Cultural Agility with Dr. Paula Caligiuri

Reading Time: 14 Minutes

Dr. Paula Caligiuri is the author of Build Your Cultural Agility: The Nine Competencies of Successful Global Professionals. In this interview, we discuss the slickness of Zoom only masks and exacerbates the real issue: doing business across borders has less to do with technology, and everything to do with being culturally agile. 

After the Interview:

About Paula Caligiuri

Paula is the author of Build Your Cultural Agility: The Nine Competencies of Successful Global Professionals. Paula is a distinguished academic and leading expert in cultural agility. She offers research-backed approaches to help professionals thrive in any country with people from any culture.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview


Deliberate Leaders I am your host, Allison Dunn, Founder of the Deliberate Leaders Podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode, we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. It gives me great pleasure to introduce our guest today, we have with us Dr. Paula Caligiuri. She is an award winning author, distinguished academic and leading expert in cultural agility, offering proven research backed approaches to help professionals succeed and thrive in any country, with people from any culture. her newest book is Build Your Cultural Agility, The Nine Competencies of Successful Global Professionals. Paula, thank you so much for joining us here today. Oh, it’s a pleasure to be with you, Alli. Thank you, I heard my little buzzer go off. So I’m going to turn that off. I would love to get this kicked off with my favorite question. So what would be your number one leadership tip that you would give our Deliberate Leader listeners?


Okay, use any opportunity that you have to interact with someone from another culture and other generations, any context that’s different from your own? Use any one of those opportunities to really learn what his or her values are? It’s a skill that we just don’t do enough of.


I think that is an outstanding tip. And one that we’ve not had yet on the show, can you give me one or two, like opening lines? Like what would help someone extract that in a way that felt like it wasn’t a tooth canal, but comfortable?


Let me give you kind of a question. I’d love to ask if I’ve ever have to say for example, give a keynote speech in another country or to a to a, an audience I’m unfamiliar with, I always ask the question. If somebody is local, or clearly understands the context of you know how given everything you know about this group, everything you know about this culture, everything you know about this, whatever, fill in the blank, this organization? How can I be more successful delivering this keynote? or How can I be more successful in this meeting? How can I be more successful?


It is that you’re doing, it’s that idea that you’re saying look at I fully understand that the context is different, and that no matter how you know how effective I think I can be regularly, I appreciate that this context might be different. And it’s a great leadership technique to appreciate values.


I think that that would be just a general overall, if you get an opportunity to ask that if someone regardless if it’s, you know, in the states next door, in a business in your community, that’s a powerful question, and hopefully give you an awful lot of insight. Yeah. Good tip. Can you can you just kind of give an overview, what is cultural agility?


It’s the ability we have to comfortably and effectively work in different countries and with people from different cultures. That could be generational cultures, it could be professional cultures, it could be organizational cultures, anytime we are in kind of that situation of novelty, it’s the ability to do that. Well.


Okay. It is becoming I mean, the world is a very small place. And we have the opportunity to work with people from all different cultures and locations right now. So I feel like it’s very prevalent. In, in your book, you talk about competencies around that. So could you kind of give like an high level overview of what type of competencies people need to be thinking about.


So Elliot’s interesting when everybody thinks about cultural agility, they oftentimes right away go to, oh, if I’m in Germany, therefore, I should do this. Or if I’m in China, I should do that. Actually, those are important. So it’s like the one half of cultural agility, you still need to understand how contexts differ if I’m with a certain generation, I should act like, right. But the whole other half of cultural agility that’s equally critical that almost no one talks about, and that’s what’s discussed in the book. It’s the competencies of people who are successful in cultural agility. So things like how do they manage themselves, it could be their tolerance for ambiguity or their resilience. It could be their, the way they interact with others with their humility or their perspective taking. And it could be how they manage their tasks. And that’s, you know, whether they know how to adapt or within they know how to hold a standard of their organization. So each of those have a very different way of behaving there. competencies that can be developed uniquely. And they’re all important.


If so, how does someone measure their cultural agility?


Okay, well, I mean, the easiest feedback is how successful Are you in a different cultural context? You know, it’s oftentimes, we don’t know that we’re kind of messing up in a cultural situation until either someone tells us or sort of the environment gives us feedback that something didn’t go particularly well. So that’s kind of the most immediate way to know, we have assessment tools. In fact, there’s a free tool that you don’t need to buy the book to get the tool. It’s called my guide, MYGI, da, calm. People can go on there, they can assess their cultural values, they can assess their cultural competencies, get some tips on how to work in different cultural contexts, get some tips on how to develop it. It’s a really fun tool, and it’s free.


Okay, fantastic. I did go on to my guide. Yep. So I signed myself up for that, which I think is a fantastic tool. When, when you are meeting with folks, how do you help them develop a development plan to improve those agility skills? Right.


So what we tend to do so if you think about those different competencies that I mentioned, there’s those self management competencies, Relationship Manager meant competencies and test management competencies, we tend to start looking through which ones do individuals have that are strengths. And it sounds a little strange, but because of the way these competencies are wired, it’s very rare that even the best leaders will have high scores on every single one of these competencies. So what tends to happen is they have one or two that that’s in the higher range. And we begin with those How do you leverage those when you’re in a new context? How do you leverage your humility? How do you leverage your perspective taking? How do you leverage curiosity, when you’re in a new environment, help them almost perfect what they already naturally do, and do well help them help them really understand how that’s improving their ability to be effective in that multicultural environment. And then we sort of it’s almost think about it like New Year’s resolutions, we always then go to like, what’s the one thing you can try to do to build one competency and develop that out a little more. So for example, if someone’s lower in resilience, we might have them work on coping strategies or something like that, you know, it’s very specific strengths, then, you know, focus very tightly on behaviors for Developmental opportunities.


It’s, it correlates a lot to the behaviors that we show up with in any leadership position. So from an executive coaching standpoint, like I really can see tremendous, our behaviors are either helping us or hurting us in some way. In cultural agility, you bring up something that’s related to the unconscious biases that we have, can you talk about that?


I’d be happy to, at least in truth, yeah, this might not be popular, but I’m not a fan of the phrase unconscious bias. because really what that is, all we’re doing is introducing, you know, through the training, is introducing people to their limbic systems, we have from the time we’re born, we gather data, and we store data. And as a function of gathering data and storing data, we have this ability naturally, to use our eyeballs, and process the world around us. So we could sort of understand subjective reality is a function of what we’ve known and stored. That’s really the idea of your limbic system. And that’s what’s sort of been co opted into unconscious bias. The fact that we call it a bias makes me nervous, because we all have socialized agents, we all have this, right. So of course, we’re going to have this thing formerly known as bias. But as a function of calling it that we have this tendency to do the very thing that we don’t want to see happen. And that is we don’t engage in conversations with people who are demographically diverse from us. So it kind of goes back to that first piece of advice, I offer you any opportunity have to interact with someone who’s demographically diverse, do because it just broadens that, that limbic processor. So yeah, unconscious bias is really it’s a it’s a, I know, it’s ubiquitous Now, every company’s offering that kind of training, but I sort of am worried about what’s happening as a function of that.


I think that’s a excellent concerning and observation. What, what are some of the techniques? I mean, other than starting the conversation, let’s say that you have started the conversation and you’ve started it in a way that has actually eroding trust and credibility. What would be some of the tips for self reflection on how to build that bridge back? I, for example, work with a number of businesses that have worked teams and strategic partnerships all over the world. And in some of the challenges that they have, it feels like, you know, like, that team doesn’t feel respected or, and so, I feel like there’s an opportunity to continuously build trust, even if you can’t be face to face with someone. So what guidance would you give?


Right? Yeah, trust is intercepted probably is the glue that holds every aspect of a business, every aspect of relationships together, yet, what we tend to not realize is that people form and create and build and foster trust very differently. In some cultures, trust is a function of, of your demonstration of competence, reliability, or dependability, your ability to execute on whatever you say, you’re going to do at a higher level than maybe you hit anyone, even you delight your customers, so to speak, you know, your colleagues or the like, it’s, it’s really about what you do. Whereas with other cultures, trust is a function of warmth and authenticity, and you know, social connectedness and that time together, you know, whether sharing a meal, sharing a beer, whatever the cultural, appropriate way, to build that relationship based trust, what I recommend for usually, what ends up happening with in a multicultural environment is, trust is tends to be built in in kind of one way or the other, the people who are kind of the more of the, show me what you can do types, tend not to want to spend a whole lot of time in the Get to know your face. And they get to know you folks tend to think that the others are like just sort of not even treating them like people. So what we try to do is say look at I know it’s gonna take a little more time, but let’s spend some time with both. So let’s identify as a team, what outstanding work product is, what is response time define it, like do you need, if I send you an email, I’m expecting one back within like hours within blank days. So getting down to things that might take so much shorter of a period of time, if you’re in a in a workgroup that everybody’s sort of operating from the same norms. If you’re in that multicultural work team, you definitely want to sort of put these pieces, you know, make them make them behavioral, make them tangible. And then spend time on both establishing each other’s professional credibility, and also spending a little more time getting to know you. So everybody, has their trust base covered if you won’t.


Do you think that there is a bigger challenge today? Because so much of our relational relations are happening on zoom? Like, can you can you talk me through like, what do we need to be looking for? How can we be better?


Yeah, yeah, I’ve answered this one a few times, in the past year and a half. So here’s my one of my greatest concerns, given how much we’ve moved to technology is that is it so many people think that the element of culture has just gone away, hey, we’re on zoom. There’s no such thing as culture. It couldn’t be further from the truth. We are just we have fewer cues to pick up on so we’re actually kind of amplifying those cues if we can give you some sort of an example. Americans are very informal. So I was on a zoom call with a woman who had just gone me she’s American, she went for a swim. She reps tell route, a bathing suit looked appropriate. hair was wet, she jumped on the call. I mean, it’s American efficiency. She went first women is on the call, she’s engaging in the call. For those who are in a more formal culture, it looked incredibly inappropriate. And that’s just that’s just kind of one small example. I’ve watched my American informal colleagues eating cereal because it’s morning and you know what, it’s efficient and getting both things done without realizing that it’s the limbic system of the people on the other you know, it’s processing it as you’re not taking this seriously. Smiling is another one. So some cultures are known to smile others reserved smiles for true emotions with close friends. That will vary distance but you know, so right now you and I’m trying to match kind of our size. It for those of you who are listening on podcast, you know, you can move really quickly. To your screen or for apart there apart, try to match those with whom you’re interacting. I could go, you could go on silence very different depending on the cultural context. Some for some silence equals engagement and other silence means disinterest as to every little tiny thing starts to have a broader cultural meaning and you have so few cues to connect to.


I was gonna ask you, for example, so those were examples.


So if we were kind of going to do like a crash course on, like the few things that if you kind of stay within these while trying to actually make that connection, what works? So I think mirroring the size, like, I feel like that’s really good. I don’t want to say it’s like mirroring, like you do in sales, right? per se, but is there any, like, make sure that checklist?


Yeah, actually, le it is exactly like mirroring, okay, from a sales perspective, because if you think about what the nature of, of why it’s taught in sales is because they’re trying to facilitate trust with the with their, with their client or customer, you’re trying to do the exact same thing with someone who’s on a small screen, someone with whom you don’t have the ability to actually kind of read the same error and do like, go out, go out to lunch, or go share coffee, your chat a bit before meeting starts, or whatever. So you’re losing all of those ways that social trust is built, the only thing remaining are sort of some those cues. So mirroring actually is a really good strategy. Like for example, I’m naturally I smile a lot, I try to reduce that if I’m with a colleague who is from a culture and is not a really smiley person. Um, I try to back that up a little bit. If you’re, if you’re watching this, you see, I gesture a lot, I try to, you know, kind of calm that down quite a bit.


If I’m with someone with him, you know, gestures are expected or respected. So mirroring is actually the best Crash Course strategy.


Okay, well, good. That’s, that’s good to know. Is there any other similar strategies that we can pick up on cues that are right in front of us that are not? Like, there’s no rulebook? Right?


Right. Well, there there’s no rulebook, rulebook. If you have the opportunity to, to meter the your pace of speech, so much of international business is conducted in English. And for those of us who are native English speakers, we tend to expect to speak faster, we tend to use jargon. We all do, it’s the most natural thing in the world. And we’re used to when we work with colleagues who are from the same country, it’s easy, it’s shorthand, it’s, it makes sense. I’m realizing that only kind of the speed, your use of silence, you know, idiomatic phrases. kind of neat are all of those. And it’s okay to periodically say, you know, would you like me to give an example? You don’t have to say, Did you understand that? That’s rude. Five, you could say, Would you like me to give an example? Or do you want me to elaborate more? Would you like me to sometimes repeating things helps, like saying it in a few different ways?


Oh, that’s a that’s a good. That’s a good one, too. Paula, you are a professor at the International School of Business at Northeastern University, correct? out? How has how has been, how is the campus open?


We are open and it sounds like we’re gonna be fully back in back in action in the fall. So very excited.


Fantastic. I’m happy to hear that. In, in your experience as a professor on campus as this as the topic that you teach on at the school, you do the MBA in the undergraduate moments? Yeah.


Is it a, it’s an almost a mandatory class for business, international students, or international business students.


You know, it’s interesting, it’s an important exit competency for, for the university for Northeastern University, it tries to have many of our students having international experiences. So they hope to build cultural agility through experience. The class itself, not required, but I’m working on it. Should be I think, a lot of ways.


So your book just got released? Is that correct?


It is, yeah.


How is it doing?


It’s doing great. I think, you know, it’s exciting and because of the free app, I think, I think it’s generating a little more interest because frankly, it’s really a cool opportunity for people to measure their values and measure their competencies. And also.


And so I was I really enjoyed going in and looking through kind of the assessment and the free app that you have. So what is what is the intention or plan long term plan for where you’re taking this?


Oh, sure. So the company that that we started is called skillet fi. And it set up as a public benefit corporation, I’m so excited about it, it was public benefit corporation. That’s why we’re giving quite a bit away for free. Over time, what we’ll do is have kind of a collaboration tools within the within my guide where people so if you and I are working together, we can kind of see each other’s values and some advice on how to work more effectively together. As our team grows, you know, we can have kind of all of our values understood within one in one spot, that we’re doing different kinds of tracks for students who are studying abroad students, international students who are studying in a host country, we have a track for people who will be living working in another country, we have a track for people who will be just virtually working with people from another country. So it’s, it’s really, it’s really an exciting. I’m excited of what’s coming for the tool.


Right now basics are there, and it’s great.


I will make sure that there is a link to your book on Amazon in the show notes. If there is what is the best way for our listeners to follow you. Sure, probably LinkedIn.


If you can spell my last name, you can find me on LinkedIn and I try to post articles periodically.


Yep, that would be I will include your LinkedIn profile in the show notes as well. Paula, thank you so much for joining us here today on the podcast. It’s been such a pleasure. Oh, Alli. Thank you. My pleasure.

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I'm Allison Dunn,

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