Which way's up? Both ways.
Read on to learn about: Expectations leading to frustration. The frustrations and joy of life as a Third Culture Kid. How Cultural Intelligence can save your work. Some things you already knew, and a lot that you probably didn’t.
It’s all about expectations. Someone doesn’t behave the way that you expected and that frustrates you. The way that you expected is simply the way you were raised to think that someone should behave, or that something should happen. Like winter being in January, it’s just something that is true in your context, but not everywhere.
I know a lot about expectations and unexpectations and how this can make life, school and work really, really confusing. That’s because I live in the “hyphen” – that little line that separates two ideas. On the one side we have Iran, my birth country and the country of my parents and the culture I grew up with inside the house. On the other side we have the USA, my adopted country where I went to school and whose culture I lived in outside the house.
And then there’s the space between “Iranian” and “American.” And that’s where I live. The space between two cultures, two worlds, two very different ways of thinking, doing and being. That “space between” is my own universe, where I have selected the values, behaviors and cultural references that I want to represent me.
That space is called the “third culture.” And it’s a real thing – Third Culture Kids and Adults – this is a real concept. Third culture children and adults are people who were raised in a country that is different from their parents before they were able to develop their personal and cultural identity. This means that our identity isn’t based on a country, a people, or a national idea.
To be honest, as a child, this sucked. Because as a child there’s a strong need to belong, anywhere. Literally. And being from two cultures means that you don’t really belong anywhere. Parts of you belong here and parts of you belong there. But you, as a whole, don’t belong 100% anywhere. And this can really suck, as a kid.
But as an adult I am extremely grateful for my experience because I have had a lifetime of moving between worlds, of developing relationships that span all seven continents, and a lifetime of developing cultural intelligence.
And what is this thing called Cultural Intelligence? It’s the ability to live and work at home and abroad with diverse teams and different cultures than your own, with ease.
With ease. That’s the key.
Because anyone can work with another culture with frustration, anger and annoyance. That’s actually really easy, you just blame everything bad on the other guy and then nothing ever changes.
The hard part, which is also the essential part, is learning that you are part of the problem and, therefore, also a key part of the solution.
And that solution – learning Cultural Intelligence – does take some time, it does take effort but the results of it are long lasting and make your life, your work and your relationships a lot easier.
It gets easier because you learn that everyone has “their way” of doing things, seeing things and approaching things and that everyone has their own unique expectations. And those ways of doing, seeing and approaching are not the same as yours.
You’re thinking, “but I already know that,” and yes, I am sure you do… but you forget and then you get frustrated because you “already asked them a million times for the report and they don’t understand that we need that report NOW!” We forget that our colleague on the other side, in another country or even in another department, also wants things done their way and that they have their own, and different, expectations. Their way, your way. We can’t have both.
Cultural Intelligence reminds us that there is no “your way” or “my way” – not in business and especially not when negotiating. So, we have to look for something else, something in the middle. Something that changes our mental chip so that when someone doesn’t behave the way that we expected or something doesn’t happen the way we wanted or thought, we understand why and also how to fix it. As David Livermore, CQ thought leader and author, says in his book The Cultural Intelligence Difference:
"...the emphasis is not only on understanding different cultures, but also on problem solving and effective adaptations for various cultural settings."
Again, not only understanding the why, but also how to fix it, how to make differences work.
It’s simple: we never seem to get our message across because we’ve been trained to send messages only in one way. To really learn to work better we have to learn another language, and that language is not English. It’s the language of managing expectations across border: It’s Cultural Intelligence.
6. 3. 2
That's 6 countries, 3 languages and 2 religions. Expat, immigrant, refugee, TCK, there are lots of things you can call me, but I prefer Shiva.