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How Type and Culture interact

expats_MBTI overlay images

expats_MBTI overlay images

We come into the world born with a pre-disposition to use our brains in certain ways. We go out to seek interactions and experiences that allow us to shine and use our preferred functions, reinforcing their strength and our aptitude in using them. At the same time, our surroundings influence how we express our preferences. Depending on when and where we grow up, society’s and our family’s feedback may encourage or suppress development of our natural preferences.

Different cultures developed as a response to outside threats to ensure survival of the species. Today, cultural behavior is driven by values.

The introverted Feeling (Fi) function gives meaning to values. The position of Fi in our type code gives clues as to how conscious we are of our values preferences. An exploration of our own values is the first step to understanding our cultural preferences. In turn, we can begin to understand how and why people from other cultures behave differently.

For expats, international assignments are tremendous change processes. Temperament™ / Essential Motivators™ information helps expats to prepare and adapt to un-expected changes. The fourth function provides insight into potential stress triggers, while the third can be applied to reduce stress and being playful, enjoying one’s time abroad.

In my experience, especially with German clients, we have to pay particular attention to the verbiage of competence and experience. For Germans, these words – as well as education, knowledge, and mastery – are anchored in cultural beliefs. It is therefore common when discussing Theorist™ descriptors for Germans of all types to be drawn to the NT profile.

When working with international clients, it is important to verify their personality types through their cultural lenses. The practitioner or coach should ideally be aware of their own cultural programming and personality type preferences to reduce projection and misinterpretation, as well as have a basic understanding of the cultural values and beliefs in the client’s home country.

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From New York to Mexico: Alice gets an MBTI® assessment, culture training, and follow-up expat coaching

Business woman with suitcaseWe all know at least one person who is so comfortable with herself and confident in her abilities, she has a hard time seeing someone else's point of view, right? Let's call her Alice: Alice works in a health care company in New York State. Let's say they make blood pressure measuring machines that use the latest wireless technologies, so demand is growing rapidly. In her office, the idea of

"it's not personal, it's business"

prevails, and achieving sales goals is more important than being on good terms with other sales people. Her friends affirm to her on a daily basis that it's inspiring to see her excel at her work, kicking ass and taking names. They also admire the apartment and wardrobe she is able to afford. Her managers reward her by explaining that her integrity and focus show what leaders are made of; ready to make the tough call, and then reap the benefits of defending her position. She continually receives positive performance evaluations.

When Alice gets sent abroad to lead a project in Mexico, she knows she is the most qualified to see it through. The move was short-notice and the shareholders were putting pressure on everyone, so she didn't have time to take the culture training she was offered. After all, she has worked with some of the Mexican colleagues before, they know her, and she has only moved a few hundred miles South.

She sets up shop, gets to work as she is used to, and soon hits a wall. She chalks is up to getting used to the food and climate, maybe even blames her new colleagues a little for not keeping up with her pace, and decides to bring her best A-game yet. She begins setting stricter goals, speaking even more directly in meetings, and gripping on to her leadership get-it-done beliefs, which have now become convictions.

This has always worked in the past, and gosh darn it, she is here to do her job.

What she doesn't realize is that in Mexico, an orientation to team work, the community, nurturing relationships, and an indirect style of communication are the norm. Alice's insisting on doing what worked "at home" is stressful not just for herself, but also for her team. The Mexican colleagues continue to be friendly and agree with her in meetings, but they no longer meet their goals. Alice doesn't understand what's going on, and can only tell her superiors that people are agreeing with her but then turning around and doing something completely different. She doesn't know what else to do.

Coaching to the rescue

Her US American boss usually coaches her himself, but in this situation he thinks someone with first-hand experience might have a wider angle. He agrees with Alice to add coaching to her performance goals, and encourages her to choose someone specializing in expat leadership issues from www.theexpatcoachdirectory.com.

Alice speaks to two other coaches before choosing to work with me. After our introductory call, we agree we're a good fit, clarify what her goals for the coaching process are, and get to work.

The Process

The first thing I do is send her login details to take the MBTI(r) Step II questionnaire. She did it before but couldn't remember her letters, so she goes online to fill it in again, and once the results are in, we schedule a debrief to confirm them.

Sample MBTI Step II result screenshot

I'm in Texas and we could do this through Skype, but for our first meeting I'd like to see where she's at, so I fly to meet her in Mexico. We spend maybe two hours going over the MBTI(r) Step II results.

Looking at Temperament

Once we know her personality type preferences, we have a better understanding of what motivates her. For example, people with an NF in their code are so-called Catalysts™ who thrive on meaning and identity. Catalysts are great people-people who enjoy watching others grow and fulfilling their potential.

People with an SP in their code are called Improvisers™ and thrive on freedom and the ability to make an impact. They're the firefighters and troubleshooters who love being in the action.

If Alice has an SJ in her code, she's a Stabilizer™ and is probably driven by a sense of duty, responsibility, and belonging. Stabilizers appreciate hierarchies and defined roles, bringing structure and security to their communities and companies.

If Alice has an NT in her code, she's a Theorist™, driven by competence and self-control. Theorists value systems, strategies, and analysis, and are often the engineers or inventors of society.

We can also start looking at what possibly motivates her team and build bridges of understanding.

Underlying cultural values and how they affect behavior

Whatever the underlying motivation, it is clear that her current working practices are not achieving the results she's expecting. There's more to the puzzle. We would therefore spend another two or three hours looking at the differences between how leadership and business etiquette works in the USA, and how it works in Mexico. We might even throw in some socio-cultural questions, because I know she's wondering why everybody keeps inviting her to their homes, and how she can keep the black widow spiders out of her bathroom.

Pulling it together

Now Alice has a basic idea of a) how the general cultural values influence behaviors of everyone in both countries, and b) how individual differences show up in people's personality types. Her homework is to read the materials I've provided, and start paying attention to her interactions at work.

For about 3 weeks, she will jot down key items and interactions, send me a bunch of emails, and we'll look to decipher those interactions in our follow-up coaching sessions. The first one or two sessions will be reactive and learning from hindsight, but soon enough she will have practiced flexing her behaviors into what is customary among Mexicans. This will enable her to anticipate and better prepare for important vendor negotiations and client meetings.

After a total of maybe five or six sessions, we have reached our coaching goals and she is happy to let me go and continue by herself. Her confidence in herself and her abilities restored, she will likely enjoy her time in-country, build a valuable network of like-minded professionals, and deliver her project on time and within budget. She's happy to be back in the saddle, her team is happy to do their work, and her boss in New York is happy he didn't have to pull Alice out, move her back, find someone else to mend the fences in Mexico, and that the project is safe.

Happy people all-round for an investment of about $3,000 over a six-month period.

Does this story sound familiar?

Maybe you've been an expat or managed one and think "yeah right, in an ideal world. I've had training and it was hard anyway."

Becoming more aware of yourself with the help of the MBTI® or other self-assessment tools is a great start. But knowing a four-letter Type without decent follow-up means you'll soon forget the richness and potential.

Learning about your own cultural preferences and the values of your new colleagues and host country is essential on an assignment, or even a quick business trip. But having a framework without decent follow-up means you'll soon forget the richness and application.

That's why coaching is necessary to reinforce the learning, practice the new concepts until they become habits, and have the support of someone who's been there. To quote Aristotle,

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

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How do you tell someone they need cross-cultural training?

Slide from my type and culture presentation Depends.

  • Are they asking you?
  • Is this your opinion because you don't get along, and you think it's cultural?
  • Are you their manager and see them struggling?

I saw this question on LinkedIn and think that I would try and understand what's holding them back. Do they have the time, the budget, but just not the will? Or are they in denial and think they don't need it?

Either way, here are some thoughts:

1. In corporate settings, support from the executive or C-suite is crucial.

If the bosses don't BUY it, aka believe in the value and pay for it, the expats won't GET it, aka understand the value and learn to ask for it - without having to worry "This is hard, so I'm asking for help, but does that make me seem incompetent?"

No, it doesn't. It makes you seem like a smart planner and self-aware leader committed to personal and professional development.

2. Training or coaching can only land when the expat is open to it.

Especially in coaching where trust is essential, the expat cannot have the slightest doubt that the coach is in their corner. The relationship is usually stronger when the client chooses the coach. This may sounds contrary to 1., but there's a difference between making it available, encouraging employees to take advantage of them - and forcing it down people's throats. Great trainers and coaches can try and turn "prisoners" (i.e. participants in a training room who don't really want to be there) or unwilling clients around, but that starts the whole process off on the wrong foot.

3. Training or coaching is most effective when you can explain the benefits in your client's language

If I don't know the person I'll be working with, I like to add Temperament language that speaks to all four types. For example, "So you're abroad and your leadership style isn't working, but you're not sure if you should spend 3 hours on a training. What would it mean to learn how you can better meet your targets and get the results you have to deliver? (Stabilizer SJ) What would a significant increase in your ROI mean for your department? (Improviser SP) Think of the growth potential for your career and network! (Catalyst NF) You're new in this country and there's a learning curve - aren't 3 hours a reasonable investment if they can increase your effectiveness faster? (Theorist NT)"

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Temperament / Essential Motivators

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Temperament / Essential Motivators

Temperament book
Temperament book

Temperament Theory began around 450 bc with Hippocrates' description of four physical dispositions: Choleric, Melancholic, Phlegmatic, and Sanguine. Over time, authors like Paracelsus, Myers, and Keirsey have refined these definitions. From the MBTI® language you may be familiar with the combinations NF, SJ, NT, and SP. Having said that, it is important to recognize that Temperament theory is separate from, for example, the Myers-Briggs interpretation of Jung's theory of personality type.

In my work with Temperament theory, I use the Berens' terminology: Catalyst™, Stabilizer™, Theorist™, and Improviser™. To avoid misunderstanding with temperament in terms of someone's attitude, Linda is using Essential Motivators to describe our deep psychological needs, and the values we have to help us fill those needs.

Awareness of your Essential Motivators will aid your understanding of

  • Core psychological needs
  • Innate talents and skills
  • Typical behaviors that stress or energize you

The four Temperaments describe a pattern of needs and values, which in turn connect with different behaviors and skill sets.

Excerpt from "Understanding Yourself and Others® - An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments 4.0" by Linda V. Berens, Ph.D. (with permission).

The Catalyst™ Temperament

The core needs are for the meaning and significance that come from having a sense of purpose and working toward some greater good.They need to have a sense of unique identity. They value unity, self-actualization, and authenticity. People of this temperament prefer cooperative interactions with a focus on ethics and morality. They tend to trust their intuition and impressions first and then seek to find the logic and the data to support them. Given their need for empathic relationships, they learn more easily when they can relate to the instructor and the group.

They tend to be gifted at unifying diverse peoples and helping individuals realize their potential. They build bridges between people through empathy and clarification of deeper issues. They use these same skills to help people work through difficulties. Thus, they can make excellent mediators, helping people and companies solve conflicts through mutual cooperation. If working on a global level, they champion a cause. If working on an individual level, they focus on growth and development of the person.

The Stabilizer™ Temperament

The core needs are for group membership and responsibility. They need to know they are doing the responsible thing. They value stability, security, and a sense of community. They trust hierarchy and authority and may be surprised when others go against these social structures. People of this temperament prefer cooperative actions with  focus on standards and norms. Their orientation is to their past experiences, and they like things sequenced and structured. They tend to look for the practical applications of what they are learning.

They are usually talented at logistics and at maintaining useful traditions. They masterfully get the right things in the right place, at the right time, in the right quantity, in the right quality, to the right people, and not to the wrong people. They know how things have always been done, so they anticipate where things can go wrong. They have a knack for attending to rules, procedures, and protocol. They make sure the correct information is assembled and presented to the right people.

The Theorist™ Temperament

The core needs are for mastery of concepts, knowledge, and competence. People of this temperament want to understand the operating principles of the universe and to learn or even develop theories for everything. They value expertise, logical consistency concepts, and ideas and seek progress. They tend toward pragmatic, utilitarian actions with a technology focus. They trust logic above all else. They tend to be skeptical and highly value precision in language Their learning style is conceptual, and they want to know the underlying principles that generate the details and facts rather than the details alone.

They prefer using their gifts of strategic analysis to approach all situations. They constantly examine the relationship of the means to the overall vision and goal. No strangers to complexity, theories, and models, they like to think of all possible contingencies and develop multiple plans for handling them. They abstractly analyze a situation and consider previously unthought-of possibilities Researching, analyzing, searching for patterns, and developing hypothesis are quite likely to be their natural modus operandi.

The Improviser™ Temperament

The core needs are to have the freedom to act without hindrance and to see a marked result from action. People of this temperament highly value aesthetics, whether in nature or art. Their energies are focused on skillful performance, variety, and stimulation. They tend toward pragmatic, utilitarian actions with a focus on technique. They trust their impulses and have a drive to action. They learn best experientially and when they see the relevance of what they are learning to what they are doing. They enjoy hands-on, applied learning with a fast pace and freedom to explore.

The tend to be gifted at employing the available means to accomplish an end. Their creativity is revealed by the variety of solutions they come up with. They are talented at using tools, whether the tool be language, theories, a paint brush, or a computer. They tune into immediate sensory information and vary their actions according to the needs of the moment. They are gifted at tactics/ They can easily read the situation at hand, instantly make decisions, and, if needed, take actions to achieve the desired outcome.

If you'd like to bring a Temperament workshop to your organization or community:

 

 

Image by Nick Bramhall, flickr, Creative Commons license

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