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Orientation, Ability & Behavior: how to identify them for successful global communication

As a team leader working with a multinational team, how do you accurately interpret behavior?

One essential skill is understanding Orientation vs Ability, which requires both CQ & EQ* as foundational support systems.

✨ Orientation: what you prefer

✨ Ability: what you are capable of

✨ Behavior: what you do in reality.

For example, let’s take Sarah based in (and from) Taipei who leads a multinational team consisting of members from Europe, the US, and the APAC region.

She finds it challenging to give critical feedback, as well as to actively engage in and encourage healthy debate. In her own words, she told me that she isn’t good at these skills and needs to improve them, especially when using English.

In our coaching sessions, we’ve explored this topic in more depth and I’ve worked with her on differentiating between the concepts of her behavior, orientation, and ability.

Sarah originally decided her problem was an issue of her ability. However, after further exploration of intercultural concepts, she started to realize that her cultural preference for harmony and internal cooperation resulted in her leadership habit of always avoiding any sign of conflict in order to ensure that everyone saves face. The other side of this tendency is that she avoids certain conversations due to a fear of someone’s feelings being hurt, hence her lack of practice in giving critical feedback.

💡 Once she realized her orientation, it helped her to break free from her self-imposed view of her ability, and we’re now working on developing her own synthesized approach to feedback and addressing issues that include both harmony and directness. This will lead to higher fulfillment and performance for herself and her team and I’m excited to hear the results!

🔑 As a leader, mentor, or coach, learning to identify if a specific behavior of either yourself or a team member is due to orientation or ability will have a massive impact on the effectiveness of the approach you take to address it. For example, should you choose to re-evaluate a (potentially self-limiting) belief or increase a certain skill level?

🌏 When you approach intercultural communication in this manner, you’re actually engaging in all four Cultural Intelligence competencies at the same time (CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ Action) whilst strengthening your Emotional Intelligence through self-awareness, reflection, and empathy.

❓ Have you explored this angle of observing your own or others’ behavior based on Cultural Orientation vs Ability? Would you like to? I’d love to hear from you!

*CQ = Cultural Intelligence and EQ = Emotional Intelligence. For a more detailed description, check out our page at:

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