Author Archives: Marie Bankuti

Got CQ?

Most people these days are familiar with Emotional Intelligence or EQ (the ability to recognize our own emotions and those of others to guide thinking and behavior) and Social Intelligence or SQ (the ability to form rewarding relationships and manage complex social change). But what about Cultural Intelligence?

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is defined as “The capability to function effectively across various cultural contexts; national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc.” (Handbook of Cultural Intelligence: Theory, Measurement, and Applications)

So, what’s the big deal about CQ? Is it just a fad… another “Q” to add to the alphabet soup of how we assess and rate capabilities in the corporate world?

The truth is, CQ builds upon EQ and SQ, and allows us to successfully read and navigate different cultural environments. Your ability to do that well can be the key to attracting new opportunities, earning higher wages, thriving (vs. floundering) in an intercultural environment, and simply being more successful in our diverse, globalized world.

According to the International Labor Union and Economist Intelligence Unit, 70% of all international ventures fail due to cultural differences, including expats living abroad, mergers, outposts, and virtual teams. And 90% of leading executives from 68 countries have cited multicultural leadership as their top management challenge.

Their TOP management challenge! What if YOU could help them solve that problem? What if becoming a “Culturally Intelligent Professional” became your brand?

Our world has changed. Corporate USA doesn’t look like it did 20 or 30 years ago… or even 10 years ago! And it’s going to continue to change. The research also shows that 49% of kids 5 years old and under in the US today are children of color, and there are 1 million university students in study-abroad programs.

But hold on… CQ isn’t just greater awareness and a set of skills that come in handy when working abroad or with a team of people from different countries at home. It also refers to the cultural differences that occur within an organization (Accounting vs. Marketing), within regions of the country (San Francisco vs. the Mid-West), gender differences, generational difference, religious preferences, and on and on.

The good news is… CQ is something that can be learned and developed!

There are Four Capabilities of Cultural Intelligence, as defined by the Cultural Intelligence Center:

  • CQ Drive – This is the level of internal and external motivation you have around learning and adapting to multicultural situations. It speaks to your levels of curiosity and interest to learn, as well as your confidence entering into unfamiliar situations and interacting with various types of people.
  • CQ Knowledge – This addresses your understanding about different cultures. Do you know how they’re similar and how they differ? There’s a lot of information out there to research, read and study. But, it’s a mistake to think that just having the knowledge is enough!
  • CQ Strategy – How much thought do you give ahead of time to how you’ll approach multicultural interactions? Do you think about how you might have a difficult conversation with someone, based on knowing a bit about their cultural values, for example? This capability is about your awareness, your intention, your planning for how to approach others who might have another perspective than your own. It’s also about your level of discernment about when and how to adapt.
  • CQ Action – Putting it all into action. None of this understanding matters if you can’t actually relate to others, work well together, and adapt interculturally.

CQ is even more impactful when integrated along with great leadership skills. And that’s a whole other newsletter topic!

Where to begin to develop your CQ?

  • Plan a conversation with someone from a different background than you in the next week
  • Read a foreign-based novel; notice the underlying values that inform their interactions
  • Have your own Cultural Intelligence Assessment done and work with a coach (I know a good one!)
  • Have your team’s Cultural Values mapped out and shine a light on frequent conflict areas

Common sense and social agility can take us only so far. When stress, conflict and tight deadlines rear their ugly heads, and individuals default to their own deeply held cultural values, beliefs and habits… being unable to navigate and bridge those differences can be the kiss of death to a project or larger initiative.

Shared Experiences: Olga Ievtushenko

Meet Olga Ievtushenko, an Innovation Manager at Eastman Chemical in Kingsport, Tennessee!

Olga, originally from Ukraine, came to the U.S. in August of 2008 to earn her PhD in Textile Technology Management in Raleigh, North Carolina.

When I asked her what her favorite things are about being in the U.S., she gave me a whole list of what she considers to be real benefits!  Diversity, limited corruption, political stability (having come from a place “rife with economic and political corruption”), patriotism, efficient infrastructure, possibilities and higher wages, national parks, a safe and child-friendly environment.

Sales tax was the most confusing/surprising to me. And it still is. I am from a country where the price tag reflects the final price.”  You’re not alone, Olga. Taxes confuse all of us!

While “overcoming foreign accent barrier and my fear of speaking in English in a group” has been the most challenging, she also believes “it is generally easy to adjust to U.S. society and people.”

What she’s come to believe?  “Hard work, determination, and initiative make it possible to achieve success and prosperity. U.S. is the country of opportunities. American dream is real.”  I agree with you there, Olga!

Find out more about Olga!

Happy Birthday! Boldog születésnapot! Bon anniversaire! जन्मदिन की शुभकामनाएं

Ever wonder how folks around the world celebrate birthdays?  As I approached my own recent birthday, I wondered.

So, I did a little poking around, learned about some fun traditions, and thought of some ways for you to incorporate them at home and at work (see ideas below).

These are only a few of the many types of celebrations. Some are more traditional, some observed more widely than others, with each country, region and family celebrating in their own ways.

  • Argentina – Family members tug on earlobes of the birthday girl/boy’s, once for each year
  • Australia – Children eat “Fairy Bread” (white bread with butter and sugar candy sprinkles!)
  • Brazil – Large, extravagant affairs, elaborate desserts and sweets
  • Canada – Person is ambushed with butter/grease smeared on the noses to ward off bad luck
  • China – “Long Life Noodles” are eaten, long noodle slurps equal a long life
  • Denmark – Danish flag set outside to signal a birthday, presents placed around child’s bed for morning
  • Ecuador – Celebrate on day the saint they were named for was born, just a card on their birthday
  • Egypt – Celebrate with singing and dancing, flower and fruit decorations symbolize life and growth
  • Germany – Children don’t have to do homework or chores, adults buy drinks for friends
  • Ghana – Children are awoken with an “oto” breakfast (fried smashed yam, egg and onion patty)
  • Great Britain – Decorated cake with lighted candles to represent child’s age
  • Holland – “Crown Years” celebrated at age 5, 10, 15, 20, 21, kids enjoy lemonade and hot chocolate
  • Hungary – Saint’s “Name Day” celebrated, earlobe pulling while singing: “God bless you, live so long, so your ears reach your ankles”
  • India – Kids get to where new outfits on their special day
  • Ireland – “Bumping” the birthday child, adult holds child upside down and gently bumps head on floor, once for each year (ouch!)
  • Jamaica – Birthday person is “Antiqued” by throwing flour on them
  • Mexico – Candy-filled paper-mache figure (piñata) is whacked with a stick by a blindfolded birthday boy/girl until it bursts open for party guests
  • New Zealand – Children have “Fairy Bread” there too
  • Nigeria – Large feast and celebrations for years 1, 5, 10, 15
  • Norway – Parties with food, music, dancing and chocolate cake
  • Russia – Kids bring candy to school for classmates
  • USA – Decorated cake with candles and gifts
  • Vietnam – Everyone celebrates at New Year, called “Tet”, individual birthdays not typically celebrated

(Click here for more countries)

Ways to Incorporate Traditions at Home and Work:

  • Do you know someone who is originally from a different country than you’re from? Ask them about their cultural traditions for celebrating birthdays. Do they have a favorite story from their childhood?
  • Do you work on a multicultural team? Try a team building discussion about how each person celebrated their birthday as a child. What was a favorite birthday memory?
  • Try celebrating each person on the team’s birthday with a bit of their country’s tradition. Perhaps trying some new foods, treats or customs.
  • What’s YOUR lineage? Do you have older relatives you can explore traditions with?
  • How about learning and incorporating a new (old) tradition from your lineage into your family celebrations?

Have fun with it!  Let me know what you learned from your conversations. And do send pictures!

Shared Experiences: Subhashish Acharya

Subhashish Acharya (known as “Subs” to his friends) came to the U.S. from Kolkata, India eleven years ago. He lives in Lowell, Massachusetts, “right downtown, where the action is”. After working at Oracle for a decade, he recently joined PTC to manage the Strategic Alliances with HP globally for IoT.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most is the people in the country.” Characterizing himself as “an explorer”, he explains further. “Americans are kind, straight-forward, very, very helpful, considerate, polite and friendly. I have been able to connect with them seamlessly. I have met exceptional people here. Am proud I have met them.”

Subs believes most Indians misunderstand the people in America. “Movies and pop culture shape us, but that is not a correct perception.”

Giving an example, he says “In India, a ‘no’ sometimes means ‘convince me’. So, most Indians try to convince a person to death in our communication. It is a complex activity which simply wastes time in communication. Most Americans, on the other hand, perceive ‘no’ as a ‘no’. It’s straightforward, simple and direct.”

Subs had several tips for those coming to the U.S. to live and work:

  • “Learn the American sarcasm. Try it. It’s amazing and intellectually humorous.”
  • “Meet people. Understand them. Go to the bar with them. Have a drink with them. Go with their family on treks, if needed. Learn to adapt.”
  • “Do not worry about your English. Americans are highly adaptable creatures. They totally know how to work around you and with you.”

One last thing. Subs and I met on a plane about six years ago or so, when he inquired about a book I was reading. During our conversation, he told me about the non-profit organization he founded here in the U.S., created to assist blind people in finding work. As the plane landed, we exchanged contact information and agreed to keep in touch. What I’ve come to know about Subs over the years is that he has a strong belief in giving back and making a difference. “You have to give back to the country. Make things better.” To date, Project Starfish has created jobs for over 300 blind people in the USA. Now, that’s making a difference!

Learn more about Subs and Project Starfish!

Hungry for a Feedback Sandwich?

Receiving feedback (solicited or unsolicited) is an opportunity for us to get a bit of a glimpse of ourselves from the outside; to understand the impact we have on others.

There’s been much written about the most effective ways to deliver feedback, and even on the best ways to receive feedback (Thanks for the Feedback, Heen/Stone). And while all that research has been instrumental in easing the sting of delivery and allowing for growth (versus crushing the spirit), the clear majority of suggestions and solutions are focused around what works best in US culture, for those born and raised here.

Fair enough. But what if you have a multicultural team? What if your team is spread out all over the world? Or maybe you’re a foreign-born professional who’s leading a team in the US? Then, it’s worth another look.

Different cultures have varying philosophies around giving feedback, especially when it comes to negative feedback. Individuals from countries such as the Netherlands, Israel and Russia tend to be more direct in their delivery, placing a high value on honesty and transparency. Whereas those from countries like Arabia, Thailand and Japan tend to be more indirect and subtle with their feedback, to maintain respect and preserve relationships. Metaphors may be used to demonstrate or connect ideas. Folks in the US, UK, Canada and Australia tend to fall in the middle of the spectrum, straddling direct and indirect styles.

No one position on this spectrum is right, nor wrong. But operating without some awareness of these differences can cause real problems when you’re the one delivering the message to someone accustomed to an alternative style. Even words such as excellent, good, ok, and adequate can take on different meanings (subtle and not so subtle) within different cultures.

And, really, since the only conversation that matters is the one you’re having in the moment, it’s important to understand that it’s all relative.

In the US, many are accustomed to the “Feedback Sandwich”, an approach which softens the potential blow of negative feedback by “sandwiching” the not-so-good news between two layers of “here’s what you’re really great at” acknowledgements. Though there are pros and cons to this approach, it’s widely used to encourage continued successes, while pointing individuals in the direction of growth.

If you’re a manager in the US giving feedback to a team member originally from the Netherlands, for example, you may walk away from the discussion feeling good about your delivery. While they might be confused by your mixed messages, unclear about where they stand and what’s expected next.

By contrast, after giving the very same feedback to a Japanese team member, they might feel as though you were overly harsh and unnecessarily direct, possibly even harming the relationship in some way.

Having awareness about how folks from other cultures ‘interact’ with feedback is critical to successfully communicating, regardless of which side of the conversation you’re on; delivering or receiving, US or foreign-born. With that in mind, here are some tips to help open communications and minimize unintended confusion.

  • When delivering feedback do a bit of homework first. Who are you speaking to? What is their cultural background, their command of the English language? Keeping in mind that providing feedback to a subordinate or colleague should be offered as a gift, something to aid with their self-awareness and development. To do that, they need to be able to really hear it, to consume it. What adjustments can you make to your own approach that will help them receive the message you mean to get across? Then ask for feedback on your feedback! Open up a discussion allowing them to tell you in their own words what they understand. Note where the discrepancies are. Where were you clear, vague, repetitive, overly obvious, hurtful, avoiding something?
  • When on the receiving end of feedback, remember to stay open. Does the provider have a different style of delivery than you’re accustomed to? How can you prepare ahead of time to better understand what’s coming? Consider having a discussion before the feedback is given to offer assistance on what works best for you. If something is unclear, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. If the information is too “in your face”, offering a metaphor or story can confirm your understanding and help summarize. Regardless of how it’s delivered, choosing to believe that they want to assist in your development can help smooth over any awkwardness.
  • If you’re part of a multicultural team, propose creating an agreed upon approach, a common language. As a group, discuss and structure ways to offer and receive feedback within the team. Create an understanding of how performance measurement terminology is defined and used in your communications. Work towards an environment that freely welcomes feedback, assuming unconditional positive regard.
  • Lead by example. Whether you’re a designated leader or an individual contributor, modeling how to ask for and receive feedback with an open mind, curiosity, professionalism and grace is the best way to build trust and create an environment where feedback is generously offered, well received, and used to everyone’s benefit.

Check out Erin Meyer’s book, The Culture Map, for more specifics on how to bridge the feedback communication gaps.

Shared Experiences: Ank Stuyfzand

My dear friend and colleague, Ank Stuyfzand, came to the US (Southern California to be exact) 14 years ago from The Netherlands, for work and the adventure of living abroad. Four years ago, she and her family moved from SoCal to Massachusetts, which she says was “like moving to another country all over again!”

What Ank loves most about being in the U.S. is “the diversity of people and cultures from all over the world, which really has enriched my worldview. I think moving abroad, and really building my life in a different country, has helped me grow in a tremendous way and helped me to become more open minded and well rounded”.

She explains how moving to the U.S. made her feel even more Dutch than before she left her home country. “The concept of being Dutch never occurred to me, ‘til I moved to the U.S. where I discovered how different the people and culture are here… Every culture has its own set of values, beliefs and assumptions that inform behavior, day-to-day life, organizations and institutions. And because I have been here for so long, I think I understand American culture much better by now and I have adjusted my own behavior. At the same time though, I still experience and feel how different the culture is, maybe even more so, or on a deeper level than when I just arrived here. I guess… you can take the girl out of the Netherlands, but you cannot take the Netherlands out of the girl!”

“Living in the U.S. is not the same as in the movies. And there’s not one singular U.S.”  She warns of the culture shock that can happen, suggesting that folks learn to recognize when it’s happening and how it affects you. Although she remembers feeling “really lonely, hopeless and homesick”, she knew she’d be fine eventually. With that in mind, she advocates for joining some sort of community, to become part of something. “Try different groups or communities, ‘til you find one you like.”  (I couldn’t agree more!)

Something for those new to the country to keep in mind? “Be curious and fascinated and catch yourself when you’re judgmental about the American culture… ‘they’ are not weird, ‘they’ are just different.”

Ank is a Consultant, Coach and Educator. Learn more about her and her company, Sync.

Don’t go it alone!

A few weeks ago, I invited four colleagues and friends of mine to lunch. These four women, who were originally from Russia, India, Philippines, and UK, have been living and working in the US for many years. The reason for my invitation was two-fold… first, I’m all about community. I’m always looking for reasons and opportunities to bring people together to connect, share and learn from one another. It’s just something I LOVE to do, and I have a strong belief that it’s a basic human need… feeling part of a community.

The other reason I brought us together was to do a little bit of research. I’ve known these women for years, and I realized, I haven’t come to understand very much about what brought them to the US in the first place. I was curious to learn more about their stories.

Among a lot of great insights gained (ideas for future newsletters!), one theme that especially spoke to me as they shared their early challenges, was their initial sense of isolation. When they left their countries of birth (some by choice, others out of necessity), they left behind their families and support systems. The communities they’d grown up in, schooled in, and worked in were no longer part of their daily interactions, and so much about life here was unfamiliar. It was before the huge popularity of social media, so staying in touch with those back home was much more challenging.

Bottom line… they were homesick.

Of course, now it’s much easier to connect with people all over the world. At any moment, I can go online and see what my relatives from Hungary are up to, and we can share pictures and birthday wishes with ease, instantaneously. That’s such a gift to have that type of access these days.

But for those who have moved here from another country to work and live, you can still feel cut off from a local community where you feel totally comfortable, welcome, and free to be yourself. You may not even realize that it’s community that’s missing. As you work through the various challenges and emotions of adjusting, finding a group of like-minded people with similar goals and support needs might not be at the top of your to-do list.

Community can take many forms and serve multiple purposes. Neighborhoods, professional organizations, cultural clubs, networking groups, hobby-focused clubs, sports leagues, arts & entertainment clubs, and so many more. Any one of these can provide resources, career opportunities, friendships, exploration buddies, motivation and accountability, learning, and fun!

If you’ve come to the US from another country and have noticed something’s missing, try finding a community or two to connect with. Here are some ways in which we benefit from being part of a community, and some options to explore!

Communities for Shared Learning/Knowledge

  • Personal and professional networking
  • Others have “been there”; made the mistakes and can help you avoid them
  • Resources for language assistance, doctors, lawyers, best places to shop, etc.
  • An opportunity for you to share and give back too

Communities for Fun

  • Exploration and sight seeing
  • Fitness and exercise
  • Activities for kids
  • Try things as a group that you might not try on your own

Communities for a Sense of Belonging

  • Connect with those that have a similar background and history
  • Share common foods and celebrations
  • Like-minded people that know what you’re going through
  • Being fully understood in your own language

Communities for Motivation, Inspiration and Accountability

  • Develop a new skill or hobby
  • Find a mentor; a model of what to strive for
  • Find an accountability partner to help reach your goals
  • Motivation to evolve and adapt personally or professionally

Here are some different communities to check out!

What community will you join?  It may be just the thing you didn’t realize you need!

Shared Experiences: Srithika Thodur Madapusi

Srithika Thodur Madapusi, a Senior Leadership Development Manager, came to the US to work with Cognizant Technology Solutions when her husband was transferred here for his work. Although she’s now returned to India, she spent two years working here in their Academy Division. That’s where I met and got to know Srithika, while we developed and delivered the first year of the long-running Elevate Coaching program. Though we’ve never actually met in person (yet), I’m looking forward to that changing someday when I visit India!

There were a lot of things Srithika enjoyed about being in the US; the weather, New York City’s Central Park, the museums, public transportation, and the inclusive culture. She also appreciated the sense of privacy that she said isn’t typical back home. What was most surprising to her?  “That there are sooo many Indians!! And that we could get free movie DVDs from the library!”

Interestingly, she found traveling alone in areas that weren’t as crowded to be a bit challenging, as well as using public transportation maps to get around.
Her words of advice? “While communicating, speak clearly and do ask the other person to repeat if you do not understand. Explore the city and people wholeheartedly, and do not create artificial boundaries for yourself.”  With that, she offers one last bit of wisdom… “And never take the driving test lightly.”

Srithika is also an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer and instructor. The picture included here is of her in traditional dress during one of her performances! Learn more about Srithika.

Need more visibility? Shine your light.

One afternoon, as he stepped onto the elevator to return to his office after lunch, Brinker International CIO, Johnny Earl, joined the twenty-something man already inside. Not knowing each other more than by name, they exchanged a quick pleasantry and shared the short ride together. Johnny couldn’t help but notice that the young man seemed very upbeat; as though he was extremely pleased about something.

Johnny didn’t ask about it in the moment, but later that day he inquired about it with the young man’s supervisor. Not knowing the reason, the supervisor went to speak with the young man and reported back. Apparently, he’d just returned from the latest assembly of the “Good Idea Meeting”, a monthly lunchtime gathering specifically for sharing ideas amongst peers at Brinker.

Now this wasn’t a company sponsored meeting. It was something he’d created on his own for individual contributors to come together in a “sandbox” atmosphere, where they could bounce ideas off one another. A safe space to create, innovate and refine their ideas before bringing those with real potential to management.

Johnny was intrigued and wanted to encourage their efforts, but he knew if he attended he’d inevitably change the dynamic of the meetings. So, through the supervisor, he expressed his enthusiastic support and had pizzas delivered to all the subsequent gatherings. They never tried to formalize the meetings, allowing them to remain organic, comfortable, and without management accountability.

In Johnny’s eyes, the young man became the “Idea Guy” and the monthly attendees were known as the “Idea Posse”. From the beginning, there was no fan fair, no budget, and no expectation of recognition. Yet, several initiatives eventually came to fruition because of their ongoing idea generation. The young man was ultimately invited into higher level strategic discussions and then promoted.

How do YOU create opportunities for visibility?

My clients often ask me how they can increase their visibility within their organization, how they can position themselves for that next promotion. That’s often followed by questions about how to do the same for their team, how to advocate for them. Much of the time, the discussion also includes a confession of great discomfort and concern about appearing boastful and arrogant.

When asked, I usually tell the “Idea Guy” story. It’s such a perfect example of how to demonstrate your abilities, how to get the word out about who you are and what you can contribute (leadership, innovation, facilitation, risk-taking, passion, focus, and on and on), all without verbally boasting and bragging.

Gaining visibility within an organization can be a tricky endeavor. Having to advocate for yourself and getting noticed can make the skin crawl for some people, no matter where they were raised. And for foreign-born folks working in the U.S., this can be experienced as anything between utterly-excruciating, to coming off as a bull-in-a-china-shop. Different cultures have different perceptions and values around being humble, direct, competitive, deferential, etc. Striking the right balance here is an art.

You want to get noticed so management will offer you great opportunities, right? There are lots of ways to do that, without the metaphorical chest-beating. Here are just a few ideas to try.

  1. Share your good works. If your company has a Lunch & Learn program or something similar, offer to do a short presentation on the type of work you or your team is doing. Have you implemented a unique project recently, developed a new product, put a new process in place? Share it with other areas of the organization. If there isn’t a program already in place… start one!
  2. Ask for what you want. If you’re interested in getting a high-visibility, promotion-triggering assignment… let your interest be known. Tell your manager you’re ready to try out some new skills or to take on a new responsibility. Demonstrate your willingness to learn and grow. Don’t assume s/he knows you want a new challenge. Shake things up a bit, ask for an opportunity to stretch yourself or your team.
  3. Speak up more in meetings. Take some risks, study up to increase your knowledge, ask more strategic questions, offer solutions to problems, throw your new ideas on the table. Don’t let your inner critic silence your brilliance and keep you from contributing to the bigger conversation!
  4. Acknowledge and appreciate others. Recognizing and praising the accomplishments of others may seem counter-intuitive to increasing YOUR visibility, but it can actually help get your own work noticed more. When people feel validated, they’re more likely to return the recognition. Of course, it’s got to be sincere. It may also feel more natural to talk about your awesome team than to talk about yourself to others. And if the team is awesome, their leader must be too! If doing all that is unusual where you work, start a trend. Point it out when you notice a job well done!

Not everyone needs to be an Idea Guy (or Gal). Find your own unique way to shine your light!

Shared Experiences: Bala Thillainathan

Bala Thillainathan, originally from India, is a Technical Lead at Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies. He’s been in the U.S. for 20 years now, having initially come here for work. “It just kind of happened!”, he says.

Bala most enjoys the speed of access and efficiency of getting things done here, versus things that might take longer in his home country. The bitterness of the cold weather was most surprising to him when he arrived. Getting acclimated to the weather, culture and commute were a bit challenging.

What are his tips for someone new the U.S.? He says, “Comparing the U.S. to your home country is bound to happen; try to keep those comparisons positive. There will always be two groups of people wherever you go here, the ones that accept us and the ones that don’t, so try to be open minded.”

Well, I’m glad you’re here, Bala! Learn more about his work here.