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Adapting Your Behavior Across Cultures

1 Minute Intro: Global Dexterity

Q: What is global dexterity?

A: Global dexterity, a term coined by Brandeis International Business School (IBS) Professor Andy Molinsky, is the ability to adapt your behavior within a foreign culture without losing yourself in the process. In other words, it’s about fitting in without stepping too far outside your personal comfort zone.

Q: Why does it matter?

A: To succeed in the global economy, you will find yourself in situations where you must change how you communicate or approach a task – whether it’s asserting your ideas in a meeting, motivating and leading others, delivering bad news, interviewing or simply presenting a business card. However, it’s not enough just to know how to be effective across cultures – you need to put your knowledge of that country’s cultural code into action.

Q: How do you know who should adapt to whom?

A: Generally, you’ll be the one to adapt to environments you immerse yourself in. But in situations where more than one cultural code may apply – say, if two people from different countries meet for lunch in a country neither is familiar with – the concept gets a little trickier. In this case, it’s best to default to the “Global Business Code,” which is a blend of many cultural styles rolled into one. Here’s what you need to know in more detail.

Q: What steps can be taken to successfully flex your behavior across cultures?

A: The real challenge in developing global dexterity is the discomfort and frustration you may feel in adapting to a new way of communicating, on top of the stress of first learning the new cultural rules. To meet this challenge, use the analogy of acting. Learn your script or the rules of how to behave; rehearse by trying out the new behavior and customizing it to your comfort zone; and finally, dress rehearse for the big performance, practicing in realistic situations similar to the “target” situation you’re working toward.

Learn more about Professor Molinsky’s field research and his suggestions on developing your global dexterity on his website. Interested in launching your global career? Advance your timeline with our Accelerated MA program in international economics and finance in just one additional year after graduation. Priority deadline is March 15th

Andy Molinsky is a professor of International Management and Organizational Behavior at Brandeis International Business School. He is the author of Global Dexterity (HBR Press, 2013) and his new book Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence (Penguin, 2017).

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