Global Dexterity: Translating Cross-Cultural Knowledge into Action

cubingI am sure we all remember our school and university years, when we were filled with lots of theoretical and practical knowledge to be used in our future lives and careers. I am also sure we all remember the first days and weeks in our professional careers, when we realized that all that knowledge is not enough, and that in the real world few things work according to the textbook. It was the application and adjustment of this knowledge to real-life situations that was mostly lacking, wasn’t it?

Well, speaking about the world of global mobility, the same story would appear true and relevant. Much is being said about the importance of understanding different cultural contexts when relocating abroad, with such terms as cultural intelligence and cross-cultural training being quite familiar already. Generally speaking, we know that cultures do differ, and that in order to be successful abroad we need to be aware and have cultural knowledge of these differences. For example, David Livermoore’s cultural intelligence (CQ) concept includes the capability of CQ knowledge, which refers to one’s cognitions about cultures, and CQ strategy, which refers to being aware of such differences in actual situations. Most likely, cross-cultural training initiatives in organizations also start with expanding one’s cultural knowledge about the country of destination, and learning about the simple DO’s and DON’T’s of overseas cultures. Naturally, understanding cultural differences is very important, however, the problem may arise when gathering the cultural knowledge becomes not only the starting but also the end point of one’s preparation for relocation. In this case, when arriving abroad, we are most likely to find ourselves back in the transition from our studies to working in the ‘real life’, where just possessing the knowledge is clearly not enough.

 

From mere knowledge to behavioral change

As Andy Molinsky, an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Brandeis International Business School, puts it, it is not the knowledge about the cultural differences that is needed to be effective across borders, it is the ability to adapt or shift one’s behavior in light of these cultural differences. This is what Molinsky terms global dexterity, a skill that he writes about in his recent book  ‘Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process’ (HBR Press, 2013).

According to Molinsky, the difficulty of behavioral adaptation to a foreign country is not just the process of translating knowledge into action itself, but also the fact that adapting a different form of behavior may feel unnatural and uncomfortable.

For example, let’s take Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimension of power distance and compare such countries as Russia and Denmark. According to Hofstede’s data Russia is much higher on the dimension (93 points) than Denmark (18 points). Hence, when a Danish worker is sent for an international assignment to Russia, one thing he/she may learn is that organizational hierarchy in Russia is very strong, with power being distributed respectively to hierarchy, and unequally. Being given the managerial position, the Danish expatriate is most probably expected to live up to the status, being directive in leadership style and using a top-down approach. Naturally, coming from a highly egalitarian and democratic working environment of Denmark, such a change might feel not that easy – and not that comfortable either.

 

How to handle the adaptation?

Molinsky suggests several tips for making the behavioral adjustment and cultural adaptation easier.

  • Create cultural blends

What Molinsky suggests is to make the new behavior one’s own, which means creating a cultural blend that would not compromise one’s feeling of authenticity. In other words, the behavior in a foreign country should still match one’s personality and values, while at the same time being respectful towards the foreign country’s culture and traditions.

  • Use a cultural mentor

Given that the idea of mentoring is well accepted as a means of facilitating expatriate adjustment overall, why not make sure that the mentor is familiar with local culture and organizational environment? That way, the mentor can provide valuable feedback for the process of customizing one’s own behaviors.

  • Practice

Thinking of the cultural adaptation process as acting, Molinsky proposes that practicing, or dress rehearsing, is an important part of making adaptation effective. Practicing should take place in realistic situations, which are very similar to the target situation, but with less pressure. I believe that the practicing phase is often forgotten, as we tend to think that knowing what cultural differences to expect would automatically result in altering our behavior, with little extra effort. In reality however, knowing is something different from doing.

113 thoughts on “Global Dexterity: Translating Cross-Cultural Knowledge into Action

  1. Hey Sebastian,
    An impressive and interesting information about Cross-Cultural Knowledge, One of the best niche and more effective describe.
    Thanks for sharing your experience and valuable advice or enjoyed to reading this post.

  2. I’m really impressed ! It’s very important that we should need to stay in our culture .
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    1. An so much happy for this kind of interesting information that talks about Cross-Cultural Knowledge, One of the best niche and more effective describe.I want to
      thanks you very much for sharing your experience.

  3. Sebastian,

    Your writing style is interesting. I liked how you explained the disconnect one feels when working abroad in a different culture same as one feels when moving from school to college or from college to job.

    I like Molinsky’s behavioural adjustment suggestions:
    – Be respectful to others culture
    – Have a cultural mentor or be friendly

    I would like to add another one: “don’t get offended easily”. There might be things that are offensive in your culture and very well accepted in others. One should not be offended with other’s action unless they harm you or anyone in anyway. Lets say if beef eating is unacceptable in your culture and you move to a place where it is eaten all the time, dont get offended.

  4. people who have travel across the country many times will have more experience in understanding culture. He will be able to interpret the text or words easily. Experience will determine the way how people can unite with the existing culture.

  5. Great article about global dexterity. I have learned a very new concept today. You guys are doing a great job providing such useful information. Thanks again.

    Regards,
    Chris

  6. people who’ve journey throughout the nation many occasions can have extra journey in realizing culture. He could be capable to interpret the textual content or phrases easily. Experience will investigate the method how folks can unite with the latest culture.

  7. Thanks for this great article, it’s real pleasure to read it
    Its very important to stay familiar with our culture and heritage. Amazing post, I must say

  8. people who have travel across the country many times will have more experience in understanding culture. He will be able to interpret the text or words easily. Experience will determine the way how people can unite with the existing culture.

  9. This is incredible information. Perhaps it shows a correlation between those who travel consistently and their ability to adapt. As a travel blogger, I do feel like it’s a requirement!

  10. great article.Whoever wants to work abroad or study abroad must read this article.Complete article.What are the you will face and how you need to rectify the problem,the solution also given.A great post from prof reiche.

  11. Cross-cultural learning needs to begin at a young age. Sometimes we tend to emphasize the cross-cultural nature of what is learned. But it may be that there are really different ways of how people learn from one culture to the next.

  12. Wow, wonderful blog .I really like what you’ve obtained here, truly like what you are expressing and the route in which you say it.

  13. I think we shouldn’t stay on our culture if its promoting something wrong or bad for Human Life. Experience will determine the way how people can unite with the existing culture.

  14. Thanks for this great article, it’s real pleasure to read it 🙂
    Its very important to stay familiar with our culture and heritage. Amazing post, I must say

  15. This is incredible information. Perhaps it shows a correlation between those who travel consistently and their ability to adapt. As a travel blogger, I do feel like it’s a requirement!

  16. I think we shouldn’t stay on our culture if its promoting something wrong or bad for Human Life. Experience will determine the way how people can unite with the existing culture.

  17. I totally agree with you Sebastian,
    transitioning from college life to workplace life can be a real challenge given the cultural, behavioral,ethical and moral differences at the workplace.

  18. I have to say that one does not need to travel or work abroad to experience these cultural differences. I have experienced them working in a multi-national company. Eventually, these cultural differences can become a uniting factor as you get along

  19. I totally agree with you Sebastian,
    transitioning from college life to workplace life can be a real challenge given the cultural, behavioral,ethical and moral differences at the workplace.
    It can really be tough

  20. It can really be tough transitioning from college life to workplace life can be a real challenge given the cultural, behavioral,ethical and moral differences at the workplace.

  21. I think we shouldn’t stay on our culture if its promoting something wrong or bad for Human Life. Experience will determine the way how people can unite with the existing culture.

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  23. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajeoon. al fateha for your mum and my sincere condolences. I chance upon this blog post just now so pardon me for my lateness. Appreciate the opportunity here to convey my appreciation for your mum to have raised you and as such, bring forth zaytuna college.Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajeoon. May Allah accept her and lift her into jannatul firdos. Only a sufi heart can seek a true path for her son to be blessed with the true deen. Subhanallah what an amazing mother with Baseera and how deserving shaik Hamza to be blessed with a virtuous mother. May Allah give strength to the family to bear the separation. Amin.

  24. I’m sure the practice phase is not because it’s forgotten, but we take it too little to form a different or even contradictory mindset.

  25. Education is the essence of life. Without it chaos would cover all over the World. There are many living examples of this fact. Look at those countries where almost unalphabet people fight each other every day.

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