Sarah Green: Hi. I'm Sarah Green. I'm talking today with Andy Molinsky, associate professor at Brandeis University International Business School. He's the author of “Global Dexterity.” Andy, thanks for talking with us.
Andy Molinsky: Thanks for having me, Sarah.
Sarah Green: Now, most business books on the topic of leading globally generally tell us to focus on what the differences are between our culture and the culture we're going into, and maybe to memorize some tips on how not to offend people. Is there a better approach?
Andy molinsky: Well, I think that's a good step one. I think it's really important that you understand the differences in any culture you're going into, especially in any situation you're going to find yourself in--if you're giving feedback, if you're trying to motivate your employees, if you're trying to pitch an idea. But understanding the differences, in my view, is only step one. You have to be able to then actually learn to accommodate your behavior in light of those differences. You need to be able to change your behavior. And oftentimes, that's easier said than done.
Sarah Green: What about some of that discomfort people may feel, or feeling inauthentic if they're trying to adapt their behavior that way?
Andy Molinsky: Yeah. That happens all the time. That's the idea of global dexterity. Global dexterity is the idea learning to adapt your behavior to be effective and appropriate in a new culture, but without losing yourself in the process -- without feeling inauthentic. Sometimes I call it “fitting in without giving in.” So you can be yourself, and you can be effective in a new culture.
Sarah Green: Well, I know you wrote a whole book about it. But briefly, can you just maybe outline what a few of those ways might be?
Andy Molinsky: Sure. The key way to be able to learn to be authentic, and at the same time adapt to a new culture, is what I call to learn to customize your behavior, personalize your behavior. I guess the analogy that works for me is the idea of buying a suit. So, think about the last time you bought a suit, or anyone, think about the last time you bought a suit. You probably didn't take that suit off the rack and just put it right on. For some of us, maybe. But for a lot of us, no. You have to get it tucked in here, adjusted out there. You have to customize it.
You have to personalize it to you. And that's the same thing that you can do with cultural behavior. Oftentimes, people, I think, make the mistake that fitting into a foreign culture is like hitting that dead-on bull's eye of an archery target. But it's not. There's a range. There's usually what I call a “zone of appropriateness” in the new culture. And the key is to find somewhere within that zone where you can be appropriate but you can also feel comfortable. And part of feeling comfortable might be, just like with a tailor, being able to adjust and customize your behavior.
Sarah Green: So what's an example of someone who maybe felt inauthentic and then learned to customize their behavior and resolve that tension?
Andy Molinsky: The book is chock-full of examples of this. So, just for example, an American executive going to India, and he's a very sort of bottom-up type of guy. Very participative, wants to empower his employees. But he finds out that when he tries to do that, he's completely ineffective, because his attempts at empowering his Indian employees actually are being seen by the employees themselves as a sign of weakness. And they stop respecting him. So he needs to adjust. He needs to adapt, and he needs to be more authoritarian than he would comfortably naturally be. But for him, that feels very difficult. It feels very inauthentic. So he has to figure out what to do.
Sarah Green: And that raises an interesting point, which is that in kind of situation, how do you first diagnose that what you're doing isn't effective?
Andy Molinsky: The first step is, you need to be able to diagnose and understand what I call the “cultural code.” How assertively you're supposed to act in the new culture -- in this particular situation -- how directly, how assertively? With how much personal disclosure –how much should you disclose about yourself personally? How much enthusiasm are you expected to show? There's a range of different dimensions, and what you need to do is you need to learn that new culture's zone of appropriateness -- what's appropriate in terms of each of these dimensions in that situation. So basically, understand the rules of the road. Understand what you need to do.
And the second step is understanding your own personal comfort zone. Where in each of these dimensions do you feel comfortable? How directly do you feel comfortable communicating? With how much enthusiasm do you personally feel comfortable? And sometimes, your personal comfort zone is a reflection of where you come from -- your native culture. Sometimes it's a mix. Sometimes it's your native culture, but also your personality, your upbringing. There's a lot of factors that go into that.
But if you can match your personal comfort zone -- where you feel natural and comfortable behaving -- against the new culture's zone of appropriateness, you can find, is there an overlap between where you feel comfortable and how you have to behave?
If that's the case, you're golden, because you can just be yourself and act effectively in the new culture. Or, in many cases, there's a gap. So, a gap between how you would naturally, authentically, comfortably act and how you need to act to be effective. And in those cases where there's a gap, that's where you have some work to do to improve your global dexterily. It can get complicated, and that's why I think it's very situation-specific.
Sarah Green: Well, Andy, it is complicated topic. Thanks so much for talking about it with us today.
Andy Molinsky: It was great to be here.