When Cultures Clash – Got Heart?

We encounter clashing cultures every day of our lives. If it is not another’s politics it could be his/her world view that rubs us all wrong.

How do we respond to such differences? Do we tune them out? Resist them with all our might? Become judgmental? Haltingly embrace them?

On a flight home recently it occurred to me that the best response to a culture clash is one that comes from from the heart.

I sat next to a man who was an incurable proselytizer. He talked “at” me for a solid two hours. That type of situation usually gets my hackles up but mostly I just withdraw into silence.

First, this person tried to sell me on some multilevel marketing scheme. When I would not bite on that venture he tried to convert me to his brand of religion. Again I resisted his overtures. However I had a nagging sense that I should dig a little deeper into his story. It was at that point that he began to reach my heart.

He told me that he had been in prison for a fraudulent business venture. During his incarceration he had a life-transforming experience. A religious group had made weekly visits to his prison and embraced him with love and acceptance. His resultant life change was now being expressed in him helping to improve the lot of prisoners all over the world. In one institution in Ethiopia, he responded to the prisoners’ need for better ventilation by paying for the construction of better air ducts in the prison. This and other acts of his kindness found common ground in my heart. I told him,

“It is obvious that I have difficulty with the basic premise of your religion. However, I am moved by your acts of compassion towards those in need.”

Acts of kindness from the heart set the stage for a loving connection even when cultures clash in the most radical ways. For me, love transformed him from a proselytizer that I wanted to avoid to a compassionate human being I sought to engage.

Where and how did you make a heart connection with people and cultures so radically different from yourself?

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If I Am So Great, How Will Others Know?

How  does one achieve balance, stay humble, and get the word out about one’s talents in a world littered with “selfies”?

Recently I met a senior executive whose company hired a prestigious consulting firm to solve a multi-million dollar problem. When I asked how the process was going she replied “Not very well. We are wasting an awful lot of money on a problem that I could have fixed.”

 When I asked “Why on earth did you not speak up right away and mention your capabilities to your bosses?” she mentioned the following constraints. She

  1. Was known in this corporation for a completely different set of skills. Very few people knew that she had solved similar problems in her previous place of employment. (Constricted Brand)
  2. Never asserted her capability because she felt that it was not her place to “toot her own horn”. (False humility)
  3. Believed that if one works hard enough one will be “discovered.” (Meritocracy)

All were self-limiting beliefs that kept her from volunteering for a job well within her capabilities.

As a result she remained an undiscovered treasure.

What a tragedy to go through life with regrets like, “I could have been” or “I had no idea that I had those capabilities” or “I wish someone would have discovered me.”

The good news was that she chose to learn some important lessons about herself from this experience. She had to to wake up to the fact that she

  1. Limited herself with her erroneous beliefs
  2. Needed to be more proactive about making her wishes known
  3. Would be prudent to focus on her potential

A contrasting case was another executive that was in a highly tactical role and wanted to be a part of strategy formation. He took the bull by the horns and directly asked his boss to assign him to a strategy committee attended by more senior executives. First he sat at the table with them, learned their agenda and approaches, and soon began to make his own contribution to strategy formation. Slowly he developed his brand as a strategist. Today he is the chief strategist in his Company.

How can you step into your own shoes and live out your potential?

How do you make your brand known in more effective ways?

 

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Why I Write Blogs

A friend once asked me, “Why do you write blogs?” That made me think long and hard about my six-year writing venture, almost weekly blog postings, and at times an obsessive quest to meet a weekly commitment to my own inner drives.

The topic may seem to be an awfully self-indulgent exercise in navel-gazing. But here goes all the same.

A blog is a medium that allows me to become more vulnerable about burning questions, the personal demons I want to expel, and the topics that intrigue me.

Sometimes the blog originates in a current life experience. Once I was on a plane sitting next to an accomplished physician. I was enjoying our conversation until he made the pompous announcement “I could be a coach. Anyone can coach!” I felt like saying “What’s there to transplanting a heart from one person to another?” That exchange became the subject of a blog.

Another time I was reflecting on how my thirty year-old self would respond to my self later in life. That too became a blog.

The topics of my nearly 300 blogs come from most anywhere. However,  the one self-imposed restriction is not to write anything negative. Believe me, however, I have been tempted to sound off on negative topics, but again and again Kris and others have reminded me that my blog is about inspirational leadership. So I will leave the political musings to the pundits in the NY Times.

In terms of the vulnerability factor, my blogs have ranged from theoretical topics to struggles I have had with issues raised by my clients or friends. At times a person will bring up a topic that will trouble me. Once I was asked “How do I forgive someone who has been so incredibly hurtful?” That led to the blog, written with Kris, on Forgiveness. In another instance the question was “How can one live with a narcissist?” which led to the blog with a similar title.

Of course there are topics that have intrigued me all my life like the nature of creativity, the process that leads to innovation, the landscape of the imagination, or how strategies are formed.

The most satisfying experience in writing is when I get an idea that starts off like a spark in my imagination and then burns hot and consumes me until I’ve finished writing. Those turn out to be my most impactful pieces of writing like when we were going through a major life change and we wrote “Courage. It Makes All the Difference”.

Then there are times I give advice in my blogs. Where does that come from? Probably because in my early life for a few years, I was a minister, then a radio talk show host, and in the middle of that became a psychologist. I was trained to look at the workings of the mind, the motivations of people, and evidence based ways that people change.

What are some other reasons that I write? For the “likes” and the comments? This is partly so but sometimes nobody responds. I am then reminded of the actor who built a theatre just off a main highway in a California desert. He performs each night even if there is nobody in the audience?

I write for the sheer joy of the experience, the satisfaction of expressing an important topic in less than 600 words, as well as the experience of helping another person.

I am curious.

Why do you write?

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Beyond Simplistic Solutions

In a world of confusing complexity it is quite natural that we try to boil our problems down to a single and simple solution. NY Times columnist David Brooks addresses this topic in today’s column “The Danger of a Single Story.” Brooks, in part, is addressing the propensity of politicians to reduce many complex human issues to a single explanation. He writes,

“They reduce pretty much all issues to the same single story: the alien invader story.”

The tendency to oversimplify human problems is found on many fronts.

“Become a vegetarian” – the solution to everything from obesity to cancer

“Just say no” – the solution to drug addiction.

When we lived in Mexico, many people North of the border saw Mexico only as the land of illegal immigrants and drug lords.

Are these approaches simple or simplistic?

For instance, a person addicted to drugs cannot “just say no”. They take the drug that eventually takes them. You cannot “will” your way out of an addiction.

What about the fact that Mexico is a culturally rich country with many sophisticated people and has much to teach other nations like the value of family and community?

In all instances a pony with one trick, practitioner with one solution, or researcher with one pet theory, may have part of the solution to the problem for some people some of the time. Or he/she may be dead wrong.

Ultimately a single solution approach can be dangerous to our health, reduce us to simplistic thinking, demean our humanity, and  does not comprehensively solve the challenge we face in our lives or business.

So beware of people who tell you “all you need is!”

 Breaking Free 

Learning a more comprehensive approach to our solutions implies that we,

  1. Recognize the depth of our addiction to quick answers in every realm of life. I call this the “bumper sticker” syndrome. Just examine any of the social media outlets that are filled with such slogans.
  2. Realize that there are evidence-based solutions to many of life’s thorniest problems. For instance research on the science of happiness indicates that making a meaningful contribution to the common good and having healthy social networks are the chief contributors to human happiness.
  3. Acknowledge the complexity of most of the challenges we face. For example, healthy living comes from more than just jogging and eating well. Nor is health just based on case studies from the longevity of a few outliers like Jack LaLanne.
  4. Learn to tolerate ambiguity that comes with living the questions rather than having the answers. A sign of maturity is the capacity to live gracefully in the face of ambiguity. Let’s face it. Most of life falls into the gray zone.
  5. Pay the price of bucking the “one solution” system. One does not win popularity contests or enhance one’s marketing campaign by subscribing to points 1-4. Imagine telling your boss that the quick answer she wants is not immediately available but you need time for a deeper root cause analysis.
  6. Balance your rapid analytic thinking with slower more deliberate thought that includes unconscious processes as sometimes revealed in dreams. Note also how many problems find solutions when you are not working on them or while you are jogging. So slow down to move ahead.
  7. Adopt a multi-modal diverse approach to dealing with challengesBroadening your horizons in your search for knowledge must include philosophy, theology, literature, the arts, the quiet of nature, exposure to other cultures, and other disciplines/positions outside of your own. Be willing to change your position in the light of new and more compelling data.

Instead of having a pony that only manages to pull off one trick, expand the range of capabilities that go outside of your as well as the pony’s comfort zone.

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Joy Happens

What percentage of our time do we actually experience joy?

By joy I mean that deep down, beyond happiness, make you cry or laugh out loud, or quite serene experience.

I write about joy because it is one of my aspirational goals. Many of us cannot sustain joy for more time than we can hold our breath. Or else it comes in a flash and then disappears.

Why so? Because joy requires that we

  1.  Being present is more the exception than the rule for most. We live with the detritus of hurts and struggles of the past or ambivalence about the future rather than being here now.
  • Embrace the world of opportunity. For joy to occur we need to view the world as one full of exciting possibility rather then as a dangerous place where people cannot be trusted.
  • Get over the joy killer beliefs. Our Puritanical background or our superstitions dampen any possibility of joy. Our internal script goes something like this; “If you have fun and let go (the prelude to joy), something bad will happen.”
  • Manage our stress levels. Our stressed out life style crowds out any chance of joy.
  • Regulate our inner critic. When we are feeling anxious, down, afraid or whatever the negative mood of the moment we add insult to injury by judging ourselves. And that inner critic is joy-killer #1.

How then does joy happen?

Most of need support in the quest for joy. We need to surround ourselves with nurturing people who can accept us just as we are and not try to change us. In that way we are more likely to be joyful.

Find places where we can practice being fully present and get off life’s treadmill. The setting for joy could be in nature or at our meditation or prayer group. It is also helpful to design a tranquil and nurturing living space.

Acknowledge our inner judge and let it sit in the corner of our mind.  Let what the critic says be neither good nor bad. It just is. So take nothing personally, least of all yourself.

Despite all the common vicissitudes in life, joy is lurking in the wings waiting to come to center stage.

In the end, despite the above pointers, we cannot choreograph joy. It just comes in and takes over. At the birth of a child, a moment of wonder in nature, the gratitude of a friend, joy just happens. Ultimately we can’t ignore it.

How have you been surprised by joy?

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Think Before You Blurt

We live in a “tell it like it is culture” where politicians and business leaders alike blurt out their opinions without thought of the consequences. They just seem to open their mouths and let the wind rattle their tongues.

Such a lack of impulse control by many may be “oxygen” to some news outlets but can have negative consequences in the worlds of organizational leadership and friendship.

As Warren Buffet was reported to have said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation. Five minutes to ruin it.”

To counter this tendency to blurt out stuff we may later regret saying some have set up their own firewall.

I knew of a CEO who programed a 3-minute delay on his email send button. Hence the “on second thoughts I should not have sent that” rarely happens to him.

Next to self-awareness, self-regulation is the second foundation stone of emotional intelligence. The old “count ten” before you speak or “would you want this published on the front page of the NY Times?” is really a sign of self-control and leadership maturity.

I rarely tell people sitting next to me on the plane that I am a psychologist. On the long trip to London one time I told someone that I was a psychologist. What I got was a long tale of woe. I wished I’d said, “I’m from the IRS”  Maybe it would have secured some privacy.

Self-disclosure has its place. I wrote about this in another posting. (https://cedricj.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/self-disclosure-inspires-trust/)

But blurting out without being conscious of the needs of one’s audience, examining the consequence of uncensored confessions, being careful about the dangers of not keeping confidences, and practicing self-indulgent “dumping” does not recognize that blurting has no place in the repertoire of  mature and effective people.

Awareness of what it takes for us to drop our guard and blurt include;

*  Mindfulness of what our hot-button issues are e.g unfair criticism

*  Knowing when we are most vulnerable to blurting e.g. exhaustion

What effective strategies have you adopted to regulate uncensored speech?

 

 

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Imagination a World Where…

To some, imagination is black box stuff, pure mystery. But think about it. What does it really take to imagine something?

We used to imagine all the time when we were children. But somewhere some of us were told, “Stop imagining things!” That voice became our inner critic that suppressed musings like

“I wish”

“What if I tried this?”

“Just suppose that”

“Who says it can only be done this way?”

These statements are a way of seeing in our mind’s eye or exercising our imagination.

For those of you who would follow the creative urges of your imagination here are three parts of your being that have to be engaged. They are your,

Head – The plausibility factor centering on facts/data

Heart – The emotional driver of imagination 

Feet – The action component where the job gets done through others with vigorous and disciplined effort.

Recently an executive invited her team to an all-day off-site discussion on the group’s strategy. She used the question “Imagine a world where!” At that time her team was unfocussed, demoralized, and unmotivated.

As the group brainstormed and imagined possibilities, a vision for their future slowly began to emerge. The “imagine” question energized the group to see a new path ahead . They are now well on the way to the realization of their dream.

Here are some questions you may ask that will bring your imagination to life. They involve the activation of your head, heart, and feet.

 Head

What data (customer surveys, industry trends, scientific findings) inform your imagination?

What resources (people, technology) do you have/need to execute on your plan?

Can you articulate this vision in a concise statement?

 Heart

What inspirational need (contribution, excellence) does this imagined idea meet in you and others?

What story do you tell that captures the imagination?

What gut feelings are generated by your imagination? (e.g. this is really important).

 Feet

What do you have to do to make your imagined idea a reality?

What initial steps will you take to ensure some early wins?

Who are the stakeholders that can make this vision a reality?

So make sure that your imagination is grounded on data, appeals to people’s hearts, and generates action.

In the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek”

“Make it so!”

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Try Radical Empathy

So you want to be empathic. Exactly what does that mean?

Just telling someone that you “feel his or her pain” is not necessarily empathy.

For instance,

  • As someone who was once downsized, it is not helpful for me to tell someone going through a RIF “I know what you are going through”
  • I have lived in a number of different cultures but that does qualify me to speak with full comprehension about another ethnic group
  • I have observed sexism all my life but I don’t fully understand what it means to be a female executive blistered by the sexism of her male boss.

The plain truth is that when it comes to empathy we have to confess ignorance about the inner emotional world of another. Every person is different and every story has its own spin.

Why?

We err in our understanding of empathy when we make our experience and our inner world the center for that supposed knowledge of the other.

If the true measure of empathy is whether the other person feels deeply known, then empathy driven by the ego gets it wrong every time.

The times in our lives when we really knew at a deep level that we were understood was when the listener displayed radical empathy which is,

  1. Totally other oriented.

“I want” can never be a part of empathy. And empathy fails when it is “all about me”. Any benevolence or attempt at identification on our part with another person’s pain (or joy) must be detached from the rewards like gratitude we hope to reap. As the saying goes in the Hindu writings “Do your duty without your eyes on the fruit of your actions.”

2.  Deeply emotional

Empathy is not a rational grasp of what it means to be in another’s shoes. It is an emotional response where we resonate with the other. And the more positive that feeling response that includes caring, compassion, and concern, the more likely that there will be a sense that “we are all in this together”.

I remember a very painful time in my life when I thought my life was coming apart at the seams.  A close friend walked in silence with me for hours on a beach near his home as I blabbered away about my lot in life. He listened to me with uttering a word. Now that was empathy!

If you have experienced radical empathy you will have no doubt about what happened. It will have been one of your most remarkable and memorable human experiences.

What is your story about radical empathy?

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My Family of Origin – My Work Culture

There are basically three relationship patterns in work and life; dependent, independent, and interdependent. Each is shaped by your family of origin and can, consciously or unconsciously, be found in your corporate culture as well.

Check yourself out against each of these styles of relating and determine whether you are in sync with your organizational culture or not.

  1. Dependent (Enmeshed)

In your family, the boundaries between you and other members were often blurred. The dependent parent is overly invested in the welfare or wellbeing of the children. The self-esteem of the parent rises and falls depending on how well the children are doing. Such parents have difficulty letting go of their children.

At work, leaders from such a background often prefer an enmeshed organization. They often call their workplace a family. Conformity is prized above individual initiative. Often the leadership is authoritarian with a preference for top-down decisions. There is constant pressure to “fit in” with the cultural norms of the organization. I heard of one CEO who literally demanded that his employees vote for a certain political party. The culture of such an organization can censor you if you don’t go along with the norms set by the leaders. Employees are expected to be dependent and compliant.

  1. Independent (Disengaged)

In this family system there is a strong demarcation of the boundaries between the individual and the group. Independence of thought and action is prized above conformity. Often the children live far away from the family of origin and tend not to visit very often.

In the workplace, leaders shaped by this type of family system, prize independent thought and give team members a lot of leeway on how they execute on core business initiatives. They leave it to the employee how to get the job done. They do not micro-manage. Quite often employees prefer to work independent of each other and find it difficult to work on teams.

  1. Interdependent (Balanced)

The interdependent family style values both autonomy as well as loyalty to the family unit. There is a balance between individual needs and the needs of the group. Ultimately, this is the more psychologically healthy family system.

Leaders from such families walk the tightrope between I-ness with we-ness in their organization. They give employees a lot of personal freedom but also have clear expectations around the larger issues like the corporate strategy. They have clear expectations for certain business outcomes. There is a balance between team and individual work. Generally these organizations also have a flatter management structure and defer to domain knowledge rather than rank in decision making.

The Challenge

We cannot fully compartmentalize people or workplaces into one category of relating or another. However there are observable behaviors that reveal which of the three relationship systems you prefer and which ones show up at work. Leaders also can bring their family dynamic to work and shape the organizational culture.

Your imperative is to be awake to

  • What type of work culture surrounds you
  • The degree to which it works for you or not
  • Whether or not you should be flexible and adapt to the prevailing corporate culture
  • Any changes you need to make

 

Your comments on this topic will be highly valued. 

 

 

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Silence Please

“All the unhappiness of people, arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber” – Pascal

My need for silence is almost up there with my need for Oxygen. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. Suffice it to say that my need for stillness has informed many of my decisions about places I visit and live and people I seek out.

I have all sorts of theories as to why I prefer silence. My introversion makes me prone to avoid noisy and busy parties and restaurants. My attention challenges necessitate stillness for maximum thinking efficiency. But above all, I just like stillness because it makes me slow down, feel alive, and pay attention.

We don’t have a television or radio in the house. We live on five acres in the country and cherish the solitude and connection with nature.

I have concluded over the years that I am not different from everyone else with my need for solitude. Extraverts need to find periods when they isolate from others and recharge their emotional and physical batteries. Busy executives need to close their office doors to minimize interruptions so they can engage in deep thought.

I am reading essayist, novelist, and travel writer, Pico Iyer’s book “The Art of Stillness”. In so doing I realize how difficult it is to find a place of quiet rest. Even as I write this article my two dogs a fighting over a dirty old bone that one of them just dug up in the garden. Give me patience!! That’s the real world however. Even monasteries can be places where interpersonal conflicts, daily interruptions, and internal dilemmas distract to some degree or another.

But here are some facts about our need for silence.

Fact #1 We are constantly bombarded by external stimuli like the phone and email that demand our immediate attention. Some people take a weekly Sabbath from them to reign in these disrupters of quiet.

Fact #2 Every time we are interrupted it takes at least 20 minutes before we return to our level of efficient thought. Furthermore, interruptions are the most stressful thing we encounter in our world no matter how important the issue or pleasant the person. This perspective is supported by the whole new field of Interruption Science.

Fact #3 Don’t run through or from life with your schedule so packed with activity that you have no time to face yourself in silence? Why? Because the true self is often experienced in those gaps we create for ourselves. Healing also comes from being awake.

Fact #4 No matter how you choreograph your life to embrace solitude it is important not to make interruptions a catastrophe. Tomorrow is another day.

Reflect on the profound words of Pico Iyer.

In an ago of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow.

In an ago of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious that paying attention.

And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

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