Emotional Intelligence Doesn’t Translate AcrossBorders
“One of the greatest assets we have as natives of a culture is our ability to quickly ‘read’ another person’s emotions. Over time we learn how to understand whether our colleagues are truly interested in a project or just giving it lip service by noticing the expression on their faces. We can tell when someone really likes something we’ve proposed by the way they react. And we can often detect motivation as well: whether someone is truly willing to put in the extra time and effort to make something happen, just by seeing the fire in their eyes or the passion in their voice.
The problem, of course, comes when we cross cultures and venture into a completely different world of emotional expression. Emotions vary tremendously across cultures — both in terms of their expression and their meaning. Without a detailed understanding of these emotional landscapes, crossing cultures can become a communication minefield.
Take, for example, the expression of enthusiasm. In the United States, it’s culturally acceptable, even admirable, to show enthusiasm in a business setting, assuming it’s appropriate for the situation. When arguing for a point in a meeting, for example, it is quite appropriate to express your opinions passionately; it can help to convince those around you. Or when speaking with a potential employer at a networking event, it is often encouraged to express your interest quite enthusiastically; the employer may interpret how invested you are in a job based on your expressed eagerness.
In many other cultures, however, enthusiasm means something quite different. In Japan, for example, there are strict boundaries about when and where people are allowed to display emotion. During the regular workday, Japanese individuals are not typically emotionally expressive. Even if they feel excited about their work, they will rarely show it explicitly. This often changes outside of the workplace setting, though, where Japanese people can show a great deal of emotion — for example, when drinking, having dinner with work colleagues, or singing karaoke. In China, self-control and modesty are the coin of the realm, not one’s ability to outwardly express emotion. In fact, expressing too much outward enthusiasm, especially in front of a boss, could be seen as showing off, which is not typically condoned inChinese culture.”