In this episode, Katie talks with Linda Berlot about working with Global Time Spirits. They discuss the types of global time spirits that are showing up, the different ways we deal with these issues on a global scale, working with intercultural teams, and looking through the lens of different cultures.
Linda Berlot is a human development specialist with more than 19 years of experience in the fields of learning and development, strategic organizational change and team dynamics with a focus on creating alignment in the organizations she works with. She is of Italian origin and has been living in the United Arab Emirates and working in the Middle East since 2004. Linda is a Director of Faculty Development at CRR Global. She is the ORSC Partner for the UAE and is currently one of only 19 people globally to hold the license to train and deliver the RSI@work material in-house to corporations.
For over 18 years, CRR Global has accompanied leaders, teams, and practitioners on their journey to build stronger relationships by focusing on the relationship itself, not only the individuals occupying it. This leads to a community of changemakers around the world. Supported by a global network of Faculty and Partners, we connect, inspire, and equip change agents to shift systems, one relationship at a time
We believe Relationship Matters, from humanity to nature, to the larger whole.
Relationship Matters Season 3 Episode 4
Katie Churchman – KC
Linda Berlot – LB
[Intro 00:00 – 00:06]
KC – Hello and welcome back to the Relationship Matters podcast. We believe that relationship matters, from humanity to nature to the larger whole. In this episode I’m talking with Linda Berlot about working with global time spirits. We’re all constantly being impacted by time spirits and every country has its own time spirits, however some time spirits are universal such as isms of all kinds. So, how might we look at these time spirits through the lens of different cultures? Linda Berlot is a human development specialist with more than 19 years of experience in the fields of learning and development, strategic organizational change and team dynamics with a focus on creating alignment in the organizations she works with. She is of Italian origin and has been living in the United Arab Emirates and working in the Middle East since 2004. Linda is Director of Faculty Development at CRR Global and is the ORSC partner for the UAE and is currently only one of 19 people globally to hold the license to train and deliver RSI@work material in-house to corporations. In this episode Linda and I cover a variety of topics including the types of global time spirits that are showing up, the different ways we deal with these issues on a global scale, working with intercultural teams and looking through the lens of different cultures. It’s without further ado I bring you the brilliant Linda Berlot, talking about working with global time spirits.
KC – Linda, welcome to the Relationship Matters podcast, I’m delighted to have you on the show.
LB – Thank you Katie, I’m thrilled to be here, thank you for asking me to be here.
KC – So I know today we’re talking about working with global time spirits which is a topic that’s very close to your heart. And before we dive into that I’m wondering how did you find this work, what was your way in and then what created the passion for this subject in particular?
LB – Well I am Italian but I haven’t lived in Italy since I was 16 and even before that with my parents we travelled and I’ve lived in so many different places so, there’s always been a passion for, well for travelling for one, but also for understanding different cultures, cultures that were different to the one that I come from. So, there was that happening on the one side and the other side is that I come from an Italian family that is loud and brings with it all of those challenges so it’s no wonder that I’ve found myself working in a field that deals with relationships and how to be in better relationships, but also working in multicultural teams and a multicultural environment and looking at the impact of working in a multicultural world.
KC – Wow. So, you’re currently based in Dubai, that’s correct?
LB – I am, yes indeed. I came here from Hong Kong, I’ve been here now for the last 16 years working in the region. And, you know, Dubai has got over 270 different cultures that live here so we truly are a melting pot of different cultures, it’s the perfect place to live if this is what you’re interested in.
KC – Wow, that’s amazing, you must get absolutely every type of food going in Dubai.
LB – No.
KC – So, in terms of this term global time spirits, what does that mean to you?
LB – Well, time spirits is really a cultural ghost that is embedded and sustained systemically over many generations by the misuse very often by rank and privilege. Right? So what that means is that, for example, something happened generations ago and the trauma of that is passed on from generation to generation and it’s actually supported. So, you think about racism or any of the isms, if you think about some of the things that happened in the wars like China/Japan for one example but… or, Israel/Palestine, these are things that almost happened but are now systemically supported over generations and eventually they have an impact on the people who are going through that. And whether that situation has now ended, for example in Japan and China war, that was over in World War II but there are still impacts to how the Chinese and Japanese come together. You know, when they first meet that ghost is very present and impacts that.
KC – This is such an interesting topic. I heard the other day that we hold this trauma of generations before in our bodies and that took this to a whole other level because you realize now why certain people might react in certain ways because we’ve generationally trained in that way to survive in that way.
LB – Absolutely. The trauma of genocide or the trauma of going through something like that is passed across through the generations. You, three or four generations on you might not even relate to what happened, I think about in South Africa, the new generation, they call themselves the new generation, kids you know, they call themselves the new generation because they can’t relate to what happened. But the trauma’s still lives in and put in a situation it will be very much in the forefront and they will be reactive.
KC – So, global time spirits are, ultimately, taking that much wider systemic view of not just the globe but also past, present, future.
LB – Yes. Indeed.
KC – So, why do you think now, it does feel like a lot of these isms are showing up all over the world. Why do you think now they’re showing up? Or is it that they were always there and we’re finally paying them more attention?
LB – To be honest I think they’ve always been there but perhaps… every country has their own ghosts and their own time spirits. I think the world at the moment is so inflamed, you know, possibly because we’ve been locked in our houses for so long, we haven’t had social interactions. We’re burnt out, we’re exhausted, many people have lost their jobs so there’s a lot of fear, insecurity, uncertainty. You look at countries like India where people are dying by the thousands a day. There’s a lot of trauma and pain. So, if there’s a metaphor that comes to mind it’s it feels like all of us have paper cuts all over our bodies and we don’t see them, like I don’t see your paper cuts, but I come up and I bump up against you and instead of just saying ow or moving away there’s an overreaction to my bumping up against you. I think that’s what’s maybe happening in the world at the moment. We’re all in a space of discomfort, fear, pain, so it stimulates everything else that was under the surface.
KC – Do you think that’s been heightened by the fear of, say, the global pandemic and something that in a way unified us like nothing else has really before because we all in some way had to rewrite what life looked like to create this new normal as they’re calling it.
LB – I do think it’s unified us to a large extent and possibly more than ever before and I feel, because, and it’s just my opinion, this is really what I think, I just claim it as my own thing, is because there isn’t an apparent end in sight it feels endless and sometimes hopeless for certain countries and people. You know, last year we went into lockdown and it was, we rallied around each other, we supported each other in every way and it was painful, it was a painful process because there was fear, am I going to get sick, am I going to die, you know, am I going to lose my job, but there was a rallying. And now people have been working hard, I do a lot of work, the work that I do is with leadership teams and I’m seeing a level of burnout in all of the teams that I’m working with because they’re overworked, underpaid, they have less resources, expected to provide more, we’re working from home where our laptops are open 14 hours a day and we have all of this happening in our lives and it’s really stressful, it’s causing stress and burnout, I think.
KC – So, when you say the world is inflamed what do you mean by that?
LB – Well, what we were saying right now, right? I just feel that we are all more on edge. We are all more prone to feeling more pain if we’re exhausted and burnt-out and we have trauma and historical things, they’re much closer to the surface. I also think that in the face of this people are now fed up. People no longer want to put up with what they’ve had to endure, people no longer want to endure that anymore.
KC – So, I guess I’m wondering… with your unique insight with all these different cultures, particularly in Dubai, are you noticing that different cultures deal with this differently? Because right now I’m based in North America and I’m seeing certain patterns, certain trends, and I’m wondering what you’re seeing with your unique cultural global viewpoint?
LB – Yeah, it’s true. I would say the western world or certainly in cultures that speak very direct, the way that they will deal with an issue is to put the issue in the middle and they spend a lot of time wanting to clearly define it, understand it, put the correct words to it, they get inflamed if the words are wrong. And the person with the best definition and the most accurate words becomes the owner of that and with the more understanding has rank. And then somehow we get lost in actually dealing with the issue because we’re lost and talking about it and trying to dissect what the issue is rather than looking at how do we be together given that this issue is happening. In two thirds of the rest of the world where we don’t communicate directly but we have a more circular way of speaking we may never talk about the issue. For two thirds of the rest of the world it’s more important to build relational bridges which means that you and I, if we were standing on opposite sides of the divide, maybe now you and I individually can come together and I can look at you, you can look at me, and we can decide can we trust each other? Can we build a relational bridge that will help you and I move forward from the trauma that we’ve experienced generations ago. So, building these relational bridges is more important than talking about the issue because the issue feels too big to talk about. And so retribution doesn’t come in the shape of resolving the issue. Retribution actually comes in the shape of rebuilding our relationship and moving forward together. Only one day, if we feel there’s enough safety, enough trust, if we feel that our relationship is strong enough, maybe then we will re-look at the topic. Or, maybe never. We will just accept that. Now we’ve built our relationship and we can move forward so it’s behind us.
KC – So, just to clarify about building your relationships with other people in relation to the issue as opposed to directly working with the issue.
LB – Yeah, exactly.
KC – And when you spoke about those circular conversations, I’m intrigued by what that looks like in practice.
LB – Well, this is an example where we don’t talk about a topic or we kind of hint at it but we don’t speak to it directly. But if I have to give you bad news I won’t tell it to you straight, I won’t say Katie, I was driving your car, I had an accident. I might offer you some tea, some coffee or some cake, invite you out, I might ask you how you are, I might want to build the relationship between us and then the next time I see you I ask you how’s your family, how’s it going? And I might then allude to what happened. So, it takes a while before bad news is given.
KC – That’s interesting. When you said circular conversations I, for some reason, saw a group and it felt like already a more collective way of being together as opposed to an individualist this is my point. And I have noticed that from living in certain countries, how when one thing is said it’s said on behalf of the group. You don’t have to say it in your own words. Is that also a part of that circular conversation?
LB – That’s exactly what it is. In the western world we are more accountable to ourselves so we speak our own voice and we’re used to speaking up, where in relational cultures we’re accountable to the clan, the family, the company, the country, and so whatever we do is on behalf of or part of the system. Somebody was telling me about, a great example of what you were asking and it’s there was a death in the family. But, the person they were talking to was overseas so when the person died, I think it was a parent, died, they didn’t tell the person overseas that their parent had died. They said your parent has gone into hospital, they’re not very well, if I were you I’d start looking at flights. And then the next day they’d call and say you know, they’re not very well, book your flight and come over. And only when the person was there they’d say your parent passed away, unfortunately.
KC – That’s so fascinating because it is quite different, we are very direct. And, I’m wondering because I don’t think there’s a better or worse culture, there’s probably pros and cons to both, and so when you’re working with global teams, these global organizations where you’ve got teams and people all over the place, how do we work with that because I’m sure there’s a lot of bias towards one way of working.
LB – Yeah. For sure. So, one of the examples here that’s famous, we all laugh about it and we all did it when we first arrived, is in the western world you go to a meeting and you say good morning, hello hello, how’s everybody? And you immediately start speaking about business. Whereas here in the Arab world you go to the meeting and for the first 45 minutes, let’s say your meeting is an hour, for the first 45 minutes you’ll be talking about the tea and the coffee and how’s your family and how’s the weather, how’s your family at home, is everybody safe? You know, you’ll be having a conversation whereas the western partners will be thinking let’s get on with business, not knowing that actually the business is being done because the more relational cultures that live here are actually assessing can I trust you, is there an alignment in values and can I work with you? In the last 15 minutes they will make up their minds and say you’ve got the business and business, you know, if we give each other our word, of course contracts are important but if it’s in the relationship it’s solid. Whereas the western world needs everything written down on a contract, wheras the relational cultures think well a piece of paper, a contract can just be torn, it can be just changed. Whereas it’s in our word, it’s in our bond. It’s a bond.
KC – Wow. That’s so fascinating because it does make me think unconsciously they’re creating a DTA, a design team alliance around how they want to be together by really going in by that relational standpoint as opposed to more of a transactional let’s get the job done.
LB – Yeah. I love what you’re saying Katie because there is, unless there’s awareness, there is the judgement that different is wrong. My way is better and therefore you are wrong. And actually, different is not wrong, different is just different. So, if we can ourselves understand that well I have my own culture and I’m not necessarily talking about nationality but it’s part of it, I have my own culture, you have your culture, so instead of me above you or you above me, how about we create a third cultural space, which in ORSC we call the third entity, right, a third cultural space which includes both of our ways of being. So, when I’m working with teams, what we work to do is to help them identify what are the different world views that live in the team and then how do we create behavioral contracts that make sure they take all world views into consideration? So, a behavioral contract that is honorable, a behavioral contract that is life affirming and a contract that is fair and just.
KC – I love what you’re saying because you’re right, it’s not wrong, it’s not right, it’s just different. And I’m really curious in that space, I always feel there’s something to learn and is always wonderfully surprising that wow, they do it that way and it works really well, maybe I can pull a tiny bit and bring it back for my team and the way I work and I guess what I’m wondering is given now we’re almost entirely virtual, if there are different challenges in play. Particularly given the west focusing on the extrovert and individualism. I’d say they’re probably prioritized higher than the introvert and the collective intelligence. How have you managed to work with those sort of virtual challenges now in the space?
LB – Well in the same way because it’s true, the extroverts will be the first to speak up, but if you are a facilitator it’s really important to hold curiosity and educate the system that you’re working with to be curious and to really come from a place of empathy. But you, as the facilitator, will need to role model that. So, making sure that you are hearing from different cultural groups if you are seeing that. And this is also true when we are dealing with the time spirits and the different cultural time spirits that has, every country has their own cultural time spirits, right, so the only way that we can navigate those waters because it’s tricky, right, when you go to a new country, I don’t know what their pain is and I don’t feel qualified to speak to it. But what really works is just to be brave and have the courage to be curious and curiosity is the antidote to judgement and fear, right. So, sit in the fire, ask questions and be curious and educate yourself.
KC – I think we need that as a bumper sticker or a t-shirt, curiosity is the antitheist to judgement and fear. It’s so interesting when we think of that lands work exercise and how we start it with that metaphor of being a good tourist. And it’s so interesting that when we are tourists we’re quite often in a good, open, curious space, not all tourists, we all know those people, we’ve all bumped into them, but in general we’re in a different mindset. Whereas when it comes to our day-to-day lives and interacting with different cultures it seems like we’re quite often in a more closed space and so how can we bring more of that, that curiosity as you say, to inform how we work going forward?
LB – Well, exactly, and I think this is the gift of a globalized world, it’s that now, well, pre and post Covid, you know we travelled so much more and the Millennials and the younger generation expect Expat placements in their jobs whereas before a person worked for the same country for 20 or 30 years and that was looked upon as favorable, now that doesn’t happen anymore and now the global world, you mentioned the virtual world earlier, I mean we run courses now and running on a virtual platform has opened up the space completely. So all of a sudden we have all of our groups are multicultural and it’s a melting pot and it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful. If you have the ability to be self-aware about what your innate biases are and be able to self-manage, but also to be curious. I think over and above that now, going back to the pain and the fact that the world is so inflamed, it’s more important than ever to sit in empathy. To have huge empathy when listening, when we’re asking questions and we listen to people share their experiences. Have empathy and understand that although it may not be my experience, accept and hear that it’s your experience. And I understand how going through that must be painful even though I can’t necessarily relate to the pain. There’s a real need to come from a place of empathy.
KC – There was a Ted talk I watched the other day and it was something around empathy doesn’t mean agreement and I thought that was quite a powerful place because there are some people you really struggle to empathize with because you really don’t agree with their point of view but what this Ted talk was really trying to land on was the idea that you’re empathizing with their circumstances and what they’ve come with and how they were brought up for them to have that point of view, and it’s not necceserily you saying that’s right or wrong, it’s just empathy from a space of well I can see you as you are and I respect that you come with all of that, and it’s a different kind of, I mean I guess it gets you to alignment in the same way we talking about in coaching, as opposed to agreement. It’s a deeper kind of connection.
LB – Absolutely. I mean that’s really beautifully said, I can’t agree with you more. Demonstrating understanding for the position you find yourself or the way you are in your land doesn’t mean I agree. It’s just that I have the ability to suspend my own judgement and perhaps I have the ability to step in at some level and be able to understand and just hold empathy for you in that space, but I can hold a totally different view. And it’s hard to do, right, especially if we’re fixed in our opinions and ideas. You know, I don’t have to agree with you in order to understand your point of view and understand how you may be feeling in that space and have empathy for that.
KC – Mmm, it’s very hard to do but it’s a super power and I wonder if more of us can do this what that might mean for the world.
LB – I think, yes absolutely. And the other superpower is understanding our own rank and privilege, whatever the topic might be, and understanding how we bring that rank and privilege into a space just by being who we are. So the ability just to be aware of that and know that it’s not personal and it is personal and just to be able to sit with the impact of these time spirits and these ghosts in our wider world is very important, it’s a super power.
KC – Mmm. And it’s such a powerful point, Linda, because I do think, when it comes to these isms, it feels triggering for a lot of people. It’s something that Faith mentioned on one of her podcasts around the idea, you know, I don’t identify as being a racist at all and yet as a white woman I bring in certain things to a room and that is just what it is and it’s not necessarily anything I’ve done deliberately, you were saying offline it’s not personal and it is personal.
LB – That’s a beautiful example. So imagine having the awareness of, as a white woman, what you bring to the room, and being able to just not be defensive but just be able to sit and hold the pain that’s in the room when we’re speaking to our friends of a darker color and just to be able to listen to their experience and know that it’s, of course it’s personal and it’s not personal to me that I can empathize with your experience and I know that some of that is triggered just by me walking in the room. Or behaving a certain way.
KC – So, I guess I’m wondering, because obviously we’re coaches and the community listening to this are primarily coaches, and I’m thinking sort of more broadly, when we’re working with our clients and organizations, how can we create enough safety for this greater cultural intelligence to merge. Because I imagine for many people it’s crossing a lot of edges.
LB – Absolutely, I feel very vulnerable even now talking about it, I’m thinking oh my goodness, what did I say wrong, what words did I use wrong and who’s going to have a different opinion. So, it’s very vulnerable to talk about and I think it’s our duty to talk about it. It’s our role to speak out when we see things that are unjust and not just be quiet. I think it’s our role to be curious and inform ourselves, educate ourselves, have as many conversations as possible to learn what are those places that we hold that privilege and how it impacts other people. That if we’re going into different cultures listen, ask questions and have as much empathy as possible. So, for me, it’s a cultural intelligence when I can expect that I am me without any guilt or shame, I don’t have to give anything up, but I also accept you are you and you don’t have to give anything up and together we can create, or we can align in a third cultural space and we can create a way forward that involves both of us so that neither of us feels stepped over and both of us feel important to the process.
KC – Intercultural intelligence, I love that term and that’s definitely something we could do with more globally I believe.
LB - I think so too, I think we look at culture very often as a nationality but now, I mean take myself for example, or even you. My country of origin is Italy, I haven’t lived there since I was 16 years old, I’ve lived in so many other countries, I’ve visited so many more, I’m no longer a pure Italian from Italy, if you will. When I go home they call me ‘la straniera’ which is ‘the stranger’. And yet when I go back to Italy there’s always a reconning that I have, it’s almost like oh wow, that’s why I do the things that I do. But of course, every culture that you live in, every culture that you visit, you adopt some of their… so you expand as a human being. So I think, culture, it’s important to look at culture not just as a nationality standpoint but also from an intercultural standpoint and interpersonal standpoint. We all have our own cultural map.
KC – Yeah. Oh, I love that. I’ve always identified as a citizen of the world, ever since I started living in different countries, and even countries say going from the UK to America, you’d think because we share a language it’s kind of similar – absolutely not the case. And I always find myself so curious and as I was saying before in that learning state, almost heightens the everyday reality of life. But I’m wondering how we can empower our clients who aren’t that way inclined because I know that’s partly my family, my up brining, like yours, it lead me to being fascinated in cultural diversity. But for those clients or people who aren’t so excited by it, perhaps afraid of that difference, that diversity, how can we empower them when it comes to these big topics and these isms as we were mentioning earlier?
LB – I think that’s a great question and I really think it’s education, it’s our role to support our clients, not make them feel wrong just because they’re afraid or they may be at an age with all of these things. But also support them to see where are we cultural critics? Where are we judging that is different as wrong? And then how do we swap that as being a cultural learner? How do I be my curious about that which is different, rather than hold a judgment. And it’s a process. I think the more, the more aware we are the more we are present in these types of conversations and when we create these conversations for our clients the better we all become. I’m learning every day from my clients, honestly, just what I think aha, I learnt that, and then of course life happens and it bumps me on the nose and my clients teach me every day, every time that I work with them there are new things that come up.
KC -Wonderful. I love that cultural critic vs cultural learner. And it is hard to hold that cultural learner space especially when you’re somewhere for a long time and you feel as if the way we do it back there or over there is better. It’s hard to stay curious! How do you lean into that when you feel really on an edge with a certain topic.
LB – I travel a lot. Not now that Covid is here, obviously, but I have some great troubles. It’s like when you go to Spain, in Spain and in Italy too by the way, especially in summer, they eat really late. Like I’m used to eating at 6 o’clock, when I go there I’m well grumpy because I think why can’t we just find some food. And it’s then about reminding myself that I can always go back home. I don’t have to live here, I don’t have to adopt this culture as my own, I can go back home but while I’m here to explore well, what’s good about eating at 10 o’clock at night. Well, you know, I can either socialize before, I can do some work before, maybe, who knows, I can have a little snooze before, and then when we go to dinner and relax and I come home and have a good night’s sleep because mornings also start later.
KC – Oh I love that.
LB – And it is like that. I remember the first example I had of culture shock I think yeah it was possibly one of the times I was in Bangkok and I was blonde, had curly blonde hair and everyone else was, I was so different to everybody else and everybody was staring at me and sometimes even coming up and trying to touch my hair. There was so much fascination with it. And I locked myself in the hotel room for three days before I could come out again and I really had to cross my own edge and remind myself I’m here by choice, nobody is making me, I’m here because I want to learn and I’m curious and that it won’t always feel so strange.
KC – Yeah I mean if the last year has taught us anything it’s that we’re masterful adaptors. When we’re thrown into challenge we seem to adapt quite quickly, I don’t think any of us expected to be locked down for so long and to adapt in this way for so long and yet, here we are. And some companies are thriving in it.
LB – Absolutely, and when everything opens up again and the flights will take off we will then have to cross an edge to go to that again, face to face.
KC – We’re going to have to start wearing real trousers again, I’ve been in yoga leggings for the past year.
LB – That too.
KC – Well Linda, I’m aware that it’s almost 6.50 where you are so it’s way past your dinner time, we’re almost in Spanish territory so I’ll let you go but it’s been an absolute delight to have you on the show today.
LB – Thank you Katie, I’ve loved talking to you about the topic, it’s a topic that’s very close to my heart so I’m always very happy to talk about it, thank you for inviting me.
KC – I can’t wait to get you back on the show very soon Linda, take care.
LB – I look forward to that, thank you Katie, have a wonderful day.
[Music outro begins 32:14]
KC – Thanks to Linda Berlot for that fascinating conversation around working with global time spirits. My key takeaways are as follows. Different is not wrong, different is juts different. If we can understand that we have our own culture and other people have their own culture we can then look towards creating a third cultural space that can include both ways of being. What are the different world views present and how can we create behavioral contracts that consider many different cultural views? In the Western world issues are dealt with directly, issues are put out in front and then time is spent trying to define and understand the issue. Quite often with this approach people get lost in dissecting the issue and forget about how they want to be with each other around the issue. However, for two thirds of the world who don’t speak directly but communicate in a more circular way it’s more important to build relational bridges rather than talk about the issue. Retribution doesn’t come in the shape of resolving the issue but rather building our relationship and moving forward together. Only when the relationship is strong enough can the issue be discussed. Learn to sit in empathy when listening to another’s experience. Although it may not be my experience I can accept and hear that it’s your experience, even though I cannot necessarily relate to the pain. Demonstrating understanding doesn’t mean you agree, it just means you can suspend your judgement for that moment to hold empathy for another in a different space. Inter-cultural intelligence is when I can accept me without guilt or shame, I don’t have to give anything up, and that you are you and you don’t have to give anything up. Together we can align in a third cultural space and create a way forward in a way that makes both of us feel important and part of the process. Curiosity is the antidote to judgement and fear. I’m delighted to announce that Linda will be back on the show for another episode in Season 3 around intercultural intelligence. For over 18 years, CRR Global has accompanied leaders, teams, and practitioners on their journey to build stronger relationships by focusing on the relationship itself, not only the individuals occupying it. This leads to a community of changemakers around the world. Supported by a global network of Faculty and Partners, we connect, inspire, and equip change agents to shift systems, one relationship at a time. We believe Relationship Matters, from humanity to nature, to the larger whole.
[Outro 35:00 – End]