[To skip the background article and go directly to the quiz, click here: Cultural IQ Quiz]

FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. It drives our modern, high-speed culture. We worry that we’ll miss the next big thing or fail to be up-to-date with the latest trend. To add to the pressure of FOMO, there’s: FOBLO, where you’re afraid your friends will plan a party without you. But this isn’t the FOBLO (Fear of Being Left Out) I witness in the intercultural business world.

One of the biggest barriers to getting the best out of intercultural work situations is exclusion: leaving out those who don’t have the loudest voices when it comes to expressing opinions, views or perspectives.

In the workplace it’s often assumed, especially in large organizations and often unintentionally, that everyone thinks the same way. That everyone shares the same vision and has the same motivations. This means that a diversity of work styles and perspectives are ignored, even if they fit into the framework of a specific company culture. It’s a tragic waste of creative resources, and it’s disrespectful to those who think differently.exclusion, discrimination, diversity, homogeneous organizational culture, intercultural

As leaders in our organizations, we need to make sure that all voices are heard, and all viewpoints are respected. It’s our duty, because we are responsible for creating the best results, and can only do this if we have diverse input.

How to feel the pain

A huge challenge when working with executives in companies on their intercultural business skills is to have them understand the impact of some of their team members being excluded. What is it like to be left out, to be on the outside, to constantly live with FOBLO? How can people get a taste of what it feels like to be misunderstood, because they don’t speak the native language, or ‘get’ cultural references or ‘in jokes.’

There are simulations and intercultural games and activities, but these are often complex, time consuming, temporary and artificial. Even while fully participating in workshops and exercises, it’s hard to convey the impact of being treated like an outsider in one’s own workplace.

Why is this a problem?

This is a problem because getting the best that you can offer – from yourself, your colleagues and your business – means understanding their challenges as well as your own. For your team to be well-functioning, you must draw out the strengths of each employee, while understanding their weaknesses – and the fact is that these aspects differ not only from individual to individual, from team to team, but also from country to country.

When you assume that everyone thinks like you do, sees the world as you do, and has the same strengths and limitations that you do, you’ll never be able to grow and move forward. Ignorance of how others think results, initially, in closed-minded stasis. And as is the rule, this stasis leads to stagnation, which leads to failure.

How you can help overcome this problem

Before we work on solutions we first need understanding. Do you know what it’s like to feel left out? To feel that your cultural values aren’t shared? That everyone ‘gets the joke’ and you’re on the outside? Give this short quiz a try to see how it feels. It’s a quick way to help you feel the discomfort that people from outside your culture feel when trying to fit in. 

(The following quiz has been published in the textbook ‘Transculturele vaardigheden voor therapeuten’ (Transcultural Skills for Therapists. Author: Nel Jessurun, Pub: Coutinho, September 2010). The questions and answers to the test were developed by Prof. Piet Vroon, Professor of Psychology at the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands.)  

Please answer all questions to the best of your knowledge, experience and ability. Pay close attention not only to the questions and answers, but also to what you think and feel as you’re take the test, and when you receive your results.

A total of 15 points is possible.

Don’t forget to fill in the sort survey following the quiz.


How did you do? Not well? Neither did I the first time I took it. Or perhaps your guesswork saved the day?

Most importantly, how did you feel, taking this quiz? What was going through your head when looking at your answers? What was your reaction? Did you think,  “How ridiculous! Who could ever get that right?” Or did you think, “How interesting. I didn’t know that. I’d like to learn more.”

You may have felt confused, and even angry that you were expected to answer this set of seemingly nonsensical questions. But remember, this is how people of difference feel all the time. I’ll say that again: this is how people from different cultures feel all the time while trying to work in an environment that is familiar to you, but not to them.

The questions to ask yourself in this case is: what can I do to help those who are suffering from FOBLO to feel like they belong? What can I do to make sure their opinions are heard, their ideas shared, and their contributions to the team valued? It’s the special leader who is able to bring out the best in everyone around them, regardless of their culture or background. If you’d like to become that interculturally adept leader, let me know by dropping me a line.

Does This Make You Feel Uncomfortable?
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