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‘Cultural Intelligence’ reflection paper

For the course Cross-Cultural Management, a ‘Cultural Intelligence’ (CQ) reflection paper should be written in order to reflect upon the development of your own cultural intelligence and subsequently set up an action plan for further application of your insights. This paper will guide you through time by beginning with an introduction of my cultural intelligence before this course started, followed by an analysis of my learnings and an action plan for the future. Lastly, a conclusion will be provided to put everything in a bigger picture.

Introduction

Before my Bachelor in International Business Administration at the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam started, I had almost no international experience. I was born in a family who is completely Dutch, with no international family ties and lived in the Netherlands for my entire life. My father is quite international-oriented due to extensive travelling for his job and considers it important for my sister and me to develop an international mindset as well. Therefore my parents always took me on vacations to other cultures, where they try to get involved with locals instead of meeting with Dutch holidaymakers. When I started my Bachelor, I had to work with cross-cultural teams for the first time. I must admit that this was harder than I thought. My first cross-cultural team consisted of an Indian boy, a Swedish boy and an Indonesian girl. We experienced difficulties due to different expectations regarding teamwork and effort. I tend to take the lead with assignments and can be bossy something. However, during that assignment I realized that my way of working is probably not the best way to do it and that it differs within cultures how to do groupwork. We discussed our problems and searched for a solution subsequently. After that, the team process for the second assignment went very well. In my first year of IBA I learned that every culture is different and that there is not one culture better than the other. However, you have to find a way within cross-cultural teams to co-operate and align your different expectations.

Reflection on learnings

Portfolio Assignments, course literature and lectures

Before each workshop, a Portfolio Assignment should be submitted. Through these Portfolio Assignments, every student must reflect on their cultural assumptions and apply these assumptions on different topics.

For Portfolio Assignment 1, one must reflect on their implicit cultural assumptions and compare their preference for their own culture to the US culture. I already suspected that I had a preference for my own culture over the US culture. However, it is interesting to see that your implicit social attitudes also show a preference for your country. The second question for this assignment was to reflect on how you should work in diverse teams. It was really good to have this question in the first Portfolio Assignment, because you are reminded of cultural differences and how to deal with it during the Living Diversity Assignment.

The questions in Portfolio Assignment 2 were about how cultural research could be best conducted. When doing cultural research, you should keep in mind that your own perceptions are influenced by your particular position and identity. A key learning that I took from this assignment was a reflection of my own particular position and identity, which was good to keep in mind during the ethnographic interviews for the Living Diversity Assignment. Due to my position as a Caucasian female student, my liberal mindset and being raised in the middle social class, I can perceive daily situations and practices, institutions and products, and societal factors and pervasive ideas differently than people who are in another position (Markus & Kitayama, 2010). There is a mutual constitution between culture and the ‘self’. On the one hand, culture constitutes the self, because individuals change as the various cultural contexts they are in change (Markus & Kitayama, 2010). On the other hand, individuals constitute culture. The sum of the unique values and norms individuals are holding, also form a culture. Furthermore, Assignment 2 was about which way of doing research, e.g. conducting interviews or applying theoretical frameworks, works best for a cross-cultural understanding. In my opinion, you should do both in order to gain objective and subjective knowledge.

In Portfolio Assignment 3, taboos are discussed. I found it difficult to find taboos for both my own culture as well as for a culture which I consider not my ‘own’. However, it was a good exercise, as it leads to reflection of your own culture and more knowledge about other cultures when searching for an appropriate taboo.

For the last Portfolio Assignment, you should comment on the statement that diversity is always categorically better than less. In my opinion, this is not entirely true. Moreover, we should think about the best way of dealing with diverse teams, based on your experiences of the Living Diversity Assignment. The key learning I took from assignment 4 is that diversity in the workplace is still a topic on which few consistent conclusions have been found and that the positive outcomes of diversity are still under construction (Shore et al., 2009). However, if you are dealing with diverse teams it is important to be aware of each other’s differences, have an open mindset towards cultures and respect each other’s values.

The course literature and lectures focused on two inter-related topics. The first topic gave me knowledge about general global developments that affect management practices nowadays. For example, there is a major increase in the importance of developing negotiation relationships and trade agreements due to globalization. In order to understand these global developments, we learnt about different abstract concepts, for example inclusion/exclusion and power distance et certera. Such concepts form the basis of the ability for our own normative reflection. The second and much larger topic which we learnt about were the cross- and inter-cultural dynamics of management and organizational practices. Firstly, we learnt the key cultural paradigms in order to assess different cultures. In my opinion, the Steers’ Core Cultural Dimensions-model is best to evaluate a culture, as it provides a framework based on all the other models (Davidson, 2018). After that, we learnt different theories about how to be successful as a manager of cross cultural teams and how to apply different skills, like leadership, negotiation and decision-making. The contingency approach made really sense to me. I believe that good leadership is not only dependent on universal traits, but you should adapt to the culture you work in (Davidson, 2018).

CQ-scores

At the beginning of this course, I think I could say that my cultural intelligence was on average. Regarding my CQ-knowledge and CQ-strategy in the pre-survey, I scored slightly above the benchmark score and for CQ-drive and CQ-dexterity slightly below average (see table 1). This means that during this course it was my challenge to focus on improving my understanding why it is important to be able to deal effectively with intercultural interactions and be more motivated to do so (CQ-drive). Moreover, I should put my theory more into practice and develop more cross-cultural management skills (CQ-dexterity). My CQ-strengths are my acquired knowledge and cross-cultural consciousness. This might be due to my second Bachelor Philosophy, in which you get taught several courses on ethics, anthropology and morality.

Unfortunately, my mid-survey CQ-results do not show progress and even a slight decline in cultural intelligence. As can be seen in table 2, my CQ-drive, CQ-dexterity and CQ-knowledge score decreased, something which I find very strange. You would expect these scores to improve during this course. My CQ-strategy score stayed the same. I cannot find an exact explanation why I scored this way, perhaps I was not paying enough attention or was not focused enough when doing the survey.

I will definitely pay close attention to the results of my post-survey and I hope these scores show some progression of my cultural intelligence. The CQ assessments learned me about the different dimensions in which cultural intelligence is divided. Moreover, it gave me more confidence regarding my cross-cultural skills. I was a little insecure about this, since I have not much cross-cultural experience. However, since I scored on average, there is nothing to worry about.

Group processes

Our cross-cultural team for the Living Diversity Assignment consisted of one boy and four girls, including me. At first, I considered it a little bit as an obstacle to work in a cross-cultural team, as you do not know the people who you have to co-operate with and normally I do groupwork always with the same people. I was worried that the others hold different assumptions on how to do the assignment, just like I had with my first assignment of IBA. However, I was also motivated to bring this assignment to a good end, even though the teamwork might require more effort sometimes. I was not afraid to give my opinion or insights on certain topics, this is also what my ‘sharing of unique knowledge’ score suggested (see table 3). Regarding stereotypes, most of them did apply in the group process, but one stereotype was confirmed. I experienced the stereotype of the Spanish member of my team taking time schedules not too strict, while the German girl in my team did. During the Living Diversity Assignment, the only thing that I experienced of my own cultural perceptions was that Dutch tend to be direct in communication. However, this has not led to any problems.

At the beginning of the assignment, there were some misunderstandings. One person canceled the meetings for the Preliminary Assignment twice at the last minute, so we decided to do most of the work ourselves. This led to the situation that that person felt left out. This is somehting you should avoid in diverse teams (Davidson, 2018). However, we discussed this problem and divided the work for the final report in a fair way. We had 4 intermediate meetings to work on the assignment together and everybody was there during each meeting. For the final report, the co-operation went a lot better and everybody engaged in information elaboration. One of the keys of benefitting from diversity lies in integrative information processing (Davidson, 2018) and I think this went really well for our final report.

Regarding our research insights, I had to research my own culture, which makes it difficult to say if the interviews lead to an understanding beyond the etic dimensions. In fact, I should already understood the emic dimensions of the Dutch culture, because it is my own. For me it was most interesting to learn about the etic dimensions and compare the scores of Hofstede and GLOBE to other countries, because I did not know this for my country. What I found most striking of my own country was the high score on individualism. I personally do not experience individualism in the Netherlands that much, or I do not feel that I act more individualistic than other nationalities. My cultural background can have influenced the analysis in a way that my team members suggested things about the Dutch culture, for which I found those findings were not true. For example, someone found that people from Dutch sororities refuse to hang out with ‘outsiders’. I know this is not true, so I used a little bit of my own experiences in our analysis of the Dutch culture. However, I tried to let this happen to a minimal extent, so I focused on staying objective and rely on supporting evidence.

Action plan

Application of learnings/insights

This course increased my knowledge in different ways. The theoretical frameworks offered in lectures and the literature increased my general knowledge about cross-cultural management significantly. Furthermore, working in a diverse team with different backgrounds exposed me to various experiences and knowledge which would not occur when working with only Dutch nationals. Moreover, performing in an international team greatly enhanced my interpersonal skills and broadened my perspective. I am more capable of working in an international context and this is becoming increasingly important in daily life. Due to globalization, you are likely to come in situations where you have to deal with different cultures. For example, imagine yourself working for a Dutch company with clients all over the world. When doing business with your Chinese client, it is convenient to know how to do this most effectively. This is a situation where I can apply my cross cultural management skills and knowledge. I will approach intercultural interactions differently after this course, since I developed my cultural intelligence and I know which aspects are important to focus on when acting in an international context. According to the Categorization Elaboration Model, in order to benefit from diverse teams, it is important to reduce social categorization and intergroup bias, you should information elaboration and you should attend to team motivational traits and task contingencies (Davidson, 2018).

Future development

My top two CQ-strengths are CQ-knowledge and CQ-strategy. I will use my CQ-knowledge to better understand others, enhance problem and decision-making, and improve relations (Van Duyne et al., 2012). In terms of better understanding, my knowledge will help to overcome cultural blind spots and I am capable of explaining and predicting responses from people with different backgrounds. Moreover, I will use my knowledge to identify problems and solutions. Lastly, I can use my CQ-knowledge to improve interpersonal peace. I will use it to understand different opinions, perspectives and behavior in order to overcome stereotypes and biases (Van Duyne et al., 2012). All these actions can be useful when doing group assignments or when working in an international environment. I can use my CQ-strategy when managing cultural complexity, build trust and rapport and improve task performance (Van Duyne et al., 2012). In order to keep my CQ-abilities at a certain level, I must make sure to keep performing in cross-cultural teams. Therefore, I must not always go for the easy way and not do all my assignments with my ‘standard’ Dutch team. Moreover, I go on exchange to Seoul this fall. During that period I will be constantly working with cross-cultural teams in an international environment, so this will help me to remain and improve my CQ-abilities as well.

Conclusion

All in all, this course changed my perception of culture a lot. I did not know that there were so many different aspects regarding culture. I started this course with the assumption that every culture is different and that there is not one culture better than the other, but now I know why every culture is different and on what kind of dimensions cultures can differ. Moreover, I am now able to effectively manage cultural differences. After taking this course, it also became clear that culture is not something on which one omnipotent theory exactly can describe how culture works and what is the best way to deal with it. It is important to keep researching the deeper meaning of cultures and remain educating yourself on those aspects. In this way you can give meaning to the theoretical frameworks yourself. That is what I will keep doing in the future.

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