Insights for taking control of your cultural adaptability

The mind is in continuous motion, even when we sleep.  The Buddha described the mind as being filled with drunken monkeys.  They jump around, chatter and screech endlessly, all the while clamoring for attention.

To-do lists, aspirations, fears, what-if scenarios – they are all in there beating on our skulls demanding to be heard.  A monkey will leap onto a branch, and immediately swing to another one, often leaving a trail of damage.  Two monkeys that are particularly intense and troublesome are the ‘Judge Monkey’ and the ‘Speed-Up Monkey’.  We need to control both of these if we are to develop our cultural adaptability.

Your mind may have already switched off because I mentioned the ‘Buddha’; your business ‘Judge Monkey’ may have already screeched: “That stuff has got nothing to do with my job or my life.  I don’t like hippies and all that mystical nonsense.”  I HOPE YOU STAYED WITH ME.  Slow down, be patient.  You can’t stop the ‘Judge’ and ‘Speed-Up’ monkeys playing together, but keep them apart as much as you can.

When you are collaborating or doing business with people from other cultures, the ‘Judge’ and ‘Speed-Up’ monkeys can run riot.  Language difficulties, and misunderstandings about behavioural and cognitive differences can trigger our urges to explain and evaluate quickly.  Disorientation can be a very uncomfortable feeling; it threatens our psychological ‘happy place’.

The problem with the ‘Judge Monkey’ is that it often makes inaccurate judgments, and the problem with the ‘Speed-Up’ monkey is that it often supports superficial judgments.

The challenge is de-accelerate your mind processes and challenge them when necessary.

Embrace personal change

You cannot become more efficient and effective across cultures unless you are willing to accept personal changes.  If you are already perfect and have complete control over your mad monkeys ignore what I’ve just said.

Recognise your monkeys

It can be helpful if you visualise your mad monkeys and/or give them names.  See them, hear them, make them real.

Own your monkeys

You must own your monkeys and be accountable for them.  To minimise their potential damage, slow down and divide your thoughts and feelings into two main categories:

  • Helpful: These let the mind stay open for ongoing learning about others. ‘Can you tell me more about that belief.  I don’t really understand, but I’d like to.  You are in charge of your mind and how you respond no matter what the monkey’s tell you.
  • Unhelpful: These close the mind and push you to make judgments, e.g. by using evaluative negative and positive stereotypes.  Don’t try to fight against unhelpful

Tame your monkeys

Mad monkeys don’t wait for you to give them permission, unless you train them to.  By slowing down, you give your rational mind a chance to get involved and minimise the potential damage of inaccurate and superficial perceptions and actions.  The monkeys can be loud and persistent, but you need to be able to talk to them quietly and persistently:

  • Why do you see __________ that way?
  • What’s your evidence for that conclusion?
  • Is another interpretation possible?
  • What if you slowed down and looked deeper and wider?

Over time monkeys can be tamed, but never assume the ‘Judge’ and ‘Speed-Up’ Monkeys are gone forever.  They are used to getting their own way, and like spoiled children everywhere, don’t want to give up their influence!

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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