Developing a Global Mindset at MLDP with Dickey Center's Chris Wohlforth

Chris Wohlforth, Associate Director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding, joined the MLDP group earlir this month to lead a session on developing a global mindset.

Before the lecture, Sadhana Hall, Deputy Director of the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and Social Sciences, also made a visit, telling us that in order to be global leaders, we must “seek to understand first than to be understood, and differentiate if the other side was intentional, or if one was misunderstood.”

Wohlforth started the session with an exercise of imagining ‘what it means to have a mindset of something,’ and thinking back to the time when you felt like an outsider. She offered a personal story of her experience as an exchange student in Belgium. She took the wrong bus and went to the end of the station. The driver kindly drove her back, but she said there was a feeling of alienation and embarrassment.
This led to her lecture, as she told us that we must be aware of our strengths and limits to navigate new environments, and we must pay attention to our surroundings and our reactions to such.
She outlined 4 goals for the session: 1) develop an understanding of what a global mindset is and how it can enhance effectiveness in cross-cultural settings, 2) learn to recognize cross-cultural experiences, and associate them with learning opportunities, 3) explore different ways to prepare yourself to be effective in a cross-cultural environment, and 4) create a customized road map to assist you in improving your cross cultural sensitivity.
She pointed out that global leadership is distinctive because we must adjust how we interact with people. That means adjusting our presentation, communication, and teamwork styles. Skills that we are trying to develop at MLDP depend a lot on values and context. This means culture affects a lot of the skills that we want to learn.
We then watched video clips of different students who immersed themselves in different cultures and felt disappointed.  Professor Wohlforth pointed out that a lot of the disappointments come from our own cultural biases. This is in fact very natural, because everyone has assumptions. We just have to be sensitive to the surroundings such that we understand them better.
Wohlforth defines intercultural sensitivity as how one experiences difference. It is a function of interest in other cultures, sensitivity to notice cultural differences, and willingness to modify behavior as an indication of respect for other cultures. Intercultural sensitivity comes at a continuum as well: 1) denial (perception that one’s own culture is the only real one), 2) defense (belief that one’s own culture is better), 3) minimization (belief that all cultures are the same at their root), 4) acceptance (recognition that different cultures are equally complex, but different), 5) adaptation (ability to shift perspective from one world view to another), and 6) integration (ability to experience sense of self in and out of different cultural contexts). The goal is to go towards integration. There was a discussion on how individuals match in their spectrum, and how we can get towards integration.
There are also some caveats that Wohlforth brought up. Personal transformation of having a global mindset is neither linear nor predictable. The preparation does not guarantee you to be a global leader. A lot of training programs might also be culturally biased, so we must be aware of them. We must be attentive, listen a lot, and be aware of what is not being said, contextulizing what’s going on.
The group then discussed what some factors would be to consider when developing sensitivity. The group mentioned: 1) age based relations (how older treat younger people, and vice versa), 2) gender relations (within gender and across gender, understanding what is normal in that environment), 3) class dynamic (socio-economic interaction), 4) appearance (what is normal in terms of dress, how acceptable is it to wear the same clothes day after day), 5) authority relations (how people in authority are treated by subordinates in context of work, religion, and politics), 6) individual vs. group dynamic (issue of privacy), 7) taboo (what’s appropriate, how frank can you be, public vs. private setting), and 8) body language (how you carry/present yourself).
After the discussion, we broke down to small groups analyzing cross-cultural dialogs. We quickly realized that it is not the problem of the language, but about realizing the others’ culture. For additional resources, Wohlforth recommended: “Culture Matters: the Peace Corps Cross-cultural Workbook.”
As a review, using SWOT analysis (strengths, weakenesses, opportunities, threats), we drew up our plan for enhancing our intercultural sensitivity and global leadership skills.
Michael Sanchez, ’13, commented: “Professor Wohlforth did an excellent job stressing the importance of developing a global mindset in this increasingly connected world. Most of the students at the session, myself included did not realize how different cultures can have so many different norms and customs from our own. The session was a great eye-opener, and a good way to start thinking of yourself as part of a global community.”
Joshua Lee, ’13, commented: “Professor Wohflorth’s lecture was a great opportunity for self-reflection, in that she made us think about ways to improve our global leadership skills. Many of the facts that she brought up were common sense, but often times we do not have enough time to reflect on them. Her combination of lectures and discussions helped me reinforce key ideas.”

-- Josh Lee '13