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How You Can Change Your Behavior Comfortably

A common problem voiced by our readers is how to translate your knowledge of career-accelerating behavior into actual day-to-day changes that are noticed in the workplace. You know you need to be more assertive and self-promotional in situations such as job interviews and networking with potential and actual employers. You know the many cultural differences you must bridge to be successful.

But how?

You say you are not getting much help with the actual mechanics involved in behavioral change from what you read or from workshops you attend on how foreign-born professionals can succeed in the American workplace.

Instead, you find the focus is on understanding the cultural differences themselves: how Americans are more assertive and Chinese, for example, are more self-effacing.

Going Beyond Understanding Cultural Differences

A solution to this problem is offered by Andy Molinsky in his book, Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself in the Process.

Drawing on Molinsky’s work, we introduce a process that will help you bridge the gap between knowing about cultural differences and actually modifying your behavior to be more effective in overcoming these differences.

We outline a process that will help you (1) understand what’s expected of you in key situations in the workplace and (2) adapt your style so that your actions match what’s expected of you in these situations.

Of course, it’s still essential to understand cultural differences in the workplace. But, as you are discovering, understanding is not enough.

How do you adjust your actions to meet the expectations of a particular situation?

Many foreign-born professionals faced with cultural differences say, “I know what’s expected of me. I know I have to let people know about my accomplishments. But I can’t do it because it so different from the way I was raised.”

Adapting Your Behavior in 3 Steps

We recommend that you change your behavior in incremental steps so that you feel comfortable with behaving in different ways than you are used to.

The three key steps involved in actual behavioral change include:

  1. Diagnosing the cultural code of the new situation

  2. Customizing the expected behavior to fit your comfort zone, and

  3. Integrating what you have learned into your repertoire.

These three steps help you in practical ways to change your behavior across cultures.

They help you to flex your style, your way of normally doing things, so you’re more effective in different situations. They also help you to feel in control because you can calibrate the degree of change you choose to make. This reduces the fear that you are losing your core self in the process of change.

A particular strength of this approach is that it focuses on how to approach specific situations at work that you may find challenging.

This is in contrast with much of what is written and taught in the field of cross cultural communication, where the advice offered is often general.

How to Implement the 3 Steps

#1. Diagnose the Cultural Code: Analyze the challenging situation you face to identify the rules for behaving appropriately.

For example, asking your boss for a raise or a promotion requires that you boldly communicate your request and confidently and calmly lay out the reasons supporting your request.

In your analysis, identify the distance between the expected behavior and your comfort zone.

Molinsky provides a helpful six dimensional framework for deciphering the cultural code of any specific situation. It includes dimensions such as degree of directness, enthusiasm, formality, and the like.

These dimensions help you to understand what’s expected in a particular situation and how much this expectation differs from your own cultural background.

#2. Customize Your New Behavior: Modify your behavior enough so it is similar to the expected behavior but still within your comfort zone.

Your new behavior is different from your normal actions, but you still feel authentic doing it.

It also helps to define a personal reason for why you need to modify your behavior. For example, you can tell yourself that your new behavior will help your family because you will get raises, along with your promotions to better jobs.

#3. Integrate Your New Behavior: Practice your new actions with friends and trusted colleagues, so these actions feel comfortable and natural for you.

Ask for feedback and evaluate how you are feeling and doing before you implement your new behavior in the actual work situation.

In the future, we will explain more about the mechanics of behavioral change.

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