Personalities, Profiles, Preferences, and Crossing Cultures

August 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

795619869_c1c80a9a37_zWhat personality types make for the best cross-cultural workers? I like to think that there’s room for all kinds, but it makes sense that certain types of people would find themselves drawn to or more suited for vocations that cross cultures.

When Peter Farley surveyed female missionaries from the UK, he found that, using the Myers-Briggs scale, there  are more “intuitive” (N) and less “sensing” (S) women among missionaries than in the general population. (The numbers are 42% Ns and 58% Ss among missionary women compared to 21% Ns and 79% Ss as a norm). The most common personality type is ISFJ, at 23%, but that is similar to the overall female population, while INFJs make up 12% of female missionaries, significantly more than the 2% norm.

Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, has a different scale for evaluating personality. It’s the “Culture Profile.” By answering the 24 questions of the assessment and choosing your country, you can see how you compare to your countrymen in eight areas:

  • low vs high context communication
  • direct vs indirect criticism
  • principles-first vs applications-first arguments
  • egalitarian vs hierarchical leading
  • consensual vs top-down decision making
  • task-based vs relationship-based trust
  • confrontation as a help vs hindrance
  • linear vs flexible time

You can take the assessment online at Harvard Business Review. Before you begin, I have a suggestion. Grab a pen and paper so you can jot down your answer to each question (you respond to each one on a scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”). This way you can see your evaluation alongside different norms by choosing a different country each time. Otherwise, when you retake the profile, your answers are reset, and it’s difficult to exactly duplicate your responses each time, especially since it’s easy to start overthinking your responses after seeing the outcomes.

When I took the test, I found that in several areas I don’t fit in with the American norm. One of these is the high context/low context scale. Here is Meyer’s description of “context”:

In low-context cultures (such as the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands), good communication is precise, simple, and explicit. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition and written confirmation are appreciated, for clarity’s sake. In high-context cultures (such as China, India, and France), communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Reading between the lines is expected. Less is put in writing, and more is left to interpretation.

So the US is a poster child when it comes to low-context cultures. But my answers to the profile put me closer to the high-context extreme, where China resides. Maybe that’s because my ten years living in Taiwan altered my preferences, or maybe I was originally drawn to the Chinese culture because it fit my personality. It’s probably a little bit of both.

So take the survey. It may tell you something about yourself you didn’t know. It may show you that you’re a prime example of your country’s cultural norm. It may help you see why you sometimes don’t “get” the people around you, and why they sometimes don’t get you. It may show you some changes you should make in behaviors or expectations. And it may show you a place far away where being yourself would be the perfect way to fit in.

(Peter C. Farley, “Psychological Type Preferences of Female Missionaries,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture, November 2009; Erin Meyer, “What’s Your Cultural Profile?” Harvard Business Review)

[photo: “Me, Myself and . . . Dr,” by DraconianRain, used under a Creative Commons license]

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