Relationship Matters

Ep.15 Leading in a Multicultural World

October 06, 2021 CRR Global Season 3 Episode 15
Relationship Matters
Ep.15 Leading in a Multicultural World
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Linda Berlot is back on the show discussing leadership in a multi-cultural world. In a globalized world, where multi-cultural teams are the norm, it is becoming ever more essential for leaders to develop intercultural skills. Intercultural intelligence is the ability to assist culture at a pragmatic, personal and organizational level. Across the episode, Katie and Linda explore the definition of intercultural intelligence, the different world views, how to hear from marginalized voices and how to develop more intercultural intelligence in teams. 

Linda Berlot is Director of Faculty Development at CRR Global and ORSC Partner for the UAE. She 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.

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 15




KC – Katie Churchman 

LB – Linda Berlot


[Intro 00:00 – 00:06] 


KC – Hello and welcome back to the Relationship Matters podcast. We believe Relationship Matters, from humanity to nature to the larger whole. I’m your host, Katie Churchman, and in this episode I’m excited to be welcoming back Linda Berlot to discuss leading in a multicultural world. In a globalized world where multicultural teams are the norm, it’s becoming ever more essential for leaders to develop inter cultural skills. Intercultural intelligence is the ability to assist culture at a pragmatic, personal and organizational level. Across the episode we explore the definition of intercultural intelligence, the different world views, how to hear from marginalized voices and how to develop more intercultural intelligence in teams. Linda Berlot is Director of Faculty Development at CRR Global and ORSC Partner for the UAE. She 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. So without further ado I bring you Linda Berlot. 


KC – Linda, it’s wonderful to have you back on the show for our part three of our series we’ve been recording together. 


LB – Hi Katie, it’s wonderful to be back here talking about a topic that I am so passionate about, so thank you for asking me. 


KC – Yeah so today we’re talking about leading in a multicultural world which feels, now more than ever, to be such an important topic to be focusing on. So I’m wondering if we can start by talking about what even is intercultural intelligence? 


LB – That’s a great question. So, when we previously used to think about intercultural intelligence or cultural intelligence we really used to think about nationalities, so how does an Italian behave, how does a Japanese behave or something like that. But in a globalized world where people are travelling more and more, and more and more we’re finding teams are multicultural, it’s becoming very important to develop intercultural skills. Now intercultural intelligence is the ability that we have to assist culture at a pragmatic, personal and organizational level. So we look at culture pretty much like we do personality. There are loads of assessments there that asses personality and so now we’re able to do the same with intercultural intelligence. 


KC – Oh that’s wonderful, it almost reminds me sort of how the third entity allows you to see the personality of a family or a team and this is that even wider lens for the culture as a whole. 


LB – Absolutely because you imagine, so if we take the Psychometric tools DISC or Myers Briggs, they give an accurate picture of who I am and how I behave. Now there are various tools and I, off the top of my head I think about some of the tools that Knowledge Works have developed, the intercultural tools like world views of 12 dimensions, and we start to see, because we live and travel so much out in the world, that we are no longer what we were when we were born into a certain place. So, for example, take an Italian such as myself, right? I was born to Italian parents in Zambia, I grew up in Italy so I lived most of my life, well, my young life, in Italy, and then after 16 years old I moved and lived in so many different countries so as an Italian I am not the same as an Italian who was born and raised in Italy throughout their life. So now my culture becomes not just national but it is personal to me. 


KC – When you were speaking there I had the picture in my mind of a suitcase with lots of different stickers on it from all those different places and I imagine it’s the same, I think we mentioned this last time, about when you travel within a country itself there’s all these different stickers you could say that you pick up along the way, so you’re never really just one thing, even if you’ve not travelled as much as you have, you’re still picking up all these parts that probably inform who you are and who you be in the world. 


LB – Absolutely and that’s the case, so I think my suitcase is always brightly colored, and for for example my latest ones are bright yellow but they’re no longer yellow because they’ve got all these stickers on them so you absorb and grow in every country, in every culture that you come up against. 


KC – That’s wonderful. And I guess I’m wondering then, why do you think it’s important to develop intercultural intelligence, particularly when it comes to teams and organizations? 


LB – Personally I believe that the ability to manage change and the ability to develop our intercultural intelligence is a 21stcentury skill that we need in this globalized world. You know, it’s very seldom that you find a monocultural society where there are very commonly understood norms. It’s more common these days to find that the teams that you work with are multicultural and very often global. And so it’s important to, first of all to see what my impact is on a team, what are my perceptions, how do I challenge those, but also how do I look through my lens and be able to see past that to the different cultures and not automatically assume that they are wrong. It’s important for us to get along and find ways to communicate, to trust, to collaborate in ways that support the diversity that exists in a multicultural team. 


KC – Hmm, that’s such a good term, monoculture, because I guess that really doesn’t exist in many parts of the world anymore, especially with the influence of the internet and what we see on TV, we’re always being influenced by other cultures, whether we appreciate it or not or acknowledge it or not. So I’m wondering, how do we go about starting to develop more of this intercultural intelligence? Particularly as leaders in teams. 


LB – So I live in Dubai where it’s a melting pot of different cultures. If you’re a leader in this part of the world and you want to stay, because if you don’t want to stay that’s easy. But if you want to stay and be successful, a crash course in intercultural intelligence happens whether you like it or not. I would say the first place to start is inner self-awareness as a leader, start challenging your own perceptions and your own beliefs and start noticing the diversity that lives in your team. How are people behaving around trust, around communication, around time and meetings, these kind of topics, you know? Ask questions, get curious. I think we don’t as human beings ask enough questions. We don’t get curious enough. But also there’s a lot of literature, there are many courses that we could take, inform yourself and educate yourself and then do the same for your team. 


KC – You just made me think about something I came across the other day about being interesting is by being interested. And I was so aware of this at a party recently where somebody was just talking at me and I don’t think they asked a single question, and I guess as a leader it’s the same. To be interesting, to be an inspiring leader, you have to be interested first. 


LB – Absolutely, and to go get curious, I think when I was first here, I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures, different beliefs, probably because my family travelled since I was very young and so I was always dumped into different cultures and I had to learn and so when I came here I was fascinated by the different cultures that were in my team and I remember that we would have, periodically we would just have lunches together, everybody, and everybody would bring their national food and share it with all of us and talk about it so we would start to learn about each other’s different foods and how do we view religion, how do we view family, and so being curious and listening to the different cultures speak and really rejoicing in the diversity that we have and believing that we’re stronger because of the different cultures and world views that we have on the team. 


KC – That’s a wonderfully simple way of starting that conversation around intercultural intelligence, particularly for a team where it hasn’t necessarily happened historically, to just bring in maybe once a week a different person’s favourite lunch perhaps, from perhaps their home country, how wonderful, what a brilliant way of bonding in a different way. 


LB – Well, I’m Italian and it was always going to go towards food. 


KC – I love it, food motivation. I think most of us are so food’s a good place to start, I think. 


LB – Teams that eat together stay together. 


KC – I love that. So I think we touched on the social structures on our last podcast and I was just wondering if you could recap those for our listeners, the different social structures that show up. 


LB – So, there are different world views and the world view is really a way of looking at the world and my own world view is based on my religion, my nationality, my culture, the way I was raised, my education, how we were raised in our families. So all of these impact the way I look at the world and there is no right or wrong way and we have all of these ways within us, so nobody is ever 100% one or 100% the other. And we have strengths or preferences, so the first one is power/fear which is a very, a hierarchical culture. So if you think about some of the hierarchical cultures where, for example, we learn to respect power. So we look up the ladder and we learn to align ourselves to that which is stronger and we, our ambition is to keep moving up so that we are more powerful. Everybody learns both to be in power and to be lead or dominated depending on how steep the power dynamic is. So it’s hierarchy and at its best it can be very empowering, it can lead a country and organization, or at its extreme it can be dominance and dictatorship. The second one is honour/shame. Honour/shame is where we are not accountable to ourselves, we are accountable to the family, the clan, the country, the company that I work too, and everything that I do or don’t do is a reflection of that clan. Everything that we do is, it’s important to save face for that clan or company and it’s important to stay within the relationship. These are relationship cultures. Communication and power fear is very indirect up and direct down, in relationship cultures also it’s not direct communication as indirect, it’s more circular. And then you’ve got guilt/innocence cultures where we are taught to be accountable to ourselves, we look at what’s right and what’s wrong rather than what’s at the relationship. We’re very rules driven, if you think about some of the law structures in the Western world, there’s very much a right/wrong perspective. You know children are taught from a very young age to do right or wrong because that’s what’s important, whereas in power/fear and honour/shame wrong doesn’t really come into it, it’s like what is the honourable thing to do? 


KC – Mm, it’s so interesting. I guess I’m wondering, because I mention them as social structures and your world views and are those two things inextricably combined or intertwined because they govern the way society operates and they govern the lens that you’re looking through? 


LB – I think so because you can look at those, we never want to generalize, but you can sort of look at, for example, the Western world is predominantly guilt/innocence. I’m reluctant to paint the entire of the Western world with one brush because no person is just one. When I think about myself in Italy, we live in the Western world so we’re guilt/innocence but there’s a healthy dose of honour/shame and all of that that lives in Italy too. So, yes, I’d say it’s both societal, national, as well as personal, if those are words, yeah. 


KC – Hmm. That’s such a great point. There’s a wonderful book I’ve been reading by Michael Gelfand called Rule Makers Rule Breakers, it’s all about tight/loose cultures and she mentions exactly that, how some cultures that are predominantly tight say, for example, Japan, they actually have some loose parts for example karaoke with your boss. You know, so it shows up in very different ways but it’s not all one or all the other and people within those cultures might be very different, and she was similar, she didn’t want to paint certain cultures or certain countries with a brush, but having an awareness of what the trends are can be very helpful. 


LB – I’ve been living here in the UEA for 16 years and I remember, just maybe a few weeks ago, one of my team members said something to a client and it really triggered me. I remember saying to them you know, we deal with our dirty laundry in house, we don’t reveal that out to the outer world and as I said that I thought wow, I’ve really stepped into the honour/shame, it’s become part of me, as part of me as all the other parts are because, you know, we expand and we grow. 


KC – That’s so interesting, sort of noticing that in yourself because I’m sure initially that was quite different for you to jump into? And now it’s part of who you are as Linda with the stickers on your suitcase. 


LB – Right! 


KC – All those stickers. I’m wondering, what are some of the challenges then in working with these different world views, these different social structures, when it comes to sort of particularly multicultural teams, when there’s lots of these showing up on it. 



LB – And they definitely will. I think the gift, the gift of living in a multicultural world where, for example, I coach leadership teams where they’re all multicultural, but even as a leader, so the gift of living in a world like this is that you learn so much and you expand so much, and you know when you’re working with a multicultural team there’s so many gifts that live in there. But of course there’s the opposite side, there can often be conflict around the different ways that we look at certain topics, for example time. Some cultures are on time, some cultures are through time. Time is a perspective and that can cause conflict, or the way that we communicate, so some cultures speak very, very directly, others don’t like that, they would prefer to take a more general, circular approach to communication. But also things like meetings. So some cultures, my door is closed, it means the meeting involves only me and the person in that room. But other cultures are more inclusive. So you have a more inclusive culture, you can walk into my office even though the door is closed and say don’t worry, I’ll just wait over here until you’re finished. Or trust, for example, we look at trust in very different ways. Some cultures believe that trust is to be earned, so it takes a  while but then once we trust each other that’s it, it’s a bond for life. Other cultures give trust immediately until it’s broken. All of these different ways of looking at the world and all of these topics creates, or has the potential to create, conflict. 


KC – I just want to share with the listeners how much you’re beaming as you’re saying this, you really do delight in the difference, it’s wonderful to see, you love it and you’re fascinated by it. And I’m just wondering, you mentioned how your upbringing, your background, informed that but what helps you to stay in that delight in the difference space? 


LB – I think when I was growing up I didn’t have the words to describe culture or intercultural intelligence, I just knew that every time we lived in a difference place or visited a difference place I was thirsty, I was so curious and thirsty to learn more and I think there are many reasons why I live here in the UAE, one of the strongest reasons is because we’re so multicultural, I absolutely am fascinated by the diversity that lives between us and the gift that this brings to our every single day in life. From the moment that we leave our front door we’re exposed to different culture. In the elevators going down to the car or if you jump in a taxi or if you go to one of the shops, we’re constantly surrounded by diversity. And I guess for me it’s a gift, it’s the most wonderful gift that you can have. 


KC – That’s such a beautiful example because it doesn’t mean you have to travel the world and go to all these faraway places, it’s actually all there on your doorstep, you just have to look up and ask questions, and get curious. 


LB – Absolutely. Now it doesn’t mean that just because I love it it’s not challenging for me sometimes. I mean sometimes I find myself both when I lead a multicultural team or work with one, I find myself, because I can see the intercultural knots as they happen, I can see they almost light up like golden string in front of my eyes, and sometimes I find myself, I feel like I’m doing mental gymnastics trying to say something in different ways until it’s understood or, you know, trying to facilitate a conversation between two people who are so rooted in their own cultures, that it gets challenging. So helping teams to talk about things like respect, for example, what does respect mean? Because it means different things to different people or, yeah, all of those topics. Or how do we do conflict? I learnt very quickly when I came to this part of the world that we can be angry, you can show your emotion, but you can’t overstep in terms of respect so, because then the conflict would escalate. And so now I think rightly so, I can be emotional, I can be angry, but I can’t be rude or offensive, whereas in the Western world it’s ok for us to pull a sign and shoot off a little word here and there, it’s ok, and then we dust each other off, shake hands and off we go again. But here it’s not ok. That’s not ok because you cause me, if you disrespect me you cause me to be embarrassed and you cause me shame. And so that’s not ok. 


KC – It makes me think how interesting it would be to look at these different world views just through, I don’t know, the lens of how we drive our cars and how we operate when there’s lots of traffic. I’m sure they show up in all of these simple ways in our lives and how we get angry or we don’t in these situations. 


LB – Well for example when you get a fine, or anything, you know, in a relationship culture you can kind of negotiate and beg and plead… and work on it, maybe the policeman will be nice and you know. But in guilt/innocence cultures no, not at all, it’s right/wrong, if you’ve done wrong you have to accept your wrong. You accept your wrong, nobody would even consider negotiating. 


KC – Yeah. That’s very true, that’s very interesting. It’d just be so fascinating to see it in all of those different small ways because it shows up in obviously the big ways and in teams and organizations, but also just in our everyday lives when it comes to how we eat and how we drive and how we hang out with our families. 


LB – Absolutely, how we order off the menu. Here in Dubai it’s a very much a service culture, but apart from that we step into relationship with the person taking our order and if there’s scrambled eggs, is it possible to put chillies on my scrambled eggs? And they might say no and that’s ok, but I have the liberty to ask off the menu and get into relationship and have a conversation about that. I went too, my sister lives in Switzerland and I did the same once in Switzerland and my sister looked at me and said who do you think you are ordering off the menu? And I realised well of course, the right thing to do is to order what’s on the menu. 


KC – That’s so brilliant. I remember moving here and I’m a vegetarian so that was kind of strange to North Carolina which is sort of BBQ territory, and asking for is there a vegetarian option and being offered chicken, it was just so funny and you do realise that you get used to a certain style or a way and it’s respected in some cultures and just completely bizarre to others. 


LB – Yeah, absolutely. 


KC – So I guess I’m wondering, sort of coming back to our team focus, how can we hear from some of the marginalized voices in these really diverse, multicultural teams because I’m sure some voices get rank or privilege whether they realise it or not and some voices don’t. 


LB – That’s a really good question and as a leader that is one of the things that you want to be really mindful of. So, in a guilt/innocence culture where I’m accountable to myself and I have a direct way of speaking I will speak up and share my opinions freely. But in the power/fear dynamic where I’m not used to speaking up and speaking directly I may not speak up and if there is a little bit of honour/shame there I may not say that I don’t know what to say because that will cause me to be embarrassed, so as a leader to actively create safety and actively encourage voices to speak without a reaction, so it’s important to create safety and that as a leader that you use your rank and privilege to empower and give life to the team and to all team members, you know, very empowering, life affirming. I always think power/fear, you know, our privilege, if it’s used consciously it can be like a soothing balm. If it’s used unconsciously it will create shut down and revenge and all sorts of things or reactions. 


KC – It’s making me realize how fundamental this work is because we talk a lot about building trust and trust being the foundation but how can we do that if we’re coming from world views when it comes to trust, it’s probably not going to work out very well. 


LB – Well, I would say the best thing to do is to start the conversation with the team and too… well we’re moving away from how do I do trust and how do you do trust to how do we want to do trust in the team, what will serve both me and you? So in intercultural terms we say we create a third cultural space. In ORSC it’s the third entity and so it’s the team’s entity, right. So creating conversation, accepting that every voice has value, that there’s wisdom to every single voice and we don’t want to marginalize any. So how do we create a team culture that includes all of our cultures? Makes all of us feel comfortable? 


KC – Mmm. It’s almost like getting a blueprint, this assessment you’ve mentioned a couple of times, Knowledge Workx, you kind of get a blueprint of really what’s going on underneath, the foundations of the building almost of the people in this team, and then starting the conversation from there. It feels like a much more productive place to begin as opposed to starting from your world view and looking through your lens and trying to push everyone through that space. 


LB – Absolutely, so it’s the acknowledgment that I have my world view but you have yours and both add a dimension to the team. 


KC – I’m just wondering, I’m curious about this assessment and sort of stepping into a team in this way. What’s the impact on a team sort of finding out all their different cultural differences and world views? 


LB – I’ve had multiple responses. Some people understand it instinctively, maybe because they are more travellers and global citizens, and for others it’s new and harder to accept. I remember coaching a team, different cultures, and they were having a moment of conflict and so just helping them just revealing the system to them as they were in conflict and helping them see this piece here is a cultural piece, so how do we want to address it as a cultural piece? Rather than it’s the way that you’re speaking to me or it’s you as a personality, this is a cultural piece. So it just adds more awareness in the team. 


KC – Yeah, and it sounds like you’re putting the issue out in front then, as opposed, it is personal but it’s also not personal – it’s both. Right? 


LB – Mmm. And what would it look like if I were to shift my world view or my perspective? Just a little, how would the issue then look? 


KC – So would you say then it’s sort of the ultimate when it comes to deep democracy? 


LB – It’s hard for me to say it’s the ultimate because I place a lot of value on intercultural intelligence and working with multicultural teams to empower them in this way because I personally don’t think we have a choice anymore, our world is a melting point. I truly believe that much of the conflict, much of the misunderstandings, communication misunderstandings, happen because of our different cultures and our different world views. 


KC – Yeah. This is so interesting, I was talking to Ronnie on another podcast about how it’s sort of getting under the bonnet and this feels like deep democracy in that deeper sense, it’s not just what’s being said but it’s all the sort of, it’s the operating system from which we’ve come from and all the bits we’ve picked up along the way. As a leader I’m sure that’s very challenging to hold at times, but if we can, my gosh, what a powerful place to operate from as a human being. 


LB – I agree. And as well, so here’s the thing, I think as leaders we don’t have to have all the answers. I think if we just tap into the team, wisdom of the team, they have answers that we don’t have and so we start to co-create with the team. Liz Wiseman in her Multipliers book, she said sometimes as leaders we are accidental diminishers because we have all the answers. But when we don’t and we ask powerful questions and we ask the team members to come up with the solutions that they can own we start to multiply the intelligence within the team. 


KC – It’s so interesting. So I guess, I’m wanting us to take it back to sort of a team that doesn’t have all that much intercultural intelligence going on. Where do they start in terms of building more of this muscle, it feels like? 


LB – That’s a really good question because that’s most, most of us are not born skilful, right? Most of us just bumble along and we make do and we learn as we go along. I think there wasn’t a handbook handed out to all of us about how to be good humans. And so when working with the multicultural team I think the first step is to create awareness for them, to help them see that there’s more going on than meets the eye. And then to help the team hold the belief that we are all right, that everybody’s right partially, and so to look for the truth in what you’re saying rather than making you wrong. What are the places I can get curious about, number one, and where I can find alignment. Without giving up myself, I think that’s also important, that we honour who we are and we honour our own cultures, there’s no need to give up on ourselves or give up on our culture, it just, it’s about how do we expand that so we can accommodate each other? 


KC – You’re so right, we’ve never been given a handbook how to do a relationship, we never get taught this stuff and we struggle in our most intimate relationships, it’s no wonder we struggle when we go to another country or live in a different place and then there’s all these other differences showing up. I mean the fact is we do struggle in our partnerships and our marriages so it’s not a surprise and yet, as you say, I think it’s absolutely essential now, given the way the world is, that we step into this way of living and leading. 


LB – Absolutely. I have this picture in my mind and I can’t remember where I saw it but there’s a pot of food in the centre and there’s all of these little people around and all of them have got very short arms and long spoons, and none of them can eat on their own because of the shortness of their arms, but they can all eat if they feed each other, and that, it feels a little bit like that, right? I’m a little bit hindered if I don’t open my eyes and grow but if I get curious about you and you get curious about me we can create something magical. 


KC – Yeah, yeah it sounds like a wonderful place for us to step into as leaders and, I think, general human beings. I love where we’ve taken this today, to the everyday examples and how actually it probably can actually diffuse so much of the tension that goes on in our ordinary everyday life, as opposed to who’s doing what to whom, what’s trying to happen here? You know, where are they coming from, what’s their 2% truth? 


LB – Absolutely, it’s the belief that I am right and therefore you are wrong. But if we can believe that, you know, I have my belief and you have yours over there, let me get curious about you whilst you get curious about me, then we become more empowered to design a way forward together. 


KC – Thank you so much Linda, this was such a gorgeous conversation and there’s just so much I want to read and learn and lean into so thank you for bringing the sense of this globalized world into the everyday, also. That was really wonderful. 


LB – Katie, thank you for inviting me, I’m always thrilled to talk about a topic that’s so close to my heart, I’m really passionate about this. 


KC – I can tell, you’re beaming, thank you for brining that wonderful smile and energy to the show, take care Linda. 


[Outro begins 31:21] 


KC – Thanks to Linda for that incredibly informative discussion around how to lead in a multicultural world. My key takeaways are as follows. In a globalized world it is becoming increasingly important to develop intercultural skills. Intercultural intelligence is the ability to assist culture at a pragmatic, personal and organizational level. We can look at culture like we view personality. Similar to psychometric tests like DISC and Myers Briggs, used to understand personality, there are also various tools that help us to understand out cultural blueprint. For example, the Knowledge Workx assessment created by Marco Blankenburgh. The gift of living in a multicultural world is that you can learn so much and expand so much. Whilst there might be conflict around the way we look at certain topics, for example time, meetings or communication, there are so many gifts in the diversity that comes from living and working in a multicultural world if we can get curious about the difference and lean into relationship. From working with a multicultural team the first step is to create awareness, to help them understand that there is more going on than meets the eye. From there we can help the team to hold the belief that everyone is right partially. It’s not about giving up yourself, it’s about expanding yourself and getting curious in order to accommodate for the difference. We don’t have to travel abroad to experience this multicultural world. As soon as we step out of the front door or turn on the TV, we are experiencing this diversity. How can you delight in the diversity in the big and small ways it shows up in your life? To find out more about Linda’s work do check out 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. 


[Music outro 33:54 – end]