Are You Calling Me Old and Fat


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Cultural intelligence is a crucial skill for leaders of diverse teams.

It isn’t an innate gift. Cultural intelligence can be acquired through intentionality and practice.

My AAA Model for Cultural Agility (Aware, Acquire, Adapt) helps leaders develop cultural intelligence.

Aware: Reflect on your state of mind, biases, and assumptions.

Amy is a new member of a global executive team. During a team dinner, Amy, who is Asian, comments that Bob, who’s American, looks “old” and “has gained weight.” Bob reacts with humor, “Are you calling me old and fat?” he asks, but the rest of the team is shocked. 

What happened here? Amy lacked the awareness that, in Western culture, comments about age and weight are considered rude. But that’s not the whole story.

Acquire: Ask questions. The answers help you understand where others are coming from.

The team asked Amy for the intention behind her comments. Was she trying to be rude? Not at all. In Asian culture, older people are perceived as wise.

“That’s the reason I said he’s old. He’s a wise leader.”

And the weight comment?

“It’s a way to say, ‘I noticed you’re eating and sleeping well. I care about you. I’m paying attention.’”

Having acquired her perspective, the team understood that although she had inadvertently caused Bob to lose face, her intentions were positive.

Adapt: Bridge the difference by adapting new behaviors and mindset.

The Western execs adapted by becoming more aware of the cultural differences on their team. They no longer rushed to make assumptions.

Amy adapted her behavior in global environments, aware of the potential for cultural misunderstandings. They started to work in harmony — and share some laughs.

Cultural intelligence can’t run on autopilot.

Remember “AAA” — Aware, Acquire, Adapt — and you can master this crucial leadership skill.

What kind of awkward situations has cultural ignorance created for you?

How do you respond to cultural blunders? 

Maya Hu-Chan is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author, leadership educator, and ICF Master Certified Coach. She is the president of Global Leadership Associates. She has authored two books, Global Leadership: The Next Generation and Saving Face: How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust. Read more at:

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