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Vulnerability: a Cultural Context

Samuel, who has led teams in China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, is part of an emerging global leadership program and was recently asked by his US-based company to read a book on Imperfection and watch a talk on Vulnerability.

At first, he couldn't understand the content. Why?

It's not because of the English language (his listening skills are great).

So if it wasn't language, what was it❓

👉 The cultural context

Both the book and the video were created by a well-respected American author, whose work has resonated with millions of people.

🌎 The US is a Vertical Individualist culture, where the major motivational concern is power and upward mobility. However, too much of that might lead to difficulties in expressing an opposite state, hence the importance of methods that integrate imperfection and vulnerability.

🌏 Samuel's culture, however, is considered a Vertical Collectivist culture, where a major motivational concern is one's duty and obligations to one's in-groups (i.e. family, company, community) within an established hierarchy.

In this culture - Japan, China, and Taiwan are all examples - more emphasis is placed on one's group identity, therefore being vulnerable and imperfect are less typically seen as traits needed to develop as a societal antidote.

🔖 After further discussion, a light went on, and Samuel asked, "So perhaps the idea of failure and success is different here in my (Northeast Asian) culture than in the US?"

The answer, as with everything else in Intercultural Communication, is yes and no. It depends on many interconnected factors, and each individual scenario will look different.

In Samuel's case though, how did I respond?


💡 With that, Samuel was able to begin to 'decode' the book and talk, with his new awareness that one's sense of self is culturally conditioned and therefore the challenges that one will face in developing oneself as a global leader are unique.

Final Thoughts:

A few necessary commonalities for everyone leading or communicating across cultures though is this:

✨ Not understanding the whole message is normal. Therefore, it's essential to be curious and willing to be wrong.

✨ Develop your observation skills of not only others but yourself. Know when you're judging a situation or person based on your own cultural lens, and practice taking a bird's eye view when that happens.

✨ Listen to what's not being said. Regardless of which culture you're dealing with, there are many deeply ingrained assumptions that you might not see or hear at the moment. Take the time to listen and reflect more, it always pays off.

Contact me here to set up a Discovery Call on how you can develop your own CulturalEQ for today's VUCA world.

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