Emotional Intelligence Doesn’t Translate Across Borders – wait a second…

Emotional intelligence does not translate across borders…this was the title of a Forbes article published by Andy Molinsky, cross-cultural expert, author of the Global Dexterity. He was right, still, without a certain level of  Emotional Intelligence intercultural training will not improve your  performance more in a multicultural environment than a fancy accounting course. 

Why is that? Daniel Goleman’s revolutionary book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, highlights:

” The secret of success is not what they taught you in school. What matters
most is not academic excellence, not a business school degree, not even technical know-how or years of experience. What distinguishes star performers from the mediocre is emotional intelligence. The higher a person’s position, the more emotional intelligence matters — it is crucial for successful leadership. And organizations that learn to operate in emotionally intelligent ways are the companies that will remain vital and dynamic in the competitive marketplace of today — and the future.”

His results are confirmed and validated, more and more companies invest in EQ trainings which is a fantastic news. Understanding how to manage our emotions, how to read them is the key to excellence  as at the end of the day, everything is down to personal relationships...

The Forbes article was correct in a sense that people in different cultures show emotions in a different way which means we can easily get it wrong outside of our own…Showing extreme emotions can mean weakness (lack of self-control) orpower depending on the situation and country. Where-ever you go, you need to establish a baseline, a point of reference as emotions and the way they are displayed are relative as well. Have you seen the series called Lie to me? It is a really entertaining crash course on micro-gestures, their meanings, etc.

The point I am making is that negative emotions are draining, they ruin productivity, relationships…they make employees withhold information, avoid others, being distracted and unhappy. As they get paid full-time, the price paid for the lack of progress comes out of your pocket.

Several companies realised this by now, however globalisation made this issue a bit more complicated. As we absorb culture by the age of 10, it is often subconscious but equally powerful, when something goes against our values and beliefs, it triggers strong and negative emotions in us. What do I mean? If you have seen the scene from the Borat movie where he sings his own national anthem in front of American fans…you will see what I mean.

The same happens to us when we work in a multicultural environment. Something happens and we feel bad, annoyed, frustrated and we do not even know why as we are not consciously aware of how our cultural heritage influences the way we do things and why other do it the way they do.

  • Why is my colleague so rude?  (or his communication style is just more direct?) –  Why is my boss micromanaging me? He does not trust me? (or he scores higher on uncertainty avoidance?)
  • How come my colleague never talks to me about his life? I am so friendly to me, he does not like me? (or he is just from a more individualistic and specific culture?)

Being self-aware, self-regulated, socially-skilled and motivated is vital, although it cannot explain or prepare you for these challenges. You need to understand why people behave like that instead of assuming something that is not even there.This is where intercultural training becomes crucial part of EQ trainings for companies whose performance depends on their employees and relationship with client all over the world. 

Let’s reverse this now!  What if you invest in cross-cultural trainings and you learn about the differences between nations, which values and beliefs affect the way they think and feel? Is it useful? No doubt! Does it work if you are unable to empathise, pick up on little signs and changes in behaviour? Are you going to be able to use that knowledge when you meet a real person? No…it remains theory only instead of developed as a skill. 

EQ and intercultural expertise can be the most powerful combination and best return on investment.

As Egbert Schram, managing director if itim International, said it brilliantly in his article:

  “It requires professional associations to stop treating their profession as the Holy Grail but instead being a “holy grain” – An honourable part in a larger ecosystem that is called “life”.

The different disciplines should not be competition to each other, but an integral part of a greater purpose which ultimately serves people and businesses to connect through understanding. 

Csaba Toth
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Csaba Toth

Founder at ICQ Global
Author of Uncommon Sense in Unusual Times, developer of the multi award-winning Global DISC model
Csaba Toth
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