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← Cultural exceptionalism in relational mindfulness | Jefferey Sanchez-Burks | TEDxNUS

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Showing Revision 7 created 02/15/2020 by Tanya Cushman.

  1. So this is where we'll end.
  2. If we could start at the beginning.
  3. (Laughter)
  4. This is the last slide.
  5. Thank you, Carlos.
  6. A shout-out from Sanchez to Carlos.
  7. I would like to take you on an adventure
    in the next 18 minutes
  8. to a place far, far away -
    at least from here -
  9. and tell you about the strange customs
    of people in this land, America.
  10. Before we embark, though,
    you might want to look at the sea.
  11. In some ways, I think in a way,
  12. oceans are like the cultural diversity
    of the people that inhabit their shores.
  13. They're from the Pacific to the Indian;
    they share a great deal in common.
  14. And yet if you look
    at the underlying differences,
  15. they're very subtle but very powerful:
  16. the movements of their currents,
  17. the variation in their tides.
  18. Very important differences
    you need to understand
  19. if you want to navigate across them.
  20. The cultural difference
    I'd like to share with you today
  21. has to do with relational mindfulness,
  22. which is basically how attentive you are,
  23. how attuned you are,
  24. to the social-emotional
    context of the situation.
  25. Now, the adventure is inspired
    by a Frenchman and a German,
  26. and whenever those two groups
    have any agreement,
  27. it's worth investigating further, yeah?
  28. (Laughter)
  29. Both had remarked
  30. that Americans have a sort of strange way
  31. of approaching interpersonal
    relationships at work.
  32. In fact, Tocqueville called it
    "American exceptionalism."
  33. And what they were talking about
  34. is how American have this ability
    to not notice or place very little weight
  35. on emotions and
    interpersonal relationships
  36. in their dealings in business.
  37. Now, Weber pinned it on the people
    who founded the culture in the 1600s,
  38. these Calvinist purists
    who had this sort of feeling
  39. that it was immoral to be mindful
    to emotions or relationships
  40. while performing God's work,
  41. which is your daily work,
    essentially, on that.
  42. So it seemed very interesting
    to do an experiment.
  43. As a social psychologist,
    this is what we do.
  44. We take old ideas
    and sort of rehash them again.
  45. What I did was I put people in the lab.
  46. These were undergraduates,
    and so I came prepared.
  47. I bought them business suits,
    shirts anyway,
  48. clip-on ties so they wouldn't feel bad,
  49. and tried to create them
    into this work mindset.
  50. I wanted to see,
  51. Is it true that this sort
    of relational mindlessness
  52. occurs in work situations
    more than non-work situations,
  53. at least for Americans?
  54. I put them in these business shirts,
    got them to do a Harvard Business case.

  55. It was actually easy
    to put them into a business mindset.
  56. And this other group, I had to create
    a more casual non-work situation.
  57. Now, I'm from Los Angeles,
  58. but living in Michigan,
  59. it's very clear that it's hard to be
    in a very sort of relaxed, warm mindset.
  60. So in the middle of a Michigan winter,
  61. I ordered from Hawaii
    these Hawaiian t-shirts,
  62. had them play some card games.
  63. I must tell you, as an experimentalist,
  64. it's extremely difficult
    to get people relaxed in the lab.
  65. I think most experiments, by definition,
  66. replicate how we think
    and how we behave at work:
  67. you show up for an appointment,
  68. given some instructions,
    some compensation, maybe,
  69. or some peanuts, whatever.
  70. We put them into
    these two different mindsets.
  71. Then what we did next
    is we played over the speakers some words,
  72. and the words were emotionally laden,
  73. like happy, funeral, sad, wedding.
  74. And if you know the spoken word,
    there's always two channels:
  75. there's what is said and how it is said.
  76. So you can say "happy" sad.
  77. And if I were to ask you, "Quickly,
    tell me, is the meaning of the word -
  78. ignore the tone of the voice -
  79. positive or negative?"
  80. it's no problem.
  81. But if I say "happy" sad,
  82. sometimes it takes a bit longer
    to make that decision
  83. unless you're not paying attention
    to the emotions of the spoken voice.
  84. Using this paradigm,
  85. we found that people
    in Hawaiian t-shirts -
  86. it's a very difficult task.
  87. "I can't ignore the emotional
    tone of your voice."
  88. Put them in business shirts,
  89. have them do a Harvard Business case,
  90. it's as if it was perfectly consistent -
  91. completely able to ignore
    the emotional tone of voice.
  92. In a sense, there are two dimensions
    of most situations at work
  93. that you can be mindful to.
  94. Mindfulness is a big umbrella.
  95. We'll hear some great talks
    on this coming up,
  96. but you can be attentive
    to "the paper and the people,"
  97. the task and the relationships.
  98. And this idea appears to be
  99. that Americans are able
    to be mindful to the task
  100. but not to the social context.
  101. That's the idea.
  102. So, for example,
  103. if you play audio recordings
    or show movies of work groups
  104. and you test people's memory later -
  105. here I have a contrast
    between Mexicans and Anglo-Americans -
  106. you find that both
    are highly attentive to the task.
  107. Both are paying attention -
    that makes sense, that's what's going on.
  108. You test their memory
    for the relational component -
  109. whether people got along,
    they trusted one another -
  110. it's as if it fell on deaf ears.
  111. It's as if the Americans
    have such an effective filter
  112. for blocking out stuff
    in the social-emotional domain.
  113. You know, in cross-cultural
    communications, we heard before,
  114. often a way in which
    you're able to save face,
  115. for yourself or another person,
  116. is you convey the news
    accurately but indirectly.
  117. You may say, "I like you.
    I'm just not in like with you,"
  118. or these sorts of things.
  119. You're indirect.
  120. As sort of the classic story
    in cross-cultural research
  121. is that Asians are indirect
    and Americans are direct.
  122. Well, as theory suggests,
    it's not that simple.
  123. It's not as if Americans
    are one way all the time;
  124. it really depends on work.
  125. So what we did is we tested
    their level of indirectness:
  126. how much they attend to indirect cues
    inside and outside the work place.
  127. Or to put it another way,
  128. with a friend they don't work with
    versus a co-worker.
  129. Look at what you find.
  130. Essentially,
  131. Americans become very direct
    in the workplace,
  132. whereas you find in these
    two East Asian contexts,
  133. they go in the exact opposite direction.
  134. The punchline is profound.
  135. It suggests that cultural divides
    grow wider in the context of work.
  136. That's problematic because, to be honest,
  137. when we're not at work,
    we interact with who we want to.
  138. But at work, we're forced to interact
    with all those other people -
  139. with very different styles.
  140. It's problematic if you
    interact with an American
  141. and you want to save face
    and get the point across.
  142. In another sort of study,
    we looked at how they feel about conflict.
  143. There is only one finding in my field
    that is like Newton's Law:
  144. it's true all of the time.
  145. And that is when a team
    experiences relationship conflict,
  146. their performance suffers.
  147. Your mother could've told you this,
  148. but they did all of the research
    and verified it's true.
  149. Building on this research,
    we tried to test this idea
  150. that maybe Americans
    don't believe that finding.
  151. Maybe they think -
    they're very optimistic -
  152. that "Well, maybe if we hate each other,
  153. it won't be pleasant,
    but we can still perform well.
  154. Now, if you ask them,
  155. "Do you agree that conflict
    hurts performance?"
  156. their attitude depends
  157. on whether it's about
    the relational domain or the task.
  158. If it's about the task,
    you find no real cultural difference;
  159. everyone seems to agree,
    yes, it will harm performance.
  160. But conflict in the relational domain,
    as shown on the bars on the right,
  161. Americans are much more on the fence,
    they're like, "I'm just not sure."
  162. Now, mind you, they're actually wrong,
  163. and most of the data that proves
    relationship conflict harms performance
  164. actually comes from American data.
  165. (Laughter)
  166. Groups that provided the finding
    are least likely to believe it.
  167. When we first tried to publish this,
  168. reviewers were very upset
    because it seemed anti-American,
  169. so rather than call it a bias,
    we said, "They're very optimistic."
  170. Now, they loved it.
    It won awards. It was great.
  171. Think of it as optimistic.
  172. Imagine you have two cultural groups
  173. and there's an opportunity
    to engage in business with someone.
  174. If you're the sort that believes
    that conflict, if you don't get along,
  175. the deal won't come through,
  176. you probably won't engage
    in business with that person.
  177. But what if you're wrong?
  178. Americans are more likely
    to take the chance
  179. of doing business with somebody
    that they might end up hating,
  180. and that opens up
    a number of opportunities.
  181. The problem happens when you have a team
  182. in which you have diversity
    in beliefs about this.
  183. Imagine you get into a situation
    where there's conflict,
  184. and you have one person who says,
    "Look, we're not getting along.
  185. We have to stop and resolve this,
    or we're not going to be able to succeed."
  186. Then the American says,
  187. "Let bygones be bygones.
    We don't need to deal with it."
  188. And the other person says, "No,
    we need to deal with it; it's important."
  189. "Let it go."
  190. "I can't let it go."
  191. And now they're having meta-conflict,
    a conflict about conflict.
  192. This is exactly what we're finding
  193. in a team of over 100
    London Business School MBAs.
  194. You have conflict about conflict.
  195. The idea is the diversity and beliefs
    about a cultural phenomena or conflict
  196. can actually create its own dynamics,
    above and beyond what you normally expect.
  197. It also happens
    at a very unconscious level.
  198. We've done research
    on nonconscious mimicry.
  199. Our earlier speaker was talking about
  200. how people have this natural tendency
    to engage in mimicry.
  201. You've seen this at a coffee shop,
  202. maybe the oldest one in the world,
  203. where one person leans forward,
    the other leans forward;
  204. one person crosses their leg,
    the other crosses their leg.
  205. This happens in many species;
    it happens in humans.
  206. It builds rapport.
  207. When you're in sync with somebody,
    you feel that you click -
  208. that's sort of this one expression.
  209. But not all the time
    do you sync with people.
  210. You have to actually
    pay attention to them.
  211. In fact, what we found in research
    is that in work situations,
  212. Americans are less likely
    to look like this,
  213. where they're mirroring one another,
  214. and more likely to look like this.
  215. They're not attending to the other person,
  216. and therefore,
  217. they don't even automatically,
    unconsciously mirror the other person.
  218. Well, that may be fine,
  219. but what happens then is it creates
    an awkwardness in the situation,
  220. and imagine this parable,
  221. which we did with a study.
  222. We went to a corporation,
    we had a lab set up in their office,
  223. and we had somebody,
    the person on the left,
  224. either mirror or not mirror
    the other person.
  225. Well, when the candidate,
    or the employee, was an American,
  226. it didn't matter whether
    they were mirrored or not,
  227. because they weren't paying attention.
  228. (Laughter)
  229. But when you put another cultural group,
  230. a group that's actually
    relationally mindful, in there,
  231. they became quite nervous, quite anxious
    when the other person didn't mirror them.
  232. In fact, when we showed videotapes
    of just them to corporate recruiters,
  233. they were deemed
    as not performing very well.
  234. So those people
    are less likely to get hired.
  235. Now, imagine you have an American
    who is very concerned about diversity
  236. but has this cultural way
    about approaching work.
  237. Those groups that are
    more relationally attuned
  238. are going to perform worse,
    won't get the job.
  239. It'll look like discrimination -
    perhaps you can call it that -
  240. but it has nothing to do
    with racial or ethnic bias;
  241. it has everything to do
    with two cultures coming together.
  242. So this relational mindfulness
    is important for many reasons
  243. that go beyond just
    the individual's well-being.
  244. You can get incomplete
    social demographic patterns
  245. in the workplace
  246. just due to this subtle difference
  247. in how attentive we are
    to the relational side of the situation.
  248. People, in a sense,
    have the natural capacity
  249. to pick up the local frequency
    of the context.
  250. They just don't know
  251. when their volume's turned down so low
    they can't hear the signal anymore.
  252. Fortunately, there's
    some cross-cultural training.
  253. We've been able to show, very easy,
  254. with about a one-hour manipulation,
    or intervention, I should say.
  255. (Laughter)
  256. What's the difference?
  257. (Laughter)
  258. Talk to my marketing friends.
  259. With a small intervention, you can say,
  260. "Look, basically what's happened" -
  261. and you put them
    through these demonstrations -
  262. "your volume's been turned down,
    and you didn't even know it."
  263. It's like automatic volume control.
  264. And it's a real eye-opener.
  265. Actually, if you do training
    with people who work with Americans,
  266. a lot of progress can be made.
  267. If you're going to try to bridge cultures,
  268. you have to understand
    these subtle differences
  269. that go beyond just main-effect
    characteristics or norms and values,
  270. that look at the schemas, the mental maps
    people bring into the situation.
  271. That's the only way you can possibly
    bridge cultural divides.
  272. The most fascinating thing
    of all of this research we find
  273. is it's not just
    that one culture's like x,
  274. the other culture is y -
  275. is the Americans are truly exceptional
    in good and bad ways.
  276. They're an anomaly,
    unlike people in Europe.
  277. So once you know something
    about the Americans,
  278. then you know everything
  279. about how they're going to have problems
    with every other culture.
  280. Even though there's
    a lot of cultural diversity,
  281. most cultures are highly attentive
    or remain highly attentive
  282. to the relational context;
  283. they're relationally mindful.
  284. It's the Americans
    who have this unconscious ability
  285. to turn down the volume in that context.
  286. Thank you.
  287. (Applause)