Privacy and Self-boundaries

As part of the Social Media Committee, I was behind the scenes for Dr. Ethan Bernstein’s interview at the Academy of Management for his Outstanding Publication in OB award*.


One thing he said that got me thinking was:

“Privacy [in communication] is how far we want ourselves to go, set where the boundary is.”

I realize that my self-boundary is very wide and includes pretty much everyone while those of others are very restricted, which makes us come into conflict at times because we define our privacy and self-boundary differently. This issue has implications for information sharing: I tend to share most if not all information about myself or what I heard others say as it becomes part of myself and my experiences (unless it’s a confidential issue obviously).

However, others do not like to share information especially about themselves because they are “private.”

So the issue here is not about “privacy” per se but more where the boundary is.

Here’s another example of where the privacy definition breaks apart. A friend of mine feels uncomfortable showing pictures of herself in a bikini on Instagram and Facebook because her family and close friends are on it. But she’s ok with walking around in a public beach in the bikini. I would think if anyone had an issue it would’ve been the opposite! Here, it’s not just where her boundary is, but who she includes as part of the sphere for the boundary to be in the first place (i.e., strangers are not part of her sphere at all, so they don’t count in the privacy issue).

Moreover, there could be a belief (for those with restricted boundaries) that the information will be used in a malicious way. In this case, it also comes down to trust: how much do you trust random strangers?

I am a proponent of Couchsurfing and Airbnb, which pretty much bring strangers into your personal space and vice versa. Those using these services probably have a high level of trust in general although there are plenty of skeptics (don’t get me wrong there are cases of CS and Airbnb gone wrong, too. High trust doesn’t mean lack of safety sense).

Next time you come into conflict with someone about privacy and information sharing, it would help to learn about the other’s self-boundary before you get upset with the person.

*Bernstein, E. S. (2013). The transparency paradox: A role for privacy in organizational learning and operational control. Administrative Science Quarterly, 57, 181-216.


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My favourite ESL phrase from (some) Europeans

“How many people are in your group?”

“We are five.”

meaning “There are five of us.”

I’ve heard French and Belgian people say this, so I assume it’s from the French “Nous sommes cinq”, so “We are five” is a direct (but inaccurate) translation of how many people are in your group.

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Using Psychology to End Shark Finning

This post started as a comment in response to Brian Linton’s post on Yao Ming’s Anti Shark Fin Soup Video, but then it got so long I thought I might as well repost it here (with edits).

Brian asks, “Take a look. If shark fin soup was an integral part of your ‘food culture’ would this deter you from eating it?”

And I responded:

This short clip would probably not deter me from eating shark fins if it were part of my culture. I was thinking, if this was a video of cows being killed, I’ll still eat steak. But then cows are not endangered and
they are killed out right, a limb isn’t cut off and then they are left to die.

But then cows are part of the problem for global warming and other issues…

I think it’s good there is a celebrity out there helping raise awareness but I don’t know how strong the influence of this video is. One of the best ways to change people’s behaviours is through peer pressure. Check out this article:

But in that article, people “know” that using too much energy is bad, so they are competing to be good. With the shark fin situation, some people don’t see it as being a bad thing. So I guess you have to start with changing the attitude first.

Also, you have to get to people’s values. For example, in this video, seeing a shark die won’t activate anything in me if I don’t care about sharks. But, if I value family, and this video is framed in a way that relates back to this value, for example, if sharks all die, the ocean’s ecosystem will go out of whack and then your children won’t ever see sharks again, then that could potentially work.

Even though something is part of a culture, that tradition can still change though. Cultures are there because it’s adaptive to the certain environmental pressures at the time, and if the environment changes, the culture should (or has to) adapt in order to survive. I read about some group in Indonesia where they conducted sacrificial killing of sea turtles for some ceremony. But then scientists went to talk to them about the endangered status of the turtles and the group used photos of sea turtles instead.

In conclusion, I think, no, that video alone would not deter me from eating shark fins. But it could help raise awareness and other measures have to take place in order to nudge us in the “right” direction.

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Insights from Labour Relations

I’m currently TA-ing for a Labour Relations class, and the professor is our university’s retired Director of HR. Today he invited a local CUPE representative and the Mediation Expert of the Dispute Resolution Services Branch of the Ministry of Labour to give a talk about what they do. Here are some gems:


– always pad your bargaining issues…so if the real issue is about the money, it won’t look like it’s just the money at the end. And you don’t take anything out towards the end/in the last round of bargaining. 

– we sometimes have someone in our bargaining team whose job is to just watch the other team’s facial expression and body language and note all that


– “Collective bargaining is messy.”

– the bargaining doesn’t just happen the day of; the employer and union members could’ve planted the seed of mistrust or positivity from before. if the employer has been lying to the union people all year long, and on the bargaining day, the mediator comes with a “final” “truthful” offer from the employee, the union won’t believe them. the small actions add up.

– there are 4 dimensions of collective bargaining:

1) strategic – straight forward

2) technical – things like which rooms the employer/union reps are staying in (pent house or basement near the furnace), who gets more coffee in their room, etc.

3) psychological – transactional analysis – basically you can act like a critical parent, an adult, or a petulant child in the bargaining. ideally both sides including the mediator will all act like adults, but if you’re not, then something could go wrong. 

4) emotional – emotions should be checked at the door. if you find yourself getting angry, take a break. 

– “sharing information is going to give you credibility.”


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(Some) Tales from Africa

I recently had the fantastic opportunity to visit the African continent for the first time to travel and to present at the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology. South Africa definitely lived up to its name of the “Rainbow Nation” not only with its people but with its ecosystems. I highly recommend everyone to visit the beautiful city of Cape Town, the picturesque town of Stellenbosch, and to do a safari at the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in Mpumalanga!

But the tales from Africa I want to share today are actually stories from others who have visited Africa and from a student in Canada from Kenya. Both speak to the importance of being culturally sensitive and knowledgeable in successful intercultural interactions.

Tale #1: Allergies in Africa

This story comes from a management graduate student whom I met at the Cultural Intelligence Research forum at SIOP San Diego 2012. We were seated at the same table for lunch and we were discussing food allergies. As is more common in Western cultures (or at least I perceive it to be so), he has nut allergies (his background is German I believe). After the chef came out to ask him if everything was ok, the student shared with us his experience in Africa (forgot which country). Basically, he was with a tribe and they were inviting him to eat their food. He suspected that parts of the food had nuts in it and he knew that 1) people in the area do not have and would not understand nut allergies and 2) to mention his allergy or just plain refusing to eat the food would be rude to his host (i.e., his host almost “killed” him).

So this is the route he took. He explained to the host that nuts were part of his family totem. And that was all it took for him to save the host’s face in having serving him nuts and him not having to eat the nuts, because in this tribe, people don’t eat what’s on their family totem. A successful tale of someone being culturally knowledgeable and solving the problem in a culturally sensitive way.

Tale #2: Don’t look me in the eye

I recently attended an Intercultural Skills Workshop for the Graduate Studies Office led by Phyllis Powers. As part of the workshop, the facilitator invited international students to share their experiences. One of the cultural differences we discussed was the amount of eye contact; in some cultures (like North American), eye contact is a sign of attention and caring but in other cultures, eye contact could be construed as a sign of intimidation and lack of eye contact is a sign of respect.

One student from Kenya shared a very interesting story about eye contact. He mentioned that back in Kenya, he lived in a farm and they had various types of animals, and he’s learned to how handle these animals. One way to intimidate goats is to get down to their level, look them straight in the eye, and stare intensely. He explains that, in the animal kingdom, eye-locking is intimidating and challenging, and that is what he’s learned to do (or not do) with people also.

He also shared a story of someone from a Western country visiting a company in Kenya. As the Westerner was meeting a few people in the company, he noticed that most of the employees avoided his gaze and their eyes seemed shifty. The Westerner reported back to the superior of the Kenyan company that the employees there must be sketchy because their eyes were shifty. However, the superior of the Kenyan company said that the people who lock eyes were actually the sketchy ones!

Tale #3: Let’s shake hands again…and again…and again

When the same student from above first came to Canada, he would shake hands with his supervisor (who’s not from Kenya or other African countries) when he first sees the supervisor in the morning. Then repeats this every time he sees the supervisor. Eventually, the supervisor got quite uncomfortable and this became clear to the student.

He then realized that people in Canada only mainly shook hands the first time they meet and “never” again, while he was operating on the Kenyan saying and practice of “A good person is not greeted once.”

Hopefully you’ve learned a little bit about some different customs from very small parts of this large, diverse continent that is Africa!

South African Masks & Drums @ Cape Town Greenmarket Square

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Thoughtful Travel and Cultural Intelligence

In 2009, I had the opportunity to backpack through Europe with my sister. We didn’t really know the logistics of doing so but fortunately our cousin, who has worked and backpacked there, advised us to buy Rick Steves’ guidebook. Ever since I’ve used Rick Steves’ guidebooks for Europe, I haven’t turned back (and I have used Lonely Planet, Fodor, Frommer’s, etc. you name it). When you read his books, it’s like you have an travel guide there with you, actually talking to you and telling you to “walk past the colorful walls” and “turn left after you go down the little steps on your right” (yes, his walking guides are that detailed). I highly recommend anyone going to Europe, backpacking or not, to buy one of his books.

But beyond Rick’s books, I’ve really grown to admire his travel philosophy. Although I’m paraphrasing, Rick’s introduction in his Best of Europe book basically tries to tell his reader/fellow traveler that we’re no longer in North America (the US, specifically, where his company is based), and we can’t bring with us our North American assumptions and expectations on our journey. It is with this mindset that we’ll have a great traveling experience.

More recently, Rick gave a TEDxRainier talk on The Value of Travel, which you can find below. Rick is a great story teller and although you might or might not already enjoy traveling, you should definitely watch this video. (If you don’t have 20 mins to spare, I’ve added my favorite quotes from the talk at the end of this post). Rick stressed the point that it’s not just travel, but thoughtful travel, that “is well worth the time and the money.”

One example of a “Eureka!” moment that Rick had on his travels to Iran (Rick says, “Why am I going to Iran?…and it occurred to me I’m going there because I think it’s good character to know people before you…bomb them.”) was when he was in a cab in a traffic jam and suddenly the cab driver, who mainly only spoke Farsi yelled out, “Death to traffic!”

Rick was surprised and asked the driver, “Death to traffic? Is it not ‘Death to Israelis’ or ‘Death to the Americas’?” And the driver responded, “No, right now, death to traffic.”

The driver goes on to explain that “Here in Iran, when anything is frustrating or out of our control, we say ‘death to that’.”

And Rick realized that this was equivalent to him saying “Damn those teenagers!” when he’s back in the states, although he doesn’t wish that the teenagers burn and rot in hell for eternity.

Now, you don’t have to be a researcher in cultural intelligence (CQ)—defined as the capability to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity—to realize that someone like Rick would score high on CQ. To break it down into its component parts though, CQ consists of:

Metacognitive CQ = the higher order cognitive functioning that is used to acquire and understand cultural knowledge. Individuals high on this component consciously monitor and reflect upon their own cultural assumptions and their interactions with culturally different others. They are able to suspend their judgment, be mindful, and adjust their own cultural knowledge in an unfamiliar cultural situation.

Cognitive CQ = refers to the knowledge the individuals possess of cultural universals in addition to differences in cultural norms, practices, and conventions, Those are who score high on cognitive CQ have knowledge of other cultures’ economic, legal, and social systems.

Motivational CQ = is “a source of drive” which leads individuals to direct their attention and energy towards effectively functioning in situations with culturally different others. Individuals who possess high motivational CQ are confident in their abilities to do well in contexts characterized by cultural diversity and are intrinsically motivated to do so.

Behavioural CQ = reflects the capability of individuals to exhibit appropriate verbal and nonverbal behaviours, such as appropriate words, tones, gestures, and facial expressions depending on the cultural context. Individuals with high behavioural CQ should possess a wide range of culturally appropriate behaviours, understand the display rules of different cultures, and be proficient at interpreting the meanings of culturally different others’ behaviours.

Now the chicken or the egg question: Did Rick Steves score high on CQ because he traveled lots? Or did he gain successful travel experiences because he already scored high on CQ?

If CQ is like (cognitive) intelligence, then it might be the latter. But actually, researchers in the field of CQ think that it’s a trainable/changeable capability.

To score high on CQ, for me, it really all comes down to being mindful, knowledgeable, motivated, and flexible.

1)      Be mindful that there are cultural differences. Reflect on your experiences and rethink your assumptions.

2)      Gain knowledge about cultural differences, either by reading about it, asking culturally different others, or traveling to another place.

3)      Motivate or push yourself to actually acquire the knowledge, talk to culturally different others, ask questions, and change yourself.

4)      Be flexible in your own behaviour so that it’s appropriate in the current culture/situation. Not only will you “fit in” more and gain trust or respect from culturally different others, it might also open your eyes to why people do things a certain way.

As our world becomes more globalized and different cultures are increasingly coming in contact due to work, leisure, curiosity, change in policies (e.g., the ASEAN’s AEC), or other necessities (i.e., home displacement due to war), perhaps waiting for someone to develop their own CQ is not enough. I think that it should almost be a necessity to incorporate diversity and cultural training into educational and training programs for both children and adults.

The world would definitely be a better place if one day, everyone becomes someone who would say something like this:

“This man is very different from us, but he’s fundamentally the same. And if we can take home that understanding, that’s the best souvenir possible. And for the rest of our lives, when we look at the rest of the world, rather than fear its diversity we can better celebrate it.” Rick Steves

 My other favorite quotes from the talk:

“Travel opens us up to the wonders of the world…It helps you appreciate nature…It connects you with culture…It connects you with people…It’s people that makes your experience vital.”

“[The American] dream is beautiful but so is theirs.”

“When we travel, we gain a better appreciation of what is the baggage that people are carrying when they respond to us.”

“My friends in Europe always remind me a society always has to make a choice: tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons.”

“European example of pragmatic harm reduction when it comes to soft drugs.”

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain

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“Cultured meat”, change management, and social influence

My dad was watching some technology-related show in the next room, and I was eavesdropping. The part that got him excited was when a scientist was saying they’ve successfully created a bladder from a donor’s cells and also successfully implanted that bladder into the donor.

The part that excited me was when the show mentioned that scientists are trying to create “meat” in the lab, called “cultured meat“. As mass farming is currently part of what’s destroying the environment, the scientists are creating “meat” in the lab to replace people’s demand for it and helping the environment at the same time. I didn’t realize this was already happening, because I have envisioned that this could be a solution for all, because 1) it’ll appeal to current meat-eaters who care about the environment and 2) it’ll get people who are vegetarian/vegan for ethical reasons to be able to eat meat.

But what does creating “meat” in the lab have anything to do with change management and social influence?

A professor of Business Ethics at York University (sorry didn’t catch his name) was interviewed about his thoughts on the above, and he mentioned that by nature, people are habitual creatures and are opposed to change. If change occurs slowly, it would be easier to accept the change. This made me immediately think of change management, and how its bottom line process is so easy, but it’s so difficult to execute because people have change-resistant tendencies. The same resistance people will have over whether or not to support and eat lab meat is pretty much the same resistance they have over new policies being implemented at work…even if the new policies would benefit themselves. This natural resistance is also why consultants make a living out of change management.

And then there is social influence. How would society start accepting lab meat if it were to be available in the market? Robert Cialdini outlined the basic principles of influence in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and the one I think most relevant here is “social proof” or how people are influenced by the social norms (i.e., what others are doing…see an article of using this tactic in real life here). I would predict that if eating lab meat becomes the “norm,” even more people would accept it. Using this knowledge, consultants trained in psychology (or at least those who know about Cialdini’s work) can again better help implement change in organizations.

Beyond the technology to create lab meat, I hope that one day world-wide change management and social influence will in fact move people towards more sustainable consumption and lifestyle.

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