I should state at the outset that I’m a firm believer in the concept of cultural intelligence (CQ) and for many years I have been following research and recommendations on this topic.

David Livermore is one of many writers and educators whom I follow interestedly as he explores this facet of our brains and our behaviours. I read Livermore’s books and I use his ideas in my workshops and training.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMi7yhHjASQ’]

I urge you too to be curious and to look more closely at your own CQ and invite your “CAS cohort” to do the same.

Take the initial steps of exploring his website and subscribe to his newsletters. In his most recent correspondence, Livermore dives more deeply into reflection that is triggered by dissonance – the tension or disharmony that is brought on when things around us go wrong – and especially cognitive dissonance. He relates his story as follows. The other day I almost missed my flight. I threw my stuff in the overhead bin, took my place in my bulkhead seat, and sat still for the first time all day. I welcomed the break for the first couple minutes but I got stir crazy fast. I boarded so quickly that I didn’t have time to grab any reading material and I had already read this month’s in-flight magazine. We took forever to taxi toward our takeoff and even once airborne, we had a lot of turbulence, which meant I couldn’t get out of my seat and grab my laptop. I didn’t even have a piece of paper where I could scribble down the “to do items” that were flooding my head. I was frustrated by how much time I was wasting. Yet researchers suggest that had I handled my situation differently, I could have used the forced sedentary moment to get smarter, healthier, and more productive. It sounds too simple but it’s true. Sit still, think, and you can improve all kinds of things, including your cultural intelligence (CQ).

 “Sit still, think, and you can improve all kinds of things.” How often do we use that same language and a similar invitation with our students as we ask them to reflect on their CAS experiences? The older I get the more strongly I feel that we should not invite but rather impel, our students to constantly reflect.

Reflection is standing apart from our experiences to consider the meaning and interpretations of what occurred. It’s one of the most important steps for effectively relating across cultures. The high school student who spends a day volunteering at the local food bank may come away making sweeping generalizations about the recipients of such programs based upon his one-day encounter. Without guided reflection alongside the experience, his one-day encounter may have little lasting impact.

Livermore elaborates on the necessity, the compulsion, and the power of reflection in these 3 steps.

1. Describe the Experience When I frantically boarded my recent flight, I had just finished speaking at a one-day conference with leaders from several nationalities. Taxi and takeoff were ideal times to reflect on what the day had been like. What happened, how did people respond, what was different from expected? Or I could have just as easily spent the time trapped in Seat 1C reflecting on the interaction I just had with the Somali taxi driver who dropped me off…Or mentally describing the Latino gate agent who seemed unfazed by my urgency to catch the flight. The point is to ruminate on the intercultural experiences we encounter all day long.  

2. Explore Deeper All too often reflective experiences stop with “description.” This is particularly true when people are told to “journal”. They record what they did but the real benefit of reflective thinking occurs when we begin to examine the experience in light of other objectives, priorities, and assumptions.  One way to explore an intercultural experience more deeply is by asking ourselves several questions. We usually get lazy after one or two but the goal is to keep asking yourself questions about the experience and what it might reveal. At least five questions is a good goal. Keep going. And think about whether your answers are sound. Compare your interpretations with what experts have discovered based upon research. And talk with others. Dig deeper into the meaning behind your experiences.    

3. Transfer Learning Finally, see if you can extrapolate some kind of learning for future use. This might include goals for future action that can be taken forward in the next experience like this one or connecting it more broadly to other learning and work. You might ask:

  • What possible paths could I take from here?
  • What ideas might move this forward?
  • What are some different ways to tackle this kind of situation next time?