all this diversity.  It has been said that Sunday morning is the most highly segregated time of the week, and I have observed that most people tend to avoid diversity assuming that under such circumstances, cohesion and community will be extraordinarily difficult if not impossible.  However, I have found that it is possible; my students often state that the diversity of the class is a major asset, one of the key benefits of being in this educational program. Therefore, I would like to share a few strategies I have found effective in creating a sense of community within my classroom:

  • present shared goals and shared mission regularly
  • identify and activate individual strengths
  • identify and (gently) manage disruptive personality quirks
  • provide opportunity for individual expression
  • use a combination of small group and large group activities

These strategies can be applied in a variety of contexts, anytime a diverse group of people are coming together for a common purpose.

Take It Deeper

I believe diversity is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  I am sure you will find, as I have, that we have much more in common than not, that your life will be enriched, and that the Kingdom of God will be furthered as you embrace diversity in your own life.

If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions on Fridays.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net

Embracing “Otherness”: A Personal Story

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By Tasha M. Troy

Living with diversity often requires us to feel uncomfortable.

I have never been one to seek the limelight.  I was not often the center of attention among my peers growing up, and the few times I was, I felt very uncomfortable.  As a result, I lived a life trying to blend in and never stick out.

Then I decided to work in South Korea.Ulleungdo

Not only did I move to a highly homogenous society, but I also spent my first year living in one of the smaller cities, far from the capital Seoul.  As ridiculous as it may seem, in the first few months after moving there, I continued trying to blend in.  Not surprisingly, I quickly found such efforts to be futile.

As an example, many people in that city used bicycles for transportation, and I soon had one of my own.  When I rode by bike to the market and back, people would often stop and watch me ride past as if it were the strangest thing they had ever seen.  I often felt like I must have three heads or some other extreme abnormality to attract so much attention just going about my daily routine.

My “abnormality” was simply my race, my otherness.

Birthday 2006That year I decided to embrace my otherness, and I found it to be a liberating experience.  By the time I left Korea several years later, I had made a lifestyle of intentionally putting myself in situations where I was the only “foreigner.”

No, it never got easier to walk down the street and have people stop and stare, to have children stop and point at the “way-guk-in.”  However, I did become more comfortable with who I was and who I wanted to be.

My experiences in South Korea changed my life forever.  Not only did I largely leave behind the need to blend in, but I also developed a measure of empathy for those who feel shut out, ostracized, and “other.”  As a result, today I have a heart for those who feel unseen as well as those who feel exposed simply because of who they are.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown describes shame resilience and lists “owning our story” as an important step.  I agree; I believe the first step to embracing differences as strengths rather than weaknesses is to first embrace our own imperfect identity.

Take It Deeper

To what extent have you not yet owned your own story?

If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions on Fridays.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net

 

Diversity: A Call to be “Color Brave”

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Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, boldly talks about an issue most would rather not confront.  However, in a racially and culturally diverse nation as the United States, this is a conversation we need to have.

 

Come back on Friday to hear about some of my personal experience with diversity.  In the meantime, check out my previous posts on diversity:

The Value of Diversity

A Response to the Events in Ferguson, Missouri

 

 

A Response to the Events in Ferguson, Missouri

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As I have been following the reactions to the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, regarding the case of Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, my heart has been troubled. In my Facebook news feed, I hear the voices of liberals and conservatives, of Black and White (and Hispanic and Asian); I hear voices calling for peace, respect, and safety, and I hear voices crying out in anger, frustration, and sadness.IMG_0269

It is not my intention to respond to the Grand Jury decision; I know the members of that jury were privy to information that is not available to me, and I have to trust that they made the best decision given the information at their disposal. Neither is it my intention to criticize those who are protesting and calling for change and reform; I see that there are things within our society that are broken, that are not working as we think they should.

It is my intention to use my unique position, situated between people of different races and socio-economic status, to try to bring greater understanding to all sides of the issue and to find a way forward that encourages justice for all. There is more to the story of the social injustices in America, and we as a society need to hear it.

I recently read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a book purportedly about success, which opened my eyes to how our current situation has been made possible when so many middle class Americans aren’t even aware. In the first chapter, Gladwell talks about the American belief in the “self-made man” and the triumph of personal determination and grit, and about how this perception of success is flawed.

In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work. People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t. (Outliers p. 18)

The rest of the book documents these assertions, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

IMG_6718I grew up in a middle class White household, which gave me certain privileges that I did not recognize for a long time. As I was growing up, my peers and I were taught not to think in racist terms; we have come to believe that the Civil Rights movement ended all racism and that now we are living in a racial utopia. However, recent events are revealing just how wrong we really are, and we are trying to wrap our minds around a reality we never were aware of. Sadly, many are in denial, but the number of recent incidents, and the protests and riots in Ferguson, should show us that it’s a real issue, not something made up. Privilege is not a bad thing, but it does give us a greater responsibility for righting the wrongs in our society.

Now is not a time for vengeance for all wrongs, real or perceived. Now is not a time to pretend these wrongs are all imagined. Now is not a time for rhetoric and political posturing. Now is not a time to wait for things to “blow over” so we can get back to business as usual.

The time has come for action and change, for the deliberate opening of opportunities to those who have been denied, for whatever reason. It is a time for increasing our awareness and understanding, to practice “connective listening” with those who have long felt unheard. By listening and understanding, we can begin to identify practical steps to heal racial divisions, first in the Church, then in our communities, and finally in our country and beyond.

A Key to a Culturally Relevant Church

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As someone who has spent most of her career teaching in short-term, intensive language programs, I have worked with many different classes, and I have found that each class has its own personality. Most groups are simply a collection of individuals largely focused on their own individual goals; however, occasionally the class comes together and forms a dynamic and supportive learning community. As the instructor, I do what I can to encourage the development of a community, but it also depends heavily on the personalities in the class.IMG_6645

I have seen the same patterns in Christian organizations and church groups. In some churches, people simply interact at Sunday service but have little or no contact during the week, while in other churches, the members create strong bonds of friendship, frequently meeting for dinner during the week and sometimes becoming roommates.

It is not always clear to me what makes one group of individuals come together and what prevents another group. However, David Logan’s TED Talk has given me some tools to start exploring this issue. He discusses group behavior from a “tribal” perspective, defining “tribes” as smaller groups of 20 to 150 people.

Based on organizational research that focused on observable language and behavior, his book Tribal Leadership, co-authored with John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, identifies five stages of “tribal” culture based on the language used and the actions taken by members of the “tribe” (the following labels are my own):

Stage 1: Survival Mode.  People in a stage 1 culture have a sense of hopelessness and despair and will do anything it takes to survive, even if it means resorting to violence. David Logan says that this is the culture of gangs and of prisons; about 2% of organizations are in this stage.

Stage 2: Victim Mentality.  While people in stage 2 cultures have moved beyond mere survival, they still have little or no hope for their circumstances to improve, leading to very negative attitudes. I believe most people in such cultures have simply given up and are going through the motions. About one quarter of organizations are at this stage.

While I have seen individual students in these stages, it is rare for an entire class or church group to be here. However, the next stage is very common.

Stage 3: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). At this point, people have moved beyond hopelessness and helplessness and see the value of putting in an effort. However, at this stage, it is all about personal advancement, even at the expense of peers and colleagues. Nearly half of all organizations are at this stage.

At this stage, I can see the importance of the role of attitude, that intangible quality of people that influences their thoughts and behaviors. John Maxwell, in his book Attitude 101, lists the signs of a bad attitude, which I believe make a very good description of someone in a stage 3 culture:IMG_6651

  • inability to admit wrongdoing
  • failing to forgive
  • petty jealousy
  • the “disease of me”
  • a critical spirit
  • a desire to hog all the credit

Stage 4: Group Cohesion. At this stage, people begin bonding over shared values. It could be as lofty as a shared mission (end human trafficking like the organization A21) or as quirky as a personality trait (be a little weird like the company Zappos). Because of the shared values and vision, people form bonds and are willing to collaborate and cooperate to meet their goals; 22% of organizations reach this stage.

Stage 5: The “Mountaintop.” At this stage of culture, the group no longer forms around a limited goal while comparing themselves to other groups; they are now ready to take on global transformation and compare themselves to what is possible. Only 2% of organizations reach this stage.

In these last two stages, we see healthy relationships being formed, whether within the group or beyond the group. In his book Relationships 101, John Maxwell lists five characteristics of solid relationships. While his focus was primarily on one-on-one relationships, I believe these characteristics can be applied to group cultures as well.

  • Respect
  • Shared experiences
  • Trust
  • Reciprocity
  • Mutual enjoyment

I would argue that Christians are called to develop Stage 5 cultures, and I believe the early church had a stage 5 culture based on solid relationships. The Book of Acts recounts how the first disciples of Christ formed a community that changed not only the individuals within that community but eventually the entire world.

  • They frequently “broke bread” and prayed together (Acts 2:42, 46-47).
  • They shared everything in common and trusted each other (Acts 4:32-36).
  • They bonded through the persecution of the Jewish leadership (Acts 5:41).
  • They worked together to solve community problems (Acts 6:1-7).

As I learned about the concepts in Tribal Leadership, I was not surprised that the majority of organizations have “me-centric” stage 3 cultures. This is the pervasive characteristic of modern American culture, one I believe needs to change. Christians are meant to be known by their unity, but Christianity in the United States today is too often characterized by bitter divisions and self-righteous criticism. If the American church is going to have an impact on the surrounding culture, we must develop a Stage 5 “tribe,” first within individual churches and then among the churches of America and beyond.

 

Links and Resources:

David Logan’s TED Talk Tribal Leadership 

Book review of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Minute with Maxwell: Relationships

31 Bible Verses about Relationships

Minute with Maxwell: Attitude

35 Bible Verses about Attitude

 

Modern-day Tribes

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In this 2009 TEDx Talk, David Logan, Professor of Management at USC, describes about five levels of “tribes,” groups of 20 to 150 people who work, live, or otherwise interact together. He then gives some suggestions for moving your own “tribe” from being groups of individuals to world-changing organizations, steps that we can take to become more unified in our purpose.

 

To Live A Well-Connected Life

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My first year teaching in S. Korea was challenging in several ways. Not only did I have to adapt to a new culture and language environment, but I also had to adapt to a new student population. I had previously taught college-age international students in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, but that first year in Korea I found myself teaching classes to elementary school students.

St. Louis Botanical Garden

St. Louis Botanical Garden

On top of that, for most of my classes, the mothers of my students sat along the walls of the classroom observing the class. I did the best I could to deliver lessons that were full of content and language practice, but in the end students started leaving my classes because they were bored. In fact, my first teaching contract was not renewed for a second year, primarily because I failed to connect with my students.

As a young and fairly inexperienced teacher, my focus was on the content of my lessons. However, I needed to understand the specific needs and wants of the individual students in my class. For my elementary students, this was their need to have fun and play as well as learn English. By the time I moved to my third teaching position in Korea, working with mid-level managers in an international corporation, I finally began to understand the needs of my students well enough to connect with them in ways that led to their success and mine.

Until I learned to take the students’ perspectives into consideration, I was unable to connect with my students in ways that encouraged them to engage in the lessons I prepared. In their book Real Influence, John Ullmen and Mark Goulston identify a primary cause of disconnection as the “blind spot” in our brains. Because we naturally approach any issue from our own perspective, we fail to consider other perspectives, which creates a mental “blind spot.” They further describe four traps most people fall into when it comes to connecting and influencing others:

  1. the fight or flight response – “your nervous system … doesn’t know the difference between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and an tyrannical boss” leading you to either respond aggressively (fight) or avoid the situation (flight)
  2. the habit handicap – when stressed or challenged, we resort to our “comfort zone” of behaviors that have worked in the past, but which may not be best in the current circumstances
  3. error blindness – being wrong feels just like being right, and it isn’t until we realize our error that we can correct it
  4. the double curse of knowledge – even when you are right, you may find it difficult to explain what you find obvious to a less knowledgeable person.

I think I experienced all four when I moved to Korea!

Through trial and error I eventually learned how to connect with my students. However, I now recognize that John Maxwell has summed up these strategies of how to connect with others in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:

  1. Connect with yourself – know who you are and be confident in your skills and abilities
  2. Know your audience – learn the goals, hopes, and dreams of the people you are working with
  3. Go to where they are – meet people in their circumstances, or as Ullmen and Goulston say, in “their there”
  4. Communicate with openness and sincerity – being transparent is essential to creating a connection
  5. Offer direction and hope – present the positive and optimistic view; there are enough negative voices in the world
  6. Live your message – practice what you preach and you can build credibility
  7. Focus on them, not yourself – show people you care about them and their circumstances
  8. Believe in them – encourage and support people, even at their lowest.

These guidelines have become the backbone of my teaching style.IMG_6764

Many of the Old Testament prophets failed to connect with the people of Israel and Judah, in part due to the nature of their messages of repentance, messages the people simply weren’t interested in hearing. However, a notable exception is Daniel who practiced connected influence as an advisor to the kings of Babylon and Persia.

  1.  Connect with yourself – Daniel had such a clear view of himself that he asked for an exception when given “the king’s delicacies” (Daniel 1:5, 8-16).
  2. Know your audience – when Daniel first approached the chief eunuch about his diet, he demonstrated a concern for the man’s predicament (Daniel 1:8-10).
  3. Go to where they are – Daniel suggested a 10-day trial of a vegetable diet to limit the risk to the chief eunuch (Daniel 1:12).
  4. Communicate with openness and sincerity – when Daniel came before Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his dream, he was clear that he didn’t have the interpretation because he was wiser than any other but because God had revealed it to him (Daniel 2:27-30).
  5. Offer direction and hope – when Daniel gave a negative interpretation for one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, he also gave counsel for how the king could avoid the coming personal disaster (Daniel 4:19-27).
  6. Live your message – when the lower government officials tried to discredit Daniel, they couldn’t find any opening to accuse him of wrongdoing (Daniel 6:4).
  7. Focus on them, not yourself – Daniel humbly served those set above him as well as those under his authority (Daniel 1:8-13; 2:14-18, 24-30, 49; 4:19, 27; 5:17; 6:1-3).
  8. Believe in them – Daniel consistently encouraged the best in the kings he served (Daniel 2:37-38; 4:19, 27; 6:21)

Connecting with others is an important step towards developing a sphere of influence. Daniel exerted a gentle influence upon the pagan kings of Babylon and Persia by connecting with the rulers of those countries. We, too, can exert a similar influence upon those in our sphere of influence if we follow his example and truly begin to connect with those around us.

 

Resources and Links

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Sunday message by Pastor Jeff Abyad on the life of Daniel: Thriving in Captivity