This is a transcript of episode 117 of the Troubleshooting Agile podcast with Jeffrey Fredrick and Douglas Squirrel.

We welcome a guest today - Mark Davis, the Cultural Negotiator. He uses a “cultural intelligence framework” to suggest how one might approach difficult negotiations with customers and team members, in a way that is sensitive to their values and capabilities.

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Listen to this section at 00:14

Squirrel: Welcome back to Troubleshooting Agile, Hi there Jeffrey.

Jeffrey: Hi Squirrel.

Jeffrey: And we have a little bit different setup this week. We have a guest. We’re joined today by Mark Davis, The Cultural Negotiator. Welcome, Mark.

Squirrel: Hi Mark.

Mark: Squirrel, Jeff, thank you both for having me. Excited to be here.

Jeffrey: All right.

Jeffrey: And i’m excited to have Mark today, I think what he’s been talking about is very useful to our audience.

Jeffrey: He’s going to be talking about this cultural intelligence framework that uses differences to deliver innovative solutions. And this is very timely for Squirrel and I. We were speaking at All The Talks, this online conference just yesterday. And one of the points we made in talking about agile conversations is that so often when you have a group of people trying to make a decision, when you think about what we espouse, is that differences that diversity really should be a strength for that group decision making, that the more views, the more backgrounds, the more we can bring to that conversation, the more choices we have and the better decisions we should make. But in practise, we tend to see those differences as a threat. So there’s kind of this dilemma there. And I think Mark you have some material for us that might help to address this. Can you tell us a bit about what is this framework of culture intelligence? And you told me there’s different dimensions or types of values and also capabilities. So tell us about the cultural intelligence framework.

Mark: I appreciate that. Yes, you’re absolutely right. And I think it is timely connecting with the current topic of conversation. But ultimately, culture intelligence is a science based research [with the] ability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts. The entire focus of the framework is to understand your own preferences and recognise that other people have preferences and a difference of perspective. Your ability to adapt to the different perspectives of all parties concerned and indeed leverage and embrace those differences as a way to drive truly innovative solutions. Cultural intelligence is something that is very much under utilised and given the current climate we’re in and I think we’ll continue to be moving forward. The notion of cultural intelligence, I think, is only going to become more and more valuable as time passes.

Jeffrey: That makes a lot of sense, I’m already intrigued as you were talking it reminded me of something we’ve discussed on this podcast before, which is the OODA loop, which is the Observe, Orient, Decide Act loop. And one of the elements I remember when I first read it and it talked about the orientation, which is where you’ve had some stimulus and now you’re trying to figure out how to adapt. Is that your orientation in part is influenced by your cultural background.

Mark: Yes.

Understanding and Identifying Cultural Values

Listen to this section at 03:19

Jeffrey: And it sounds like that understanding both your own background and how it impacts you and how different cultural values would impact you would be very helpful.

Mark: I think what what you’ve alluded to is something that has been around for, in various guises 20+ years or EQ and culture intelligence has done is given it a name, given it a language, and developed a framework that allows someone to move from aknowledging and recognising that they have differences between themselves and another path or an individual. And it’s given mode a way of being able to understand and then adapt to those differences.

Jeffrey: Right. And that’s the values. You identify your own values. It’s understanding where your cultural preferences are and then your capabilities as i understand it is , your ability to deal with others. Is that right? That’s the split between those two elements?

Mark: So a couple examples always helps, when we think of cultural values. There are 10 that are recognised across the globe. And as it happens, there are 10 clusters around the globe, culture clusters. We’ll park that notion for a moment. The mnemonic I use that helps me remember all 10 is ‘I AM CULTURE’. So you take the ‘I AM CULTURE” And funny enough, you can walk and talk through it. But out of ‘I am culture’. If we took ‘I’ which is the value of individualism through to collectivism, that’s something that we can all relate to, and particularly in any countries in Anglo-Saxon lineage. This idea of an emphasis of individual goals, individual rights. And that can be something that for well, actually, this is something for me personally. Which is a very strong preference of mine and how I communicate, how I think about driving solutions and how I see the success of a project or a negotiation. That idea would be very alien to someone at the other end of the ‘I’ spectrum who is much more of a collectivist. And that typically could be someone of what we refer to as Confucian, Asian of origin. So Thai or Japanese, South Korean, also some parts of Latin America. And of course, for them coming into a group and looking to drive a solution, they are looking at emphasis on the group goals and the maintenance of personal relationships. So in that example, you can see how we might have the same goal. But how I think about getting to it. This is how someone who is South Korean origin and, I stress these are stereotypes for a reason. We might start to consider how we go about doing it.

Jeffrey: Right.

Mark: Another great example, which, often times with people you go to the ‘M’ in ‘I AM CULTURE’.

Mark: Those are people who are very monochronic or linear in how they approach looking at a solution or a task. And that’s with, the emphasis on one thing at a time. And in fact, being very punctual and deliberate in taking one item or one point at a time and dealing with it almost in isolation. And again, that’s very Anglo-Saxon in preference. So those are countries like America, like the UK, New Zealand, Canada and also some other Germanic European countries, Germany being the obvious one and Austria. Now, if you had in the group, someone who is very at the other end of that ‘M’ category, very polychronic or non-linear. Well, you can see their emphasis is on multitasking and again they may well be more used to being around the agenda items or looking ahead to the tasks that you both in a particular project would deliver against a certain deadline. And again, the challenge for those who are running businesses, running teams is, well, how do I get the best out of all these individuals that have different ideas in, how they want to attack the problem or generate a solution. And that’s where the recognition and use of the capabilities comes in.

Squirrel: So the usual problem with this kind of thing is that it tends to overclassify and tends to over specify how people are in the classic one that many of our listeners may have encountered is the Myers Briggs whatever it is [Myers-Briggs Type Indicator], personality profile or something like that that says, if you’re an introvert, extrovert, something, and therefore you don’t like peace, you know, it gets it can get rather silly. So I’m sure that’s not what you intend. So how would I apply this? So I’m about to go negotiate with a very difficult client partner. I have a customer who has a client of theirs who has been very ineffective and has flip flopped multiple times. They’re a difficult client. How would I use this? Would I try to typify the people on the other side of the negotiating table? What kinds of things would I be doing that would help me to in that situation, for example?

Mark: It’s a very good question. So in that example we would, establish first and foremost in keeping with the idea of individualism through to collectivism and monochronic through to polychronic. Let’s say that they are individualists in their preference of how they’d like to negotiate with you. And how they view the success of the conversation or the discussion. And they’re very linear. They want one thing at a time. You’ve expressed that, they have been flip flopping in their decision making. That may well be down to the fact that they are juggling a lot of things all at once and are struggling themselves in dealing with because they like to do things one at a time. Let’s make that assumption.

Helping HealthCare

Listen to this section at 10:15

Squirrel: I think it’s fair because this is a group of people in healthcare and the people in health care, as you can imagine, are having a rather difficult time just now. And they tend to be quite linear in their thinking because they want to do things like differential diagnoses to figure out whether somebody has, I don’t know, COVID-19. That’s the sort of thing that they’re thinking. So that there would be a good example, then how would I use this? So let’s suppose we’ve typified them in that way. What would I do differently or how would I act? Well, how would that help me?

Mark: So in understanding that there are, when you’re thinking about the individual, there are things you can do which are.

Mark: I would try to as more tactical approaches to dealing with the individual. There are the capabilities that I was referring to before which give you a framework around which you can start to drive and negotiate with them in a way that gets things moving forward so cutting to the chase. Let’s assume that they are very linear in their process. Practically some of things you can do would be providing follow through and expediency wherever possible. If they are very linear and want to have certainty, providing that follow up with them and giving it in a timely fashion will build trust with that individual. If they are very linear in the way that they view the negotiation with you. Squirrel the other thing to do is thinking about deadlines which are probably so critical now given the particular example that you’re talking about. If there’s a deadline that can’t be met, it’s about being in solution mode for someone like that. So getting ahead of it and offering an alternative and sticking to that wherever possible that allows them to have a degree of certainty in dealing with you on an individual level that the people who aren’t very linear desperately look for, particularly in fact, especially when a conflict arises or there’s pressure points in a relationship or in a negotiation.

Squirrel: And is this the sort of thing that you’d bring up with them? Would you say to them ‘Hey, I think that you’re relatively linear in your thinking and therefore, let’s lay out the agenda ahead of time.’.

Squirrel: Actually, it’s entertaining because the client I have has a very non-linear person who’s actually in charge of the negotiation. So this may give some insight into why that negotiation is not going so well. So on my side. On the client side. There’s a very non-linear thinker. So that could be exactly the problem. But that person would then adjust her approach to be more linear. Is that what she would do or what would she do? First she would discuss it is what I think I’ve understood and say, hey, I think you’re kind of linear and I’m kind of not. So can we stick to this agenda? I’ll do my best to stick to it.

Mark: Yeah, and you may well, not be quite as direct and funnily enough that’s also one of the values, but you might not be as direct as that but you have got a flavour of how they work. For example, if they’re very haphazard in their approach and you can see that their attention is difficult and they seem to merge personal information with professional those are some of the indicators that they are non-linear. How would you as a linear person, deal with that individual it may be that you need to look at things in terms of their relational impact. Explain the relational impact for you and for them. If a deadline isn’t met or it’s continually pushed back then you may well have to offer them a menu of options in terms of the criteria that you need to have them hit. And within that, you’re allowing them to choose where flexibility can come. You’re explaining where flexibility can’t come in relation to each of those bullet points. And so you get a priority list of half a dozen issues that you’ve got on the table or bullet points topics you need to get through targeting to hit. And that is how you can utilise someone’s non-linear preference, to your benefit. You being someone who is very linear.

###Developing Cultural Inteligence Listen to this section at 14:22

Jeffrey: If I understand here Mark we are now, in the second part here of you’re demonstrating some of the cultural intelligence capabilities. Is that right? Because you’re saying Mark that having identified my values and the values of my counterparts. What are the capabilities that you have in mind that you’re applying right now as you’re generating this advice? And what are the other capabilities that we should be aware of as we’re looking to develop our cultural intelligence?

Mark: Great question. Because I’ve been so immersed in this last couple of years, I’m sort of doing it now in a subconscious part of the brain breaking it down. What I’ve done in the way I’ve asked those questions and utilising that information, I’ve broken down the capability into four areas. So, number one, not that there’s a particular starting point but where I personally prefer to start is thinking about someone’s drive. So the first capability I was at, this is what we call EQ drive and that ultimately is gauging the level of interest and that is internal interest or intrinsic interest they have in doing a deal and coming to an agreement and coming to the negotiation table. Then you look at questioning to understand their external interests. So it could be the tangible deliverables that they will benefit. I doing a deal with you and the other is eating a drive in terms of our ability to adapt to circumstances with which their face. That’s what that’s I mean, how efficient all day and how confident are they in effective in this very diverse situation that they find themselves in. So you’ve got all that going on when when you’re thinking about, see, do you drive? A lot of a lot of people will also use the word motivation by the table. Why are they speaking to me Squirrel specifically at this time? What are those internal and external drivers conference all day? And you’ve got to think about knowledge. So when you’ve got much of the drive, why are they that they need to think about? What knowledge do I have to them not? How can I understand? What is influencing their thinking? And there are four areas to consider that. One is the economic. So it’s and economic system in which they operate. You’ve then got some things which a little bit more nuanced. One of them is social search in linguistics. That’s about their language and communication norms. So particularly thinking about Squirrel’s, healthcare situation.

Mark: There’s gonna be some mnemonics, some lexicon and language that they use that may have a lot of cultural undertones, but we don’t really aware of. But we need to understand to be able to fully get a picture of exactly what it is we’re going to do when it comes to bringing our strategy together.

Mark: Mm hmm. And the third capability is what we call the CQ strategy. And that. In layman’s terms, where the real planning and preparation comes in, that’s around thinking very particularly about what are the variables at play. And so it comes back to my point about those variables as priorities. OK. In my plan here, I’ve got to stratagize with someone who’s non-linear. So let’s put these in an order of most important, down to the least important and maybe I’ll put a timeline against each of those as well. When we’re strategizing, this is the point at which if I was on Squirrel’s team, I’d want to utilise differences of perspectives in my team as a way of sense checking and putting together. That’s also part of the strategic E’s or capability is a real awareness of the plan we’re putting together here is something that I am putting together because of my bias and my preference, or have I really taken accounts of all parties and a particular or the customer or the client sitting opposite? And then last but by no means least. The final phase is the action or the implementation, capability. And that is something that I take very literally. To be literally how am I going to act in the room before, during and after the negotiation? The meeting with the counterpart and that comes down to the detail of minutiae of language.

Mark: An email that is going out to a diverse group. Is it because they’re very non-linear that the anger of an e-mail is that I’m going to send it prior to the meeting with an agenda. And it’s not going to read it or or I’ll have a phone conversation with them. That is a week before we’re going to have the meeting. And again, because they’re non-linear they process it at the time they understood, but they just got off and then another 10000 things when in fact, what I should do is have that pre meeting, if you like. Conference call an hour or maybe just a day before I have the main meeting where we’re gonna go through all the detail, things like Speech Act, which is about modifying the content and manner of how you communicate and e-mail versus phone call is an illustration of that. And then you’ve got your NVC, your nonverbal communication. And to be clear for those, you might not be not being patronising to your listening audience, but that’s about how you modify your verbal behaviour and your nonverbal behaviour. And if you’ve got someone who’s very nonlinear, it may be in the room ensuring you engage eye contact and locking in, perhaps even slowing down the rate of your sentence, because then they’re forced to lean in and listen to you.

Mark: And, you know, you’ve got them and their conscious brain is engaging. Forgive me for rabbiting on for several minutes, but.

Squirrel: That’s what we invited you here to do.

###In a Nutshell Listen to this section at 21:01

Mark: In a nutshell, I’m making it as simple as possible without oversimplifying it. That’s what capabilities are all about drive the idea of motivation and knowledge, amassing as much data as you can, both hard and soft data about what for them all their cultural norms and values. Then we’re looking at the strategy that’s about the idea of meta-cognition. So if knowledge is cognition that used the metacognition, again, it’s planned. It’s through sense, check it. And then as I’ve eluded to. Okay now lets implement our plan and look at how we’re going to execute in that negotiation room over the phone, virtually in an e-mail. And one final thing to note is that capabilities are cyclical. So you can see that one forms, the other informs, the other informs the next. And you can really drill down almost ad nauseum to get the kernel, the kernel of what it is you’re looking for.

Jeffrey: Right. So obviously, in the brief podcast we aren’t going to have a chance to do more than really just introduce this framework to people and we’ll have links in the show notes, where people can learn more. I did want to conclude you and I in discussing in on the podcast. We’re talking about the applicability of it to our audience. And I thought you had one story that would be worth covering, which was the place where you were able to bring this and help solve the problem that was happening with them, cross silo conflict. And I think this is pretty relevant for this audience, because very often that’s what people are seeing, you know, with a conference track that Squirrel speaking of yesterday, was DevOps or perhaps even was a DevSecOps. And this idea of cross silo collaboration and cross silo conflict is such a common thing that I think both Squirrel and I encounter. So can you tell us about that? That example and how culture intelligence helped you out?

Mark: Absolutely. What we found with this particular client is the cultural value, excuse me, that we focussed on for it was became apparent that time, orientation time was a real factor here. And what I mean by that is that the conflict was between the sales and marketing teams, as many people can relate to your character, work hand in glove. The sales team very typically were very short termism in their time orientation. Quarterly results, quarterly report and all of that drove. Ultimately, their verdict and success, but they were often hold to the marketing team. Who for this client had a five year strategy of how they were going to develop the brand and take the customer on a marketing journey.

Jeffrey: Right.

Mark: And so what you had was therefore a marketing team or a long termist in their view and also weren’t appropriate incentivised to adapt their preference. Time orientation to be more in line with the sales teams and vice versa. So what we suggested was input of someone, either a key stakeholder, if not the entire team on the marketing side of the business, being aided in those quarterly reviews and be targeted on a quarterly criteria that was much more closely aligned with the sales teams, quarterly criteria. And it was a question of then you could bridge that gap and they could understand how, you know, help me help you would be a relevant conversation. Likewise, the sales teams, rather than reacting to what the marketing team were doing, had much more scope. I shared information between the two parties, to understand the five year journey of the market that the marketing team were on and in turn could explain that and leverage that with customers in order to drive those sales. In short term, with a viewpoint to also looking at a long term relationship with a customer, that’s a very simple, broad strokes example from something I did in the last six months of how both parties were talking the same language but couldn’t understand each other. The cultural intelligence came in to be able to facilitate that change and drive an innovative solution for real internal problems. I know many, many of your listeners will have.

Jeffrey: Right. I really like that example because it is very concrete. You can see how you were living up to things, using the framework to kind of diagnose the differences in values and then plan what you could do differently to change that behaviour. In turn, what was friction between these two groups into collaboration and end up with improved execution, both in the short term and in the long term?

Mark: Yes, I mean, in a sentence, what it allowed us to do and what it allows teams to do is look for the commonalities. I didn’t even know they were there and cultural intelligence allows us to get there quicker and drive all that cost savings or or profits and benefits you otherwise might see go by the wayside. Because, as you said, right at the top of the podcast, often people look at inference. I just want to walk away from it. We’ll see it as negativity.

Jeffrey: Right. All right. Thank you very much for taking us through that. If any of our listeners would like to be in touch with you, we’ll go ahead and put a link in our show notes to you. Your LinkedIn profile. And I think you said that’s the best way for people to contact you.

Mark: Yes, I am, utilising LinkedIn day and night, so that would be great. Thank you very much.

Jeffrey: All right, fantastic. We’ll put some other show notes in. Some things you’ve told us at the Web site, CulturalQ. They’ll be in the show notes as well. And a couple Wikipedia links, one on cultural intelligence and intercultural competence. And hopefully that gives people more than enough information to follow up on. And if you have any questions at this, please do get in touch with Mark. And if you try applying this not only let Mark know, but let us know. We always like to hear from listeners when they try things. And here it goes. So thank you, Mark, for bringing it to us.

Indeed. If you want to get in touch with us. That’s a That’s us. And that’s where you can hear about our book, where you can find us on Twitter and e-mail and any other- Carrier pigeon. Anything you’d like to use. And we always like it when people click the subscribe button if they’ve got one in the app they’re using. Don’t do that while you’re driving. Wait till you’re finished. But if you’re out jogging, you know, pull aside for a second. Give us a quick subscribe, because we’re here every Wednesday and we have interesting folks like Mark on who have clever ideas like culture intelligence. Excellent. Well, thanks to both of you.

Mark: Thanks very much, gentlemen.

Jeffrey: Thank you.