The Three A’s: Developing Personality Traits to Manage Successfully Across Cultures

Last week, we discussed that managers who lead successfully across cultures often demonstrate the following qualities: empathy, flexibility, emotional stability, open-mindedness, and social initiative.

Does this describe your personality?

If your answer is ‘yes’, then great! You’ll probably make an exceptional leader, no matter what cultural environment you find yourself managing in.

But if you find you’re lacking in some (or all) of these personality traits, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon them and succeed as a leader across cultures.

To do so, consider the Three A’s.

The Three A’s

In this blog, we often discuss accepting, adapting, and adopting culture – the three A’s.

Whether or not you naturally possess personality traits that assist cross-cultural integration, abiding by these three A’s will improve your efforts. In doing so, you will avoid Monkey Moments. You’ll also more successfully manage in a foreign culture and generally improve your cross-cultural skills.

Accepting, adapting, and adopting enable you to methodically face cultural conflicts head-on, rather than just winging it and hoping for the best.

Ask Yourself…

The following statements are binary: you may lean more strongly to one side or the other. The stronger you lean toward either side, the harder it will be for you to integrate into a foreign culture.

If you find both extremes to be acceptable, then you are demonstrating cultural competence.

Finding another’s values/norms acceptable doesn’t mean you must find them “right”; it just means you are willing to override your own cultural ethnocentricity, boundaries, education, and convictions, in order to properly accept, adapt, and maybe even adopt another’s.

As with last week’s self-assessment, note to what degree you agree with the following statements:

  • Everyone is responsible for their own actions.” / “Fate determines the outcome of events.”
  • “Asking direct questions is the best method to attain information.” / “It is rude/intrusive to ask direct questions.”
  • “Being vague in your responses is dishonest.” / “Avoiding answering directly/honestly prevents hurt and embarrassment.”
  • “Punctuality and efficiency are virtues demonstrated by intelligent people.” / “Spending time with the people you love is more important than punctuality.”
  • “Being on a first-name basis shows friendliness and familiarity.” / “Addressing people by their first name is disrespectful.”
  • “It is important to maintain eye contact with people who are speaking.” / “Direct eye contact with those of higher status is impolite.”

After reading through these binary statements, do you find either side completely unacceptable? Or is the opposite extreme something you’d not only be willing to accept but to adapt to?

If you’re leaning toward the latter, tune in next week as we discuss more in depth how to accept and adapt to another culture.

Step 4 of Cross-Cultural Integration: Adopting

Adopting a child isn’t an easy process, so imagine adopting an entire culture.

To adopt means “to take up or start to use or follow (an idea, method, or course of action)” or “to take on or assume (an attitude or position).” So in relation to cultural integration, adopting can be defined as taking on the ideas and methods, as well as the attitudes and positions of a culture.

This may not be easy to do, nor is it absolutely necessary to adequate integration if you are temporarily living in a foreign culture.

However, after Awareness, Accepting, and Adapting, Adopting is one of the final steps to complete cultural integration.

Do I have to adopt the entire culture?

It’s unlikely that you’ll adopt every aspect of a new culture as your own, but as with adapting, adopting some parts of your host culture will enable integration.

It’s up to you to choose which parts of a culture you’d like to adopt. In this way, adopting a culture is unique to everyone.

To University of Illinois Multicultural Communications Professor, Dr. Elaine Yuan, adopting a culture “means to know the local language well in order to express oneself freely, to know the local social psychology and etiquettes well in order to make friends, build social support and feel comfortable in this foreign social environment.”

In the Life Made Simple blog, Yuan – who is originally from Beijing, China – credits communication with locals and the willingness to learn as incredibly helpful to the adoption process.

What types of things can I adopt?

There are so many beautiful aspects of a foreign culture you might choose to adopt.

Some great practices include:

  • The Navajo tradition of celebrating a baby’s first laugh by throwing a party…while the person who made the baby laugh foots the bill
  • The April 23rd celebration in Barcelona called “The Day of the Book and the Rose,” in which women gift men with a book and are given a rose in return…or the other way around, if you’re nontraditional
  • The Finnish custom of providing pregnant mothers with a gift box of essentials – onesies, diapers, bath products, bedding, etc. – which, according to the BBC, is “a tradition that dates back to the 1930s…designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life”

All aspects and practices of a culture are up for adoption. And choosing to integrate these into your own life will make you feel one with a foreign culture.

How do I adopt?

To adopt, all you must do is put another culture’s ideas, methods, attitudes, positions, or traditions into practice. If you live long enough in a foreign culture, doing so needn’t be forced. There’s no method to getting there, but the steps of awareness, accepting and adapting will certainly lead naturally to adopting.

With time and openness, these last steps of integration will develop organically.