Making a World of Difference: Global Dexterity Considers Intercultural Communication from a Psychological Perspective

Article excerpt

I still remember the first time I found myself all alone in a completely foreign culture--feeling disoriented, isolated and awkward, and unable to even read the signs to find my way out of the train station. I felt incompetent and uncomfortable, and seriously considered taking the next train back to familiar territory. After a few minutes of panic, I pushed myself to continue on, and began the process of learning to adapt in an unfamiliar culture.

Fast-forward 20 years, and today I have a passion for encountering new cultures that has led me to become a researcher in the field of intercultural communication. There is no shortage of information out there on cultural differences, providing lists of dos and don'ts for almost any country. We can even download apps with tips on how to properly greet someone in Moscow or respond to a compliment in Beijing. While these can be useful, they're not enough for anyone trying to work or communicate across cultures.

The problem with focusing just on the cultural differences, according to Andy Molinsky, author of Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself in the Process, is that we don't just struggle with knowing or even understanding the cultural differences. The real problem lies in our internal discomfort with changing our own culturally ingrained behavior. Molinsky's focus is on developing what he calls global dexterity, the ability to "adapt your behavior across cultures--no matter what culture you come from, what culture you are going to, or the situation you find yourself in." Approaching intercultural communication from a psychological perspective, Molinsky's research centers on the difficulties entailed in adapting behavior in foreign cultural environments and on the moral and psychological challenges involved. …