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Check Out – how understanding across cultures brings fast success

(Cash In On Diversity eBook author Susan Klopfer reviews The Cultural Intelligence Difference, By David Livermore. Amacom, 206 pages, $25)

So I remember the days of sorority sisterhood back in the mid 1960s. We sisters of Gamma Phi all had cute, short haircuts, wore the same camel-colored mohair blazers and pretty much dated very similar young men from the same fraternities, especially sisters who were of higher status, members of Greek Council.

While our sorority house was known to be less conforming (some people called us the “zoo”) than other more popular houses at the University of Nevada, Reno, we still had a sense of safety in our ability to toe the acceptable conformity line, most of the time.

And when we finally graduated, leaving college and the safety of sisterhood to enter the workforce, what we encountered was really not much different from the institution we just left. The workplace of that era was certainly not as diverse as today; it was not even close. Nearly all co-workers were of the same ethnicity as us (white, Germanic or Irish heritage) and we closely conformed to the accepted dress norms, if we wanted to keep our jobs. Actually, one of my friends was fired from a major pharmaceutical company because he wore loafers with tassles. No kidding.

Today, many of us work with colleagues and customers from around the globe, people who may dress, talk and behave much differently from our former, cookie-cutter sorority sisters and fraternity brothers. To succeed in today’s world of business, author David Livermore believes we need cultural intelligence, or CQ. A consultant, Livermore came to this conclusion because he moved from Canada to New York when he was a child. However, he made regular trips back to visit relatives, remaining fascinated by Canada’s culture – the different money and way of saying things, the foods and other significant things that keep Canadians being Canadians.

Now a grownup and highly respected author on this topic, Dr. Livermore still enjoys navigating between different cultures, using CQ – “the ability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts, including national, ethnic, organizational, and generational.”

Livermore tells us that CQ is the primary predictor of your success in today’s borderless world. “It’s more important than IQ or, the current darling, EQ (emotional intelligence),” he asserts.

“EQ is a strong predictor of your success when you’re working with people who come from the same culture as you, but your CQ is a much better predictor of how you’ll do working with people from different cultural backgrounds – the inevitable reality for all of us over the next decade,” Livermore writes in The Cultural Intelligence Difference.

He clearly explains that our cultural intelligence is comprised of four different capabilities based on our motivation, knowledge, strategy and ability to adapt our behavior appropriately for different cultures.

While it might seem quite difficult to change one’s CQ, this author gives specific advice making the task appear less tenuous. Most important, he tells us we must face our biases:

“Explore which subcultures really push your hot buttons, encourage your defences or just make you uncomfortable. Any time you meet someone new, make an effort to connect on a human level as early as possible rather than just seeing him or her in light of cultural context. Another approach is to explore your hobbies and pastimes – be it art, sports, or food – in new cultures.”

Livermore gives us many more specific ways to become better at operating in and around cultures that are new or different. For instance, he suggests that we “Discreetly watch people from other cultures when you’re in public places.” Or that we “Attend celebrations of other cultures in your city; eat their foods and attend their music and events. When travelling, visit public markets, shopping districts, museums and art galleries. Increase your global awareness by visiting BBC news online and reading The Economist, for example, or by plunging into novels and movies that immerse you in different cultures. Learn about different cultural values in other countries, how they may differ in terms of factors such as individualism, avoidance of uncertainty, co-cooperativeness, and orientation to time.”

Livermore’s book is an excellent guide to gaining or increasing cultural intelligence as he points out some of the research and concepts; highlighting some of the critical differences between countries and spelling out specific ideas about how to improve one’s CQ.

“It won’t transform you overnight, but will alert you to important factors and help you along the path to fitting in beyond your traditional culture,” blogger Harvey Schachter advises his followers. (I learned about this book from Harvey.)

And I am going to agree with Schachter, going a step further. Livermore’s book is a must read for anyone who wants to survive (and succeed) in today’s world of diversity. This means learning how to work well with older people, gay people, transgendered people and just about any people who are not the same as us (whatever this means). Is this important? Ask the CEOs of major corporations who by now should be sick and tired of being sued because an employee called an older worker an “old fogey.” Or because a supervisor demanded a female remove the scarf she wears for religious reasons. Happens every day. Don’t kid yourself.

This book is especially critical for those who might have just escaped a cookie-cutter world of most educational institutions and are ready and waiting to face reality. For anyone who went to private schools that specialize in all white kids, especially — my advice, pick up a copy now.

Don’t leave home (for work) without it.
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Other books by Livermore