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5.6 Developing Your Self-Efficacy

This section outlines practical approaches you can use in your daily life to help increase your self-efficacy, your emotional intelligence, and your capacity to be mindful.

Identify Moments of Success

You should identify experiences when you have successfully worked with cultures other than your own. You can also cultivate environments where you can be successful. Creating environments to practice and learn from your mistakes is essential for culturally intelligent leaders. When you build a space for others to learn, you encourage their sense of self-efficacy. You help to minimize their doubts about working with others, thus reducing their stress. However, focusing on creating easy successes can foster an environment where the individual comes to expect easy results. Find opportunities that both challenge and create success.

Teach and Promote Resilience

You can create a strong sense of efficacy by purposefully teaching resiliencyThe ability to recover from failures.. As a leader, it is about teaching others how they can bounce back from failures. Everyone needs to learn that they have what it takes to be successful in making it through difficulties. You can teach resiliency by promoting and pointing out positive behaviors and attitudes. It is also about helping those you lead to identify when they are using negative self-talk. The following case illustrates a leader teaching and promoting resilience with her employee.

Theresa, a senior sales manager, knows that a new hire, Jane, is new to working with a Hispanic population. What Jane knows about the population is based on media sources, research and papers she’s read, and what she’s picked up over time from her social network. Jane has a lot of work ahead of her if she wants to understand and work well with this consumer base.

Theresa provides constructive feedback to Jane in a variety of ways that encourages her to keep her motivation and interest high. She compliments Jane on things she does well and often says, “You’re making great progress.” Although there are times when Jane just doesn’t seem to “get it” as fast as she should, Theresa believes that eventually with training and the proper resources, Jane will succeed. Recently, Jane came back to the office with a big smile on her face. She was able to negotiate and secure a contract with a business in the Hispanic community. Theresa immediately congratulates her. “That’s fantastic. Way to go! Tell me all about it.”

As Jane recalls the experience, Theresa follows up with questions and prompts to convey her support and enthusiasm. When Jane recalls a minor setback in her conversation with the business, Theresa says, “Wait now. Don’t underestimate what you were able to do. That’s a minor issue and I know that if you secured the contract you must have adequately addressed that with the client.”

Jane hesitates, and then nods her head. “You’re right. I did. He seemed real relaxed after I explained it to him.”

Theresa notices the hesitation. To ensure that Jane realizes her good effort paid off, Theresa says, “Good work! Now that you’ve had this experience, what lessons learned can you take to your next sales opportunity?”

Theresa provides teaching moments of resiliency to Jane. As a culturally intelligent leader should, she is helping Jane learn the value of not giving up in the face of difficulty. She also points out the negative self-talk (verbal and nonverbal) that Jane slips into the conversation. Theresa ends the conversation on a positive note, continuing to show interest and support of Jane’s progress.

As Theresa is teaching Jane, she also learns about her own resiliency. Working with Jane is a new cultural experience for her: She is working with someone who is unfamiliar with certain aspects of her job and the consumers. As a person with many responsibilities, and one holding a position of leadership and authority in the organization, Theresa does not have a lot of time to manage Jane. Yet Theresa makes it a goal of hers to encourage and mentor Jane through the initial growing phase. Theresa’s resilience, her perseverance, and her perception of her own abilities in relation to the situation help her keep her motivation and interest high.

Provide Social Role Models

When you see someone who is successful and has accomplished the same goal as you, even in the face of resistance, you are more apt to believe that you, too, can accomplish those same goals. You believe that you have the abilities to master the tasks required to reach your goals. This is why finding a role model or mentor who is similar to you can help build your self-efficacy. If you are leading a team or department, you can find social role modelsAn individual who is successful, has accomplished a goal—even in the face of resistance and who serves as a model of the abilities needed to master the tasks to reach a goal. to encourage your employees to build their self-esteem.

Self-efficacy increases when you are able to relate to your role model or mentor.Bandura (1994). If you surround yourself in cultural interactions with people who are not successful, even if you try very hard to be motivated in these challenges, this will undermine your efforts. Finding someone who has overcome cultural challenges will greatly benefit you. For example, read the following story about Tom, David, and Raj:

Tom and David both lead sales departments for separate divisions of their manufacturing company. In the past two months, both have traveled frequently and separately to India to work with a new division of customer service representatives who work with their respective departments. Ever since their boss informed them of this new venture, Tom and David have had separate emotions and experiences related to the new business situation.

Tom’s been less enthusiastic and interested in the project. Having never been out of the country and working only nationally, he’s hesitant and less thrilled than David about the new division and what it would entail. Similarly, David’s never been out of the country, but he has, over time, cultivated interest in cultural experiences different from his own. He has intentionally taken part in different intercultural events at local and national levels. He can’t wait to get started on the project.

Raj, their division supervisor, knows the abilities of each member of her staff. She requires them to purchase books and resources to help them learn about the local Indian culture. She’s even enrolled them in a language and culture class. She knows that Tom has been more reluctant to try new things. David seems to be gaining momentum and retaining more information that he’s learned compared to Tom. She notices the difference and thinks that Tom could learn from David.

Both have worked together closely in the past and share similar career and personal goals. Raj capitalizes on the relationship by building in a mentor-mentee component. She speaks to both of them about this new piece to their working relationship and receives an agreement and support from both. She also manages the relationship closely, ensuring that during this time Tom gets what he needs to be a culturally intelligent leader and that David receives mentorship and guidance from her. In this way, they’re working as partners, each serving as role models and mentors to another person.

As a leader, Raj is able to identify intercultural competency areas where Tom and David can both benefit. Raj knows that Tom needs support to boost his confidence level when working across cultures. She also knows that David has the self-confidence but needs assistance in understanding cultural facts. By building strategies that are appropriate for each person, she builds her team’s cultural intelligence. In the end, she learns about her own ability to work with two managers who have different individual cultural experiences.

Lead by Example

If you are able to manage and interact with different cultures more easily than your staff or employees are, model the way for them to understand how they could improve their own self-efficacies. Through your behaviors, your beliefs, and your thinking, you demonstrate, by example, the skills and knowledge they need to manage cultural environments. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner,Kouzes & Posner (2002). in The Leadership Challenge, found that leaders should establish principles that guide people to reach their goals. Because a small shift or change could be overwhelming for some, helping them to set short, interim goals can help them to achieve larger goals. Modeling the way by identifying the barriers, being resourceful, and creating opportunities for your own success helps others to see their own abilities succeed. Take, for example, the case of Jaime and Anne:

Jaime is in her late 20s. She serves as the director of a civic engagement program in a nonprofit organization. Anne is in her late 50s and manages the program, reporting directly to Jaime. They’ve worked together for the past three years fairly well. They have their disagreements but overall have a healthy working relationship.

In the last year, the board of directors has changed the nature of the program to incorporate civic engagement and service learning principles. As a result, an increasing amount of volunteers in the program are college and high school students. Jamie notices that Anne has difficulty working with a younger generation of volunteers. She doesn’t respond to them the way she responds to volunteers who are in her age group. Sometimes, Anne will make side comments about the younger generations’ work ethics saying, “They’re so unreliable” and “I don’t know why they don’t just pick up the phone to talk to me. It’s like they don’t know how to leave a message on voicemail anymore.” She’s even said these comments to her 55+ volunteers, who readily agree about the generational differences.

Jaime knows that Anne needs to be able to work with volunteers of all ages and cultural backgrounds. She’s seen the negative impacts of Anne’s behavior. Many of the younger volunteers come to Jamie if they have problems or issues when they should be going to Anne who directly manages them. They’ve expressed that Jaime is “more like them” and understands them. Although Jamie doesn’t mind helping the volunteers with their questions, it’s taking her away from her role and responsibilities as a leader of the department. Additionally, it’s setting a tone for how Anne works and reshaping her job duties.

To resolve this, Jaime speaks with Anne about the issue. Anne doesn’t see a problem with how she’s handling the situation with younger volunteers. Jaime disagrees and at the end of the meeting, both agree to a plan that helps Anne to work more effectively with volunteers of any cultural background. Jamie and Anne work together to set goals that are achievable and work toward the long-term goals of the organization. Jaime finds opportunities to compliment Anne when she is successful and helps Anne to identify strategies that help her do her work more efficiently.

Jaime continues to work with Anne in the months to come. She’s patient and believes that Anne will be able to adapt; however, after two years, Jaime decides to let Anne go because the situation does not change.

It is important to recognize that there are times that no matter how much you try to model the way for employees and others, it does not work out to the benefit of the organization. In the example of Jamie and Anne, after 2 years of Jaime modeling the way and helping Anne, the progress was not significant enough to make the change that was needed. There was still resistance on Anne’s part. After much reflection and evaluation, Jaime decided to let Anne go. The cost of low self-efficacy affects not only Anne but also the program and the organization’s overall goals.

Support Others in Their Self-Efficacy Development

As any leader should, it is important to support your staff, co-workers, and the organization to strengthen their self-efficacy. You can do this in several ways:

  • Verbally tell them that they are making progress.
  • Have evaluation or reflection sessions about the progress.
  • Provide them with the right resources.
  • Tell them to keep trying and to sustain their efforts.
  • Know when to give feedback and what type of feedback to provide.

If you are looking to develop your own self-efficacy, then you need to put in systems that will help you. For example, find the role models and proper support mechanisms to ensure you do not fail. Finding support is important because your support system helps to minimize your attention on weaknesses; they provide constructive feedback to help you develop professionally.

Emphasize Self-Improvement

Unfamiliar cultural interactions are challenging, and you should look at your success and failures as personal and professional development. There will be times when you will be involved in cultural misunderstandings, make “cultural bloopers,” or take part in a cultural conflict. This is just a part of the process of navigating through cultural terrain. When this happens, you need to focus on the value of self-improvement. Do not berate yourself over the mistake; learn to “learn and let go.” When it is an employee who makes the mistake, do not compare them to others; rather, set a standard for improvement within cultural interactions and help the employee to get there. Notice how Jodi felt about herself in the following case study:

Jodi is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technician. She’s been in the field for ten years and works with a variety of patients from different cultural backgrounds. One day, an African woman, Aziza, her son, Guleed, and her husband, Hussein, comes into the clinic for an MRI. The son accompanies his parents and interprets as needed because, although they understand English, they have difficulty speaking it.

Jodi calls the patient to the MRI room. Her co-worker, Melinda, assists her with the preparations and is with her in the room. Jodi prepares for the MRI by giving Aziza instructions, “You will lie down on the machine. You need to be very still or we have to start over.” Jodi then turns to Guleed and speaks slowly, “Can you tell your mother that she needs to be very still when she’s in there?”

Guleed understands and explains the MRI procedures to his mother. He then says to Jodi, “My mother has done this before. She had an MRI three years ago. She knows what to do.”

“Okay,” Jodi says. Again, her next instructions to Guleed are spoken in a slow pace, “Does she need medication to help her with staying still?”

Guleed shakes his head. “She’s fine. She’s done this before.”

Jodi then turns to Aziza and says very slowly, “If you need help or to call us, you push this button.” Her gestures to the family are overly emphasized when pointing to the call button. “Can you tell her to push this button if she needs help?” Guleed, looking more frustrated as the instructions are dictated, nods his head and explains to his mother.

After the MRI, Jodi courteously thanks the family and says, “You all did a very good job. Have a good rest of your day.” The family quickly walks out and Guleed gives a slight smile in response.

Jodi and Melinda return to their work, and Jodi says “That family was interesting. It was so nice of that boy to come with his parents to interpret, don’t you think?”

Melinda turns to Jodi and replies, “Yes, it was a good thing that he was there.” She hesitates and then says, “But you know, you probably didn’t need to talk like that to them.”

With surprise, Jodi says, “Talk like what?”

“You were talking really slowly to them. It seemed like they didn’t appreciate it. The son knew English very well and was fine interpreting and understanding what you told him.”

Jodie replies, “Oh. But in that class we took the trainer said we should talk slow and not use big words so they can understand us. That’s what I was doing. I mean, she probably didn’t know what I was talking about so I had to talk slow to help her understand.”

“Yeah, that’s true but you were really dramatic about it. They’re not deaf. They just have a harder time grasping the language.”

Jodi pauses and then says, “You’re right. How embarrassing! I hope they don’t think badly of me. I was just trying to get them to understand what they needed to do. Next time I’ll do it differently.”

Jodi tries to apply what she has learned in cultural competencyThe ability to successfully interact with individuals of different cultural backgrounds. training, yet she is not able to apply the learning in a way that is appropriate to different racial and ethnic groups. This is evident when her colleague, Melinda, informs her that she thought Jodi used the wrong cultural competency tools. Jodi’s instant emotional response was to be offended and to feel guilty for her intercultural mistakes. However, she realizes that her experience and mistake will only improve her ability to work better with different cultures.

Jodi can use the CI principles to help her in the following way:

Acquire: In this case study, Jodi has good intentions to be respectful of another culture. But what she is not picking up on are the verbal and nonverbal cues of her environment. If Jodi can identify what she did well and where she could improve, she can better assess her level of understanding culture in this situation. Jodi has worked with families of different backgrounds, but it seems as if no one has told her that she was unintentionally creating an uncomfortable environment for those families. To acquire information about culture that can be helpful to her in future situations she can start with recognizing what cultural facts and knowledge she may already have. For example, she speaks slower to this family so they can understand. Yet she needs to know that not all families need to be spoken to in this manner.

Build: If Jodi can take the knowledge she has, speaking slower in English can help those who are not English native speakers, and combine this with the knowledge that not all non-English speakers need to be spoken to in this way, then she will begin to build her awareness for when speaking slowly would be appropriate. When she does this, she is creating new information and making new sense of the cultural information.

Contemplate: Even though Jodi is familiar working with families of different cultures, she can always approach the situations with new lenses or perspectives. By asking herself what she sees and does not see in the situation, she can shift her mindset from one that treats all families the same to one that treats them as unique. Contemplation requires Jodi to reflect on her biases as well as the unintentional consequences that come about because of her need to be culturally appropriate.

Do: As she practices the strategies she creates for each family situation, she will learn what works and does not work for each family. She may even be surprised that she is adapting and changing her behaviors with every family she treats, even if the families share similar cultural backgrounds and interests. The more she practices and evaluates, the more she will reduce her need to be perfect in every cultural situation. Instead, she will learn that her mistakes become cultural lessons in practice.

Reduce Anxiety and Stress Related to Cultural Interactions

When we feel we are capable of accomplishing a goal, we have positive emotions. When we know that we do not have the abilities to accomplish the goal, our emotions and mood for the activity are less positive. How we feel can be a deterrent to our success by affecting our attitudes and perceptions of who we are and how we will achieve our goals. Our negative moods can create stress, anxiety, frustration, and fear—all which do not serve you in intercultural work. As a leader, you should help support strategies that reduce the stress and anxiety related to unfamiliar cultural situations. And, if you are the one who gets anxious, stressed out, or disinterested, you should find strategies that work for you. The following are some tips for reducing stress and anxiety related to unfamiliar cultural settings that can bring about a more positive outlook:

  • Keep a stress journal. Use the journal as a way to track your physical and emotional responses to unfamiliar cultural settings. As you write out your feelings, you will begin to see common themes and patterns in your behavior. When you can identify what makes you stressed and how you typically respond, you can find the appropriate strategies to reduce your stress level.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. When we are stressed and our anxiety is high, we often cannot see the opportunities and positive outcomes in intercultural relationships. Keeping a gratitude journal enables us to identify the pieces of the relationship or the situation that contributes positively back to our self-development, even though, at the time, we may think it is the worst thing to have happened. Writing down a few things you are grateful for in the situation helps to shift your mind-set and calm your physical and emotional state.
  • Break your goal into smaller, manageable steps. For example, if you need to learn a new language and culture but it seems overwhelming, break that goal into smaller tasks over time. Do not take on more than you can handle. If the time does not allow for it, ask your supervisor for support and ideas to make it more manageable.
  • Express your feelings and emotions in a healthy manner. For example, you need to be able to communicate your feelings and thoughts to your supervisor. Your concerns should be expressed in a respectful manner. If you do not share your concerns with your supervisor, you will build resentment and emotional clutter around the situation. If this continues over time, you build unhealthy habitual patterns and responses every time you are in unfamiliar territory.
  • Be willing to compromise and let go. Working with cultures means that you have to be adaptable and willing to let go of what you know. You have to be flexible or else you are always going to have problems that frustrate, disappoint, and anger you.
  • Stay calm and focused on the task. The more anxious you are, the more you visualize and paint a picture that creates more stress for you. According to Bandura,Bandura (1994). your stress level can impair how you function inter- and intrapersonally. Staying calm and focused helps you decrease your stress and anxiety.
  • Recognize that you cannot control culture. Culturally intelligent leaders know that culture cannot be controlled. It is ever changing, never static. You have to recognize that there are times in cultural situations that you cannot anticipate, no matter how much you have trained, read resources, or lived in the culture. As in life, there are many things that are out of our control. We cannot expect that our intentions will always have the impact we envision it to be. This is why focusing on the things we can control, such as our adaptive responses to another person or culture, is better than stressing about what we cannot control.
  • Be willing to forgive. People make mistakes. At times, people are not aware of what they have said or the implications of what they have done. When it comes to cultural intelligence, you have to be willing to forgive others both for what they are conscious and not conscious of doing, saying, or feeling. If you cannot forgive, you are going to have a hard time working with unfamiliar cultural environments.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Working interculturally can be both tiring and exhilarating. There will be times when you make mistakes and feel disappointed for not picking up the cues or for not “knowing what to do.” Keeping a sense of humor about culture lessens the stress. You have to be able to laugh at yourself; otherwise, the challenges of cultural differences become too much to bear.

I once consulted with an organization that had a tool called “The Wizard.” This tool helped organizations to be more accountable and transparent in their use of charitable donations. They wanted to expand their tool to a diverse audience. In a session focused on thinking about how the tool could be more accessible, it struck us that, in one of the languages, the word “wizard” translated into “Shaman.” In this community, the shaman happens to be someone who is wise and connects with the spirit world. Can you imagine going into the community and talking about how “the shaman” will help you to be more accountable? We all laughed, and we also used this as an opportunity to discuss the challenges of accessibility.