Would you willingly step out of your comfort zone? Staying inside our “comfort zone” can make us feel safe and in control, but is it truly the best thing for us? Being in the Zoom existence that Covid-19 brought, it’s easier to just stay where you are comfortable and not challenged. There are some people who help others develop the insights and courage necessary to act outside their personal and cultural comfort zones. Andy Molinsky, a Professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School, is one of them.
In this episode of The New Nomad, Andy joins Andrew Jernigan and Allen Koski for another knowledge-filled episode about being comfortable outside your cultural comfort zone. They also shared their experiences in being out of their own comfort bubble and the good and not so good things they got from it. This episode teaches people how to adapt and adjust their behavior in a new culture - an interesting episode that brings light to cultural flexibility necessary in this digital day and age.
[2:52] Working out your resilience
[10:16] Creating trust and intimacy, virtually
[12:16] Embracing the uncomfortable: conviction, customization, and clarity
[18:59] Accepting our differences
[20:22] Not everything about culture matters
[25:49] Passing our stories to the next generation
Andy Molinsky is a Professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School, with a joint appointment in the Department of Psychology. Andy received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and M.A. in Psychology from Harvard University. He also holds a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in International Affairs from Brown University. Andy’s work helps people develop the insights and courage necessary to act outside their personal and cultural comfort zones when doing important, but challenging, tasks in work and life. His research and writing has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, NPR and Voice of America. Andy was awarded as a Top Voice for LinkedIn for his work in education.
His first book, Global Dexterity (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), received the Axiom Award (Silver Medal) for Best Business Book in International Business & Globalization and has been used widely in organizations around the world, including Boeing, AIG, the US Air Force Academy, and the Clinton Foundation, among others. His new book Reach was published with Penguin Random House in January 2017. He teaches, consults, and lectures widely to university and corporate audiences.
Andy Molinsky Links:
Follow Insured Nomads at:
Welcome to The New Nomad podcast, we have a very interesting guest today Andy Molinsky was going to, is going to join us to talk about I would say cross-cultural psychology, adaptation behaviour, comfort zones. He's the author of Reach and Global Dexterity. So I think we're gonna have a great conversation today. But before we get to him, we'd like to bring in the another Andrew in the conversation, Andrew Jernigan. And Andrew is a co-host, you know, you and I've talked in the past about getting out of your comfort zone, getting out of the bubble. I know this is an area that you share with our listeners quite a bit, how important it is that actually kind of put yourself in a uncomfortable situation and and gain confidence from it.
Yeah, so you know, this is an area I'm passionate about, passionate as a student, so that I can apply it on a daily basis as we lead people across across continents as a company. But I've done it, live in crossing cultures, went through a five-week residential programme before my family moved to Ghana, some almost 20 years ago. Trying to prepare for this cross-cultural lifestyle that we're thinking, Okay, we're gonna live 30 years in Ghana running this hospital. So now as we lead this company, Allen, it is a pleasure to bring on one of the leading experts in the world on this, I've read his articles for years in Harvard Business Review, listen to him on podcasts, follow him religiously. So it's, it's great to have Andy on today with us.
Yeah, you know, it's funny, as it was kind of researched in, I just think this is a really important thing is most of our listeners who have moved to unique locations, or living that, you know, location independent lifestyle, they're often out of their comfort zone. And that that is a trait that really separates you know, what all studies seem to indicate people that also have an adventurous mindset. So it's going to be very interesting conversation today. And with that, let's bring Andy in today, and welcome to the podcast. I know the lead in is is kind of interesting, as we really are excited about the times in our lives and careers that we've gotten outside the comfort zone. And I read your article, which I thought was really interesting is, you know, we're more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. But usually, that's after the fact you realise that. So I'd love to hear your comments on some of our early lead ins here.
Well, first of all, thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. With you both. Yeah, comfort zones, and resilience. I think resilience is like a muscle. To be honest, I sort of feel like, you know, confidence and resilience is a muscle, it needs some training. I imagine that after you've had your first experience, you know, when you first went to Ghana, let's say, you probably learned, not only learned some practical things, but also psychologically, emotionally started to feel a bit more of a sense of self-efficacy or confidence that you'd be capable of doing it again, even if you didn't know exactly what you needed to do. And I think that's what we mean, in some ways by resilience. You know, they always say that people always say that courage is not the absence of fear, it's the capacity to take action, in spite of fear. Right. So, so I think that's, that's that's one thought that comes to me from hearing your intro. And thanks again for having me.
So you also, it's kind of interesting, also about global dexterity, and kind of in different settings. I found that very interesting, too. Could you expound a bit upon that also, in global settings, how this might be different?
Yeah, so you know, I think that that that all of us in our, in our native cultures now, no, I always have to be careful because not everyone has a single native culture. And there are a lot of people who are bicultural, multicultural, third culture kids, cosmopolitans and so on. But let's just stick for a moment with the with a monocultural example. That's my story. You know, I'm monocultural. I'm from the United States. And within our own culture, I think that the a lot of what we do comes instinctively, intuitively and even unconsciously, we sort of master the norms. And we sort of align our behaviour to these norms and rituals in our everyday lives.
But then when we cross cultures, we encounter many situations that were the exact same situation is often done differently in another culture. It might be you know, and I focus a lot on the style, the style, the expected style, so maybe you're supposed to speak or act more directly or less directly than you would in your native culture. Maybe your level of expressed emotion or enthusiasm is in the new culture should be higher or lower. Maybe formality is different. So you can tell as we were talking, before we got on we are, we're all dressed very informally, me especially. But in our work from home world. But formality can differ a lot across cultures. And so the point is, is that in my, my work, I talk about, like the cultural code, let's say. And then I talked about your personal comfort zone.
And then I also talked about the zone of appropriateness. So in a new culture, there'll be a code for any situation you're in. And there's a zone of appropriateness for where someone kind of needs to land to be effective and appropriate, and the new culture, now that might not match with your personal comfort zone, it might, by the way, it might, in parts of it might, but parts of it might not might, it might not match, in in that case, you've somehow got to bridge that gap and step outside your comfort zone in that given situation, no matter what it is, really. And I think that there's a collection of these kinds of situations that we encounter in our lives in a new culture. It could be personal, it could be academic, it could be professional, could be a combination of those. And so I think people are constantly forced outside of their comfort zones and new cultures. Yeah, so so that's, that's, that's my sort of top level view.
You know, it's, I reflect on that and think, okay, they're, our comfort zones are stretched when we, you know, have someone into our house to paint our house, that's of a different religion, a different culture, they're in our personal space, I had that happen this week to were totally unique way of life different from my own. And they were right inside my personal space, in a way, yet, really interactive. I learned a lot just from this, this painter that came from another way of life. And I think there's so much value in just viewing each person. Viewing each culture is something we can learn from not necessarily different as we think it may be. But what if how you think, as people are saying, I can work from anywhere, I think I'll move to Prague, and keep my job going from there. Or I think I'll, you know, I've always dreamed of going to India, I love a good curry. Let's just pick up and go there. How do you think the companies are going to adapt to this? How do you think that, you know, they've been preparing international assignees? Very well, over the years? At least, they've been preparing them somewhat? Well, I would say, and but how do you feel that this is going to shift as the work from anywhere mentality kicks in a higher gear? And people are not really as as prepared as they should be, possibly?`
Yeah, it's interesting. It's like, you know, the work from home, or work from anywhere world is sort of aligning with the sort of self printer, solopreneur, entrepreneur world, you know, that that trend, sort of like these mega trends are kind of like combining. And then you've got a lot of people who are contractors who aren't tied to accompany you. You mentioned companies preparing people, but a lot of people and I imagine a lot of your listeners don't actually belong to a company.
That's right, that's right
Imagine they're solopreneurs, right? And so not all but but many, or they could be they could be connected to a company to some degree, but could have a side hustle that ultimately becomes bigger than a side hustle. And so people are going to have much more complex and flexible work arrangements, just independent of where they're working. And then you add on that piece about where you're working, and then you layer on top of that technology, and are our our level of comfort with technology. I mean, you know, there going to be a lot of meetings that would have just default happened in person where we now think to ourselves, well, this isn't really have to happen in person.
And I think that a lot of people, I think a lot of companies and a lot of people worried that they wouldn't be able to build trust across cultures, virtually. I think that that's been a big concern. I think that's one of the biggest reasons people actually go in person, whether it's to seal the deal, to build the relationship, to solidify and network and so on. And I don't know for me at least, I sort of feel like this big, this COVID for all the awful things that Covid has brought. One interesting sort of byproduct is this massive experiment that we all have undergone, and, and I in from where I sit and at least in my world, and in my experience, I do feel that you can create trust and intimacy, virtually. And so I think that that's going to have ramifications for a lot of things, including your idea of moving to India, wherever you're moving, because I think that that, I think that flexibility is only going to increase. So I don't know if that answers your question. But that those are some thoughts that come to me.
You know, what's interesting, too, that it so think about this is when we're in this existence, we'll do for lack of a better word, this Zoom existence, it's a lot easier for me to stay in my personal comfort zone, because I'm sitting in my own office here. Even though every day we're getting about to different countries have different people on our calls. And I know many of us are excited to start going and visiting again, not just because we do think it to your point leads to greater understanding and intimacy. But also just, you know, when we used to go on those visits, there were things that you would pick up in the culture that you just don't pick up looking at somebody's background, on their on their zoom call.
So, you know, maybe in this post pandemic world, you know, you had some great tips to step out of your personal comfort zone, pre and during the pandemic, but, you know, I take it, many of those are going to be picked up again. So if you could share a few of those, because I think the people we find that are most successful in dealing cross cultures are the ones that are actually willing to put themselves the most out there. I know, it's a long question. But it finally got to the point is, you know, how are we going to get out of this zoom world and back into the real world again?
Yeah, no, it's it's a good question i, so I wrote, I wrote the book Reach My Command 2017 is about stepping outside your comfort zone. And these kinds of topics are have always been really interesting to me. So so what I find is, in sort of, in a nutshell, what distinguishes people from who are able to successfully step outside their comfort zone from from those who aren't, are basically three things. The first is, is a deep sense of conviction about why it is worth doing. And it sounds somewhat superficial or cliched to sort of, you know, what's your why and so on. But it actually is a really important thing. And it in your initial sense of your senses, your your initial ideas about why it matters to you often are only the tip of the iceberg, of why it really matters to you if you're able to put some careful thought and self reflection around it. And the reason that that's important is that gives you wind at your back when you might be afraid in those those those feelings of anxiety or discomfort, whether it's about living or working somewhere that you're not used to, or simply being afraid that you're going to catch a disease or whatever it might be, you know, that that that sense of conviction will help push you forward when part of you is sort of holding yourself back and protecting yourself.
The second thing, so that's what I would call conviction. The second piece that distinguishes people who are able to step outside their comfort zone successfully, is what I call customization. And that's the idea that there's no one single way to do anything we you know, we customise so many things in our lives. And what I found in my book, and I do in my teaching and training, and all the work that I do is I help people learn to customise situations that are outside their comfort zones. And by customization, it's sort of the best analogy I can use is like, if you go buy a pair of pants, it might not fit you perfectly off the rack or a blouse or whatever it might be a piece of clothing, and you might go to a tailor, and the tailor might adjust it slightly for you. It's those slight modifications to make something fit for you, that make you feel more comfortable. And probably ultimately, if we're bringing the metaphor back to comfort zones will ultimately make it more likely that you'll take that leap and step outside your comfort zone. And there are a range of ways that people can customise through what they say through how they act through the time through timing through. I don't know, a lot of the situations I work with people on our specific situations. In life, I find that sometimes a prop, even like a physical prop, like something you'd wear a dress or bring to a situation can make a difference. Like it's a wide range of things that you can use to customise your experience. It doesn't have to be massive, it can be slight but meaningful. And that's the second thing that I find is really super helpful. And then the third is what I call so that's customization.
The third is clarity. So we talked about conviction, customization, clarity. What clarity is is sort of like some sense of emotional anchor emotional equilibrium, and I find that sometimes when people are considering stepping outside their comfort zone, the anxiety makes them sway to extreme directions, you know, thinking of like the ultimate best case, probably unrealistic case scenario. And then the ultimate worst case, probably also unrealistic, worst case scenario. And that vacillation can be troubling and can ultimately kind of push us back towards our comfort zones. But if you can, I always think of this sense of clarity is sort of like normalising the situation like it's not going to, you know, to really to be able to approach and think about a situation in a in a normalised reasonable way. It's almost like an emotional anchor. Imagine that the emotions are like this, sea and you're a boat. And then the, the, the the sense of clarity is that anchor that anchors the boat in the ocean. So it's swaying a bit, but it's not swaying to those extremes. I found that people in my, in my, in my work in my book and my research that we're able to have those three capacities, the clarity, conviction and customization, they were more able to take that leap. In that it's a long way of answering your question, but those are the three key criteria.
Well, I think that's a great answer. And you know, what's interesting about it, and I'll be honest, I'm one of those that tends to think that the best case scenario is going to happen. But then I have to sit there and say to myself, yeah, but you know what, let's not get carried away here. And then I travelled with other people that oh, my God, we're gonna lose our luggage way. It's gonna be a horrible experience. And you're right, you know, it didn't have as time goes on. You teach yourself like, it's probably going to end up somewhere in the middle. So I really liked that that comment. And I know, Andrew, you probably had the similar experiences, both of us really lit up when you brought up that point.
Yeah, I reflect on this because this is you know, you you've done so much cross cultural work, Allen and and I look at it also through my lenses where I have spent long term stays in different cultures throughout the last 27 years or so. And being an off the charts optimist, my first nature would be dependent on them swing to the extremes. As soon as I hear you say that, Andy, it's, it's over time, I've gotten a whole lot more comfortable with saying, okay, it's, it's going to be more in the middle, or a little off to one side or the other, it's not going to be normal, it's not going to be what I perceive as normal. It's going to be over here or over here, but not over here on the tops. And so I resonate with that so much.
I know time is fast passing and folks are are eager saying Okay, we are going to have his links in our show notes. And but you know, some of this stuff we could go on for hours about in. What's one thing you would say if you were to tell someone that is new to managing these remote workers is cross cultural workers, where they suddenly say, okay, we can hire someone, we can have hire these people and in the Ukraine, we can hire these people in, in South America, etc. And all of a sudden their team is, is multinational, even though the company is not the culture is not. And they haven't had international experience managing a remote team like this, as a manager, what do you what would you say that are a couple of pointers you'd give in adapting to suddenly their company has become cross cultural.
Yeah, well, I teach a whole course on this, but I would say, I would say, um, I would say that the simplest thing that I would say is, I guess to keep two important things in mind, and to keep them both in mind. The first is that these first these people or this person comes from a different culture, that culture probably has different standards for behaviour, a different code, if you will, for a variety of different situations. So if they act in a certain way that you're not used to, don't attribute it to them attributed, or at least be curious about the cultural difference.
The second thing that I would say, which is equally important, and I sort of, I guess I'm holding it in both hands, because I want it to be a balance is that acknowledge the cultural difference, but don't be obsessed with the cultural difference. Also get to know this person as a human being, because people aren't necessarily 100% products of their culture. There's a tremendous variety of people in any country. Along have you know, they could be more or less cosmopolitan. They could have a variety of different life experiences. They could have a personality and a viewpoint and a mind that's consistent with the culture that they come from. We're not so consistent with the culture that they come from, you don't know any of that they and they also have hobbies and interests and passions. And if you can get to know someone, as a person, independent of the culture that they come from, I think that's so important in order to create trust and a really powerful connection. So culture matters, but culture should not matter. Too much or overly much. I guess what I would say.
That's generalisations. generalisations. Yeah.
So kind of a quick question. That's a, you know, you've you've obviously dealt with many different cultures, many different people had many different experiences, you know, for somebody listening to this podcast, what what can you share with them, that might be a, you know, person, place or experience that might be overlooked, that would help give them that confidence, or, you know, something that you would highly recommend that they seek out, maybe, perhaps put them out of their comfort zone. But once they they've gone there, it's, it's, it's gonna be a wonderful experience, or it's been for you.
So something that I've done before is that you're saying, or,
yeah, some place, a person, place or experience that you really feel that, you know, helped change you that maybe other folks could could experience themselves. And, you know, a perfect example, you know, I ran into many years back that nobody wanted, believe it not to go to Jordan on a business trip, I raised my hand. And then I built some extra time for Petra in the Dead Sea. And it came back, it was just a wonderful experience. But everybody's like, Oh, that's so far, such an alien culture. And I know, it's a little strange, somebody's putting food on your plate, because the culture is different, or holding your hand when you walk. But then you came here, and you realise that that was a wonderful experience, and was wonderful people.
I see what you're saying, I guess the tip that I would, that I would say would be in this isn't a specific person or place, it's more of a strategy, which is that I find that the most valuable and memorable and meaningful experiences I have, in different countries are when I have personal connections there. You know, I've been I've lived abroad a couple of times myself, and but I've also more recently travelled abroad with my family. I have young kids, and it's, it's it's been in we've gone to different countries. And I'll tell you that the countries where I have a personal connection, it matters so much.
So we so we went to London, for instance, with the kids, my wife and I and our kids, and we, you know, we did the London typical tourist, but very interesting, you know, activities in London and stuff. But I had a friend in London, and we went and visited her and we had a barbecue at her house with her husband and her little kids, we got to meet their dog. And they actually happen to have this impromptu block party at their in their neighbourhood that we went to. And there was some sort of like fundraising event at their school. And we did all these things in a single evening. And that was a couple of years ago. And that was the single most memorable experience. And I think my kids really got so much out of that. They, they, they saw, they saw themselves in another culture, but of course, not quite themselves. But they were able to place themselves in another culture because they saw what was most familiar to them, but done in a different way, which is like family life. And so that was it was so tremendously rewarding for them. And then it was an extension for me and my wife that I guess that's a stretch. That's what I would say, personal connections are really wonderful when you're travelling abroad.
Excellent. Well, thank you so much for that I've My mind is grabbed several of those nuggets, I've made some good notes. And thank you. Where can those listening find you and buy your books come to hear you speak etc.?
I'm really easy to find on the internet. If you just did I guess the easiest way would be to visit my website, which is I mean enough people listening to this whole write this down, but it's it's my name dot com. So it's www.AndyMolinsky.com is probably the best way. You can also Google it and find all sorts of things I I've written a lot of articles for Harvard Business Review, that's a good place to start. Probably about 60 of them by now. And then you can kind of go from there.
Perfect. Fantastic. Well, thank you for joining us today. Andy, really tremendous. And I'll be honest with you, the we, most of the times when we ask that question, we get a place that somebody has gone. But I love that you gave us a strategy, which I think is a really unique and personal connection to spot on. Andrew Jernigan, I learned a lot today, what did you learn, my friend?
I learned I need to start writing more about some of these things that, that I've experienced case studies, examples, and need to have some one on one's with my kids to prep them. And because these things that he shared, these things that you and I have lived, we need to pass on to others, so that they don't make the mistakes that we've made. It's through living these experiences, the things you've done the thing and you've shared with me, I learned as I listened to you. So we need to share our stories.
I agree with you and you know, what thing about personal connections is they typically bring you into what might not be considered to be a tourist situation. Like you hear the description of the block party, a neighbourhood, spending time with somebody else, how they how their dog is versus yours at all. I just think that's that's tremendous. And I really endorse that. I also like the conviction, customization and clarity example that he gave, so wonderful job today for our Nomad audience. If you want to hear more, please reach out to us at TheNewNomad.net or InsuredNomads.com we would love it. If you would leave a great review and spread the good word on The New Nomad podcast. Please stay well and keep sharing your best adventures with others. We look forward to talking to you again soon. And I will have to say that keep that strategy in mind of making personal connections around the world. Cheers