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Building Cultural Intelligence with Trisha Carter


What can neuroscience teach us about the first 30 days in a new job?

Congratulations on your new role!  Get ready to learn. You may have thought you won the role because you have the knowledge, skills and experience required but the reality is the next 30 days will be a time of massive learning of new knowledge, developing new skills and building new experience.

A new job means learning the new organisation - familiarising yourself, not just with the processes, the people and the past, but importantly the organisational culture.  You may also be learning a new location, possibly a new country culture.  And all this learning needs to take place while you prove yourself as the best person for the role by performing effectively. 

This level of learning challenge involves significant work for our brain.  While our brain is an amazing organ, with billions of nerve fibres working to fulfil an extensive array of functions, storing the equivalent of a petabyte of data; the pre-frontal cortex - the part of our brain responsible for conscious thought (learning, understanding, memorizing and remembering) - is a relatively small component and is very energy hungry. And a new job means the pre-frontal cortex is constantly stimulated by new information that needs to be noticed, recognised, understood, remembered or sometimes ignored.

The risk of focusing on novel but not helpful information is high, as is the risk of overwhelm from new information.  This can lead to low retention and to brain exhaustion depleting our ability to make good decisions as the day goes on.

So, what can we do to help and support our brain in the learning process?

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Civility and Culture

Our brains are sensitive things.

We see a colleague being spoken to rudely and our amygdala responds instantly, alerting the hypothalamus to flood our brain and our body with chemicals to prepare us for action.

Our focus narrows, our heart pounds, we breathe faster. We are in stress response mode.

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Civility -Is it important?

Does it feel as though politics, society and even our workplaces are becoming less civil?  Name calling, insulting labels, smart put downs and cruel comments seem to be on the increase.  Should we care?  Am I just being old-fashioned in looking for more civil interactions?

“Civility usually is demonstrated through manners, courtesy, politeness, and a general awareness of the rights, wishes, concerns, and feelings of others.”

Weeks, K. M. (2011) P 6 

Manners, courtesy and politeness do sound rather old-fashioned and possibly may be prone to misinterpretation depending on culture and generational differences.

Civility’s nemesis – incivility - is defined as “Any self-centered behavior that is impolite, or boorish, or shows a disregard for rights and concerns of others.” (Weeks) P 7.

The data around the impacts of incivility are extensive.  In a workplace setting almost 99% of people say they have witnessed incivility.  80% of people report having wasted work effort ...

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Globally Mobile - the family story

Sometimes, when I’m training or coaching international assignees it can feel like I’m in a Harvard Business Review case study

I can appreciate and understand the opportunities and challenges that the international assignee is facing.  I recognise the pressures on organisations globally to succeed and I’m familiar with the skills and competencies needed by those assignees in their new locations.  I am also familiar with the pressures faced by global mobility to get the assignee in country and operating as quickly as possible while keeping within the global policies of talent management, remuneration and benefits, and of course the international laws of immigration and taxation. 

But sometimes it’s the personal challenges that are most difficult to assist with. 

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A New Year - making positive changes

There’s something about a new year that inspires us to see things differently and to believe that we can do things differently.

And yet, as I’ve written before, – most new years resolutions fail.  In that previous post I encouraged you to review the past year and to build on the things that had gone well.  To take a strengths-based approach to making changes and use the energy and motivation from previous positive and satisfying experiences to plan the next year.

This time I want to suggest you take a longer-term view.  There’s a positive psychology exercise I often use when coaching that helps people to consider how they might be in the future if everything worked out the best possible way.

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