Andy Molinsky: Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process. Harvard Business Review Press. 2013
So you want to be a true “citizen of the world”? You’ll need more than a knowledge of dos and don’ts in the many cultures you are moving into. There are large gaps between knowing what behavior is required of you in any given setting and situation, and being able to actually act accordingly. To sustain your role in that setting, you’ll need to be able to adapt your behavior to the context without losing your authenticity or becoming embittered by being required to adapt to imposed norms. The process can be unsettling.
To work with teams across cultures, and to lead people from other cultures, you need a key competence that Andy Molinsky calls “global dexterity”. He offers a self-coaching toolbox. At its core is his key message: Remain true to yourself. Take a holistic approach. Be successful in your own way.
The first step is to crack your own “cultural code” as well as that of your foreign environment. This means determining the prototypical behavioral and mindset considered appropriate in a given situation you must negotiate, and to compare that with how you would normally behave.
Molinsky offers the following behavioral categories:
- how direct or indirect (degree of directness)
- how enthusiastic or restrained (degree of enthusiasm)
- how formal or informal (degree of formality)
- how assertive or compliant (degree of assertiveness)
- how self-promoting or modest (degree of self-promotion)
- how self-revealing or private (degree of personal disclosure)
Consider the entire range of behaviors in the target culture that would be considered appropriate, defining a “zone of appropriateness”. Then consider whether any of your preferred ways of behaving would still fit within that zone.
Where this is not the case, the question inevitably arises whether you can stretch your comfort zone to overlap with the appropriateness zone of the other cultural code, to create a “new normal” for yourself in given situations. Before we look at Molinsky’s suggestions, consider the psychological challenges he identifies:
- Can you maintain your authenticity when your personal values and convictions are in conflict with those underlying the behavior?
- Do you have the know-how and the ability to actually execute the new behavior?
- Do you have the strength to overcome any resentment and bitterness about having to conform?
Molinsky uses a coaching approach to help you explore this. After taking inventory and setting goals you are invited to test the new behavior gently in small experiments in a safe environment, asking familiars and mentors from the target culture for constructive feedback on your performance. Each experiment requires emotional and psychological reflection and inventory taking so that you try new behavior on for size only so far as you feel comfortable. Your aim is to integrate this behavior through new insights on a self-paced journey. So you build global dexterity much as you would develop a “muscle memory” through sports coaching. You build self-confidence as you experience your own increased efficacy.
Molinsky uses acting as a metaphor for the process. When you learn a new role, mastery does not mean that you lose other aspects of yourself. On the contrary, you are acquiring or realizing your potential, expanding your repertoire. As you learn and practice these new abilities you can look at them critically and say: “That’s not me… or not yet”.
The real challenge is making this new behavior acceptable to your old self. If you have decided that you do indeed want to try, the way is twofold: First, to seek to understand and appreciate the logic behind the behavior; secondly, to seek harmony in your shared goals. If your values remain at odds, Molinsky suggests engaging in intercultural bridge-building, i.e. attempting to integrate the logic of the foreign culture with your own to create a completely new culture.