Ever wondered what the TCK in people's social media bios means? It stands for 'Third Culture Kid'. But don’t be fooled by the 'kid'; it applies to adults as well. The term indicates that a person has either been raised in a culture different from his/her parents' or spent a significant part of his/her upbringing being exposed to several different cultural influences. And it's definitely a term that resonates with me. 1) Vietnamese heritage, 2) born and raised in the Czech Republic, 3) lived in London for ±10 years.
A quick TCK search gets you a myriad of articles and videos. Google suggests that the most commonly associated terms with TCK are 'problems', 'identity crisis', 'psychology'... One would think people are searching for more positive things in the midst of a global pandemic but, oh well. What I'd like to focus on, however, is something that’s all the way at the bottom of the search:
The benefits of being a TCK. Specifically, the implications on one's emotional intelligence.
Thanks to globalization and technology, we are living in a hyperconnected world with almost everything at our fingertips. Unfortunately, it has now been over a year of social distancing, working from home and in-person interactions reduced to the bare minimum — to protect ourselves and those around us. Rightly so! But all of this means we are now heavily reliant on online collaboration tools, video conferences and puppy pictures to ensure we can continue delivering high-quality work.
STRV is no different — and thanks to the perseverance of our people, we managed to end 2020 on a high! But doing so has undoubtedly required a level of emotional intelligence, because it has never been more difficult and important to be able to read people's emotions, to recognize the subtle messages between the lines of an email and to empathize with others. STRV’s emphasis on these human skills is what has allowed us to do right by our clients, and our teammates.
Emotions & Emotional Intelligence
Try as we may, we humans sometimes behave irrationally. Ever made a rash decision? What made you do so? Perhaps a rush of emotions kicked in and you just did it. I am not here to establish whether that's right or wrong; I’m merely pointing out that the main driver is often purely emotion-based. As Aristotle discusses in his studies, "Emotions are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgments, and that are also attended by pain or pleasure. Such are anger, pity, fear and the like, with their opposites."
Yes, affecting judgments! How do we make sure these are not adverse effects? In the business context particularly, no one wants leaders with a constantly clouded judgment. On the other hand, a leader with a heart of stone won't probably be winning any awards.
Having a degree of emotional intelligence (EI/EQ) enables an individual to recognize his/her own emotions, and those of others. High EI also allows for managing one's emotions and/or helping others do so when necessary. These people have a slight advantage, which can help them navigate through challenging situations.
One of the most prominent authors in this field, Daniel Goleman, has shed a lot of light on this topic, arguing that EI is equally as important as IQ and assists in driving leadership performance. There is no doubt that countless strong leaders desire to hone the emotional intelligence trait and often spend a fortune while doing so.
Between Two Worlds & Beyond the Screen
So, why the mention of TCK in the beginning? More than anything, it's to put myself forward as a case study and perhaps to find my tribe. I've come to realize that my upbringing has been culturally very rich. Even though this might have caused several clashes during my teenage years, I now couldn't be more thankful. There's a saying in Czech: “Kolika umíš jazyky, tolikrát jsi člověkem,” which, in loose translation, means: “With every language you know, you also become another person.” Would you agree?
While yes, you can translate from one language to another, a 'word for word' approach is rarely what manages to get the right message across; so many nuances in the meaning of each word can completely change a sentence’s meaning.
I'll admit that growing up in a multicultural environment does make you feel a bit like a social chameleon. For better or worse, many TCKs find it easier than most to mold their behavior and mannerisms based on their surroundings. They also tend to be very socially adaptable and sensitive to other people's needs and approaches.
Having learned to observe, recognize and appreciate the differences around themselves, they are equally aware of their own and others’ emotions. And it goes beyond situations with different cultures and languages. Within the business context, it resembles scenarios with people of various seniority, where each person has his/her own set of traits.
A welcome hug and peck on the cheek in one culture would be completely unacceptable in another. Do you shake hands and look into each other's eyes? Just because they call you darling doesn't mean they think you are one.
Fast forward to 2021, and the whole world has shifted significantly. How do you read cues and connect with others from behind the screens? Especially when more than 70% of communication is non-verbal. Did that sign-off in the email sound passive-aggressive? How many emojis are too many? And when chatting to a Gen Z, should you watch out for full stops at the end of sentences because they may come across as intimidating? (That’s a real thing. Go figure.)
Product Manager or Product Therapist?
Here we get to the cherry on top.
Product management is, at its core, a people's business (read: emotional people). Our universe revolves around collecting feedback to understand our users, their needs, emotions and pain points. We then work with our clients, engineers and designers to come up with solutions on how to solve the issues. More often than not, we have to distill emotional attachments from evidence. Sometimes, we get it right straight away, and sometimes we go around in circles, iterating and making tweaks until we get it right by the customer. This is all at the essence of agile delivery, which lets us do this at a defined pace.
Ultimately, however, it's all about collaboration, communication with others and steering the ship in the right direction.
Ask any product manager and they will tell you that a "day in the life of a PM" will definitely include shuffling meetings in a calendar to make sure that everyone is heard, and that everything is communicated.
It can easily seem as though we’re a bit like therapists: hearing out our customers, consulting other experts in specific fields, making recommendations and prescribing decisions based on our findings. And it’s all being done with a fine needlework technique to ensure the final outcome is fantastic and everyone is happy. (If you ever visit our office, you'll also see that we even have comfy sofas to lay down on, for both the therapist and the patient.)
Let's imagine this hypothetical scenario:
An online retailer is struggling with its conversion rates. Users are supposedly filling up their shopping carts, but they’re not going through with the purchases. The real challenge here is actually four-fold.
1) Senior managers wanting to scale up globally.
2) Middle management is pursuing a mobile app to level up with industry peers.
3) Designers and engineers are proposing costly changes to the website.
4) The customer support center is overwhelmed with complaints regarding delivery.
How does one solve this? At no point will the decision-making and prioritization be easy with that wide range of people making strong claims behind your back. Sure, you could run, but you can also face and embrace it! Try to understand the full context and everyone’s perspective. What is motivating each of them? What are they trying to achieve?
Empathizing with others helps you have those difficult conversations. It enables improved mutual understanding. The goal should not be favoring one opinion over the other but, rather, becoming fully aware. It’s a balancing act between rationale and emotion.
With all of this knowledge, we put the product manager hat on and get it right.
Define the problem statement, draft what job needs to be done, observe results, collect feedback and iterate! The customer is delighted, everyone is delighted, curtains close.
Power Up Your Skill
So, how does this make you feel? Are you wondering where to start with boosting your own emotional intelligence? Or do you feel fully armed to tackle the next challenge? Wherever you are on the spectrum, I think there are a few traits worth nurturing:
- Empathize. Put yourselves into other people's shoes, understand their perspectives and their drivers/motivators/values.
- Embrace diversity. Learn and do not judge new points of view and frames of reference.
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Change is constant and uncertainty is around every corner.
- Listen and communicate. 30% of communication is verbal; use it wisely.
As you can see, it's not rocket science. More importantly, it's relevant to everyone — not just product managers and definitely not just in the business context.
There are plenty of evaluation tools that can help you identify what you should focus on. Sometimes you won’t get it right, but that's ok, too. As long as you learn from it, it was worth it!
These skills are something we are continuously sharpening at STRV. Learning opportunities come in the form of workshops, events and evaluations. They also arise simply from day-to-day interactions with teammates and clients — just one of the benefits of being part of an international company.
Take the Product Team as an example. We are home to three TCKs and represent seven nationalities from five continents. I can confidently say that cultural differences, understanding various points of view and an innate sense of empathy are foundational for us as a unit.
So whether you’d like to join our team or are a potential STRV partner, no matter where you’re from, please get in touch! At the very least, it’ll be a fun conversation.