two South American girls

Awareness strategy

If you have high CQ strategy: awareness, you are very alert to and observant of what is happening in both yourself but also in the person who is culturally different from you.

One of the first steps to increase your CQ awareness is to notice but do not respond too quickly. Take time to make sense of what you observe. If we form a hypothesis or make a judgment prematurely, we may easily be wrong.

One of the techniques we teach faculty, students, and staff at Purdue University is the Describe, Interpret, and Evaluate method. Describe to yourself what happened and be certain to not interpret or evaluate prematurely. Consider your description and be sure it is exactly what occurred. Next, consider an interpretation of what you described but do this without judging or evaluating. Once you are confident your interpretation is a good one, then and only then evaluate the situation. If you use this three-step process, it forces you to take your time and to be aware.

Please allow me to share an example. My cultural influenced preference is to be on time. I prefer a monochronic cultural value. In addition, being on time fits my personality profile. Let’s say I have a student in my class who comes from a country that is in the polychronic cultural value cluster. I know that schedules are not exact in her culture. I know it is common and very acceptable for people attending a party to arrive late or well after the party starts.

The challenge is that this one particular student from a polychronic culture insists on walking into my class ten minutes late every class period. The class is only 50 minutes long, therefore she is constantly trying to catch up. If I do not take my time, I may very quickly assume the student is not concerned about being on time. I may assume she is perhaps behaving from a polychronic cultural value. I consider this to be rude in my class context. I make a quick judgment that this student is inconsiderate.

Now allow me to take some time and apply the Describe, Interpret, and Evaluate method. I describe to myself in my mind that what I see is the student carefully and quietly entering the classroom ten minutes after the class begins. Rather than forming my own opinion and interpreting what I see, I ask her after class if there is a reason she enters the classroom late. In this case, she guides my interpretation by telling me that she has another required and very demanding course before mine which is very far across campus and the professor in the other class goes at least five minutes overtime every single class period. Based on her cultural background, she is reluctant to ask the other professor if she can leave before he releases the class. In addition during these five minutes, the other professor often conducts in-class quizzes which account for ten percent of her final grade.

So I now learn that this is a very diligent student who is doing her best to handle a difficult situation. She is not rude. She is not inconsiderate. By the way, in this case, instead of misinterpreting and misevaluating the situation, I was able to discuss it with the other professor who began ending his class on time. This student began to be in my classroom when class started.

Another way to increase CQ awareness is to think broadly. Allow for ambiguity. Narrow thinking leads to intolerance and judging others, especially when they are different from us. If you learn to think more broadly, you become better at understanding and interpreting diversity.

Take time to focus deeply. Practice mindfulness or becoming completely aware of what is happening in your body, mind, and consciousness. This is the opposite of operating on automatic pilot. Running on automatic means I am without much awareness of what I am doing while I am doing it. This does not bode well for cross-cultural interactions.

Another technique to increase your CQ meta-cognition: awareness is to spend time journaling. Journaling allows us to understand ourselves and others. It forces us to slow down and become more aware of our surroundings. Use journaling to help you explore the meanings of what you observe. Journaling gives you time to process interpretations, insights, and evaluations.

As an assignment for this step, please review the Developing Self-Awareness pdf below. Spend some time reflecting on your own cultural identity and mark this step complete.

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Develop Your Cultural Intelligence

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