Culture: a primarily physical experience

Do you know the feeling? You are traveling to a foreign country where the people speak a language that you don’t understand. You have come a long way to be where you are now, i.e. you traveled through time and covered many miles/Km. You feel tired and need some sleep to adjust to the time difference. The food you have eaten doesn’t taste the same and you feel somewhat uncomfortable, as you don’t really know how your body will react to the different spices and ingredients. You hear some really strange noises from the street, again very unfamiliar, which you cannot identify. And more and foremost, you cannot understand what people are saying although you are here to negotiate and your business partners already came to greet you at the airport.

I am pretty sure that you know what I mean and have already experienced it in one way or the other!

What is really important here though, is to be able to decipher these feelings so that the learning experience in the new culture can take place. Following Ida Castiglioni, “cultural experience is primarily physical”, hence “(…) by learning from the emotion of the body, one can have a deeper experience of ‘opening’ to an alternative.”[1]

The above has direct implications when working with Dr. Bennett’s DMIS in the field of intercultural training, teaching, coaching and consulting: the body should not be forgotten when striving towards enthnorelativism (acceptance, adaption and integration).

During the “Embodied Culture” course led by Dott. Ida Castiglioni that I attended last week in Milan, the participants had the opportunity to experience for themselves what this actually means and how to leverage the findings for building up competence while working with others. In fact, following Dott. Castiglioni, there are three main areas of intervention where working with the awareness of self and body in the cultural context makes sense:

  1. Developing Empathy
  2. Acquiring the ability to shift into a different category, to shift ‘frames’ and
  3. Constructing an integrated multicultural identity.

For our example at the beginning of this post, this means that once you are aware of your perceptions and feelings and once you attend to them, exploring and integrating them into your cognitive processes you are constructing the experience holistically. The felt experience allows a person to adapt his or her own feelings to a new situation and thus gives way to appropriate behavior in a new context.

If this post has made you curious about the reactions of your own body when dealing with difference, try to look inside yourself next time you are in an unfamiliar situation. What do you feel? How does your body react? What can you learn from it?

Jenny



[1] Castiglioni I. (2013). Constructing Intercultural Competence in Italian Social Service and Healthcare Organizations. Research Series published by the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Pages 1-6.

 

 

Connecting the dots – Furthering Creative Innovation through Diversity

Just coming out of an excellent three-day course in Milan with Milton Bennett and Lee Knefelkamp, I could not help myself but to write these couple of sentences down, now that they are still fresh.

I learned that a person’s view on ethics depends heavily on his/her developmental status of learning or knowledge as identified in the so-called “Perry Scheme”.[1] The different positions in this scheme can in turn be very nicely integrated into M. Bennet’s “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity” (DMIS). The more a person moves up the Perry scheme, the more he/she is open, able to deal with ambiguity and a critical thinker making conscious choices based on active reasoning. The more a person moves from enthnocentrism to ethnorelativism in the DMIS, the more the cultural context will be included in his/her decision making processes and the more culturally appropriate behavior will be part of his/her cultural identity.

Thus in the ultimate stage of development in both models (DMIS and Perry Scheme), considered choices are made in face of legitimate alternatives; the person acts with contextual ethical commitment.

For me, this connection between learning/knowledge, ethics and intercultural communication certainly makes sense and opens up many different ways of exploring the field. Once a group is for example able to deal with difference, which normally happens between “minimization” and “acceptance” in the DMIS and position 5 in the Perry Scheme (constructing meaning), it will certainly add value to sustained innovation and creativity simply by bringing different perspectives into the discussion. Research has indeed shown that heterogeneous, diverse teams who are able to effectively work together (which requires a certain level of intercultural competence) produce much better results than when the teams are composed homogeneously, with people from the same background or with the same values.

Creative innovation is indeed something that many companies nowadays are striving for. The increasing acceleration of technology obsolescence with shrinking lifecycles – paired with an increasingly strict regulatory environment in the medical industry for example – is impacting already the way companies operate. Recent surveys are pointing out that currently the most innovative industries are the ones, which are able to better connect the commercial and technical dots.

And how do you connect these dots? Well, firstly by enabling cross-functional, virtual and multinational teams to effectively communicate and work together. Secondly, companies have to encourage dialogue and creative thinking by signaling that ideas can be tested out, even if sometimes in the end, they are not successful. Incentives and means have to be found to include and anchor not only intercultural competence criteria but also a reward mechanism for constructive disagreement as well as creative idea generation in policies, job descriptions and performance evaluations so that new impulses can be generated.

There is still much to be done here…I am ready, are you?

 

 



[1] Perry, W. (1970, 1998) Forms of Cognitive & Ethical Development in the College Years : Knefelkamp, L. « Introduction » ; Moore, W. Overview of the Perry Scheme.

Keys to multicultural communication in Switzerland

I am sure most of you know that Switzerland has more to offer than cheese, chocolate and fiscal advantages.As a matter of fact, and to quote Ute Limacher in her excellent post on that matter:

Switzerland is a multilingual country with four national languages: German, French, Italian and Rumantsch (…). But only German, French and Italian maintain equal status as official languages at the national level within the Federal Administration of the Swiss Confederation. According to the federal census of 2000, 63.7% of the Swiss population speaks German, 20.4% French, 6.5% Italian, 0.5% Rumantsch and 9.0% speak other languages.”

For (international) communicators coming into the country with a multinational or simply having to communicate from within a company locally, this might mean a major headache as the language is not the only thing that differs from one region to another. In fact, culturally speaking, every region – not to say every canton –  has its different worldviews, habits, behaviors, understanding of time etc.  The beauty of it is that all of this coexists in one country!

A Swiss from German speaking Switzerland might thus not have the same values as a Swiss from Italian speaking Switzerland and so on. In order to be able to effectively manage or work in teams, communicate internally/externally, launch a marketing campaign etc. you hence need to know exactly how to do this in the different parts of the country and how/where to approach the local structures, media outlets, agencies… In fact, if you do this the right way, communicating effectively and appropriately in Switzerland might even boost your brand image across Europe, if not globally.

In summary, if you are able to:

  • address the right audience with the right words, tools and media outlets
  • know what it means to have Swiss people on your team or be managed by a Swiss
  • know how to deal with the various differences,

You will definitely have a major competitive advantage, without a doubt!

Exactly for that reason, I have decided to team up with a local senior consultant so that we can bring both international/intercultural and local targeted communication strategy/management knowledge together.  We offer it in form of a workshop to international companies and multinationals who are eager to make the most out of their stay in Switzerland. If you are interested in learning more about the offer and what we do, please visit us here or contact me directly here. We are definitely looking forward to hearing from you!

Further reading:

1. On Ute Limacher’s blog:

2. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation

3. Intercultural thoughts on Switzerland (Jenny Ebermann)

 

 

Take-aways from D. Goleman’s presentation in Lausanne

Balloons in Sky

Yesterday I had the chance to attend Daniel Goleman’s presentation at the IMD in Lausanne. The room was full and people were attentively listening to what was entitled: “How can Global Leaders focus for High Performance”. I had never seen Goleman live before and I must say that it was a very interesting and enriching conference!

Firstly, did you know for example that when somebody says something that hurts you or when you simply receive an email that annoys you, your full bodily reaction is activated (stress hormones being released, muscles ready to run etc.) exactly as if you were fleeing from a predator like in ancient times? The simple thought of a negative event can in fact already trigger that reaction…

Secondly, were you aware that there are three different kinds of empathy[1]?

  1. Cognitive Empathy (understanding the mental models of people)
  2. Emotional Empathy (coming from the mirror neurons, feeling physically what another person is feeling)
  3. Empathic Concern (you not only feel with the person and understand her/him but you are also inclined to help)

Thirdly, also interesting, were Goleman’s explanations around what differentiates a top leader from a “mainstream” one. Not astonishingly, three areas of focus[2] are needed:

  1. Inner Focus (understand, manage and lead yourself)
  2. Focus on other people (i.e. empathy, to be able to understand what other people are thinking, feeling, how to communicate with others etc.)
  3. Focus on other systems (the surrounding parameters, the forces that impact an organization)

Once all three are combined, leaders excel in their tasks and are also perceived by peers and employees to be thriving.

And finally, to my surprise, Goleman even brought a simple mindfulness exercise to the audience, who sat in silence for a while, listening to his voice giving the instructions. What an inspiring moment!

Mindfulness according to him is “fitness for the brain”, training attention and focus. The more it is done, the more the brain changes the way it operates and reacts to stimuli and the better one will also be able to “listen” to the info coming from the gut (the somatic markers).

Bringing mindfulness into the workplace using different formats and tools to deal with difference, furthering not only internal communications, innovation and creativity but also self-awareness and efficiency in teams is what I am focusing on as a consultant/coach/trainer. If you are interested in learning more, I would be very pleased to hear from you!

And to end with a really nice old eskimo proverb that my mindfulness teacher brought to my attention yesterday and that I found back here:

Yesterday is ashes; tomorrow is wood. Only today does the fire burn brightly

Have a great weekend,
Jenny


[1] Compare also with this article : http://www.danielgoleman.info/three-kinds-of-empathy-cognitive-emotional-compassionate/

[2] Compare also with D. Goleman’s post: http://blog.haygroup.com/the-three-kinds-of-focus-every-leader-needs/