Specifically, their study showed that people are more likely to take favourable risks in a non-native tongue whereas individuals are more loss-averse when solving a problem in their native tongue. The researchers suggested that the fear of loss was more acute in one’s native language causing individuals to engage in loss-aversion strategies. “An emotional reaction could lead to decisions that are motivated more by fear than by hope, even when the odds are highly favourable.”
Along the same lines, the researchers found that asymmetry in decision-making disappears when a person solves a problem in a foreign language. Asymmetry in decision-making involves a preference for avoiding risks when a problem is framed in terms of gains compared with a preference for risk-taking when the question is framed in terms of losses. (Economic theory prescribes that risk assessment should not depend on framing).
Because speaking in a foreign language engages more rational and objective thought, linguistic diversity offers tremendous potential for improving decision-making and problem-solving. Non-native speakers may be less prone to bias and emotional responses. The linguistic diversity advantage may be particularly valuable in high-stakes decision-making and when a workgroup is under pressure. Stress can trigger a reliance on automatic processing, but this is less likely for non-native speakers. Next time your team is faced with a difficult problem or high stakes decision – it could be beneficial to pay attention to the perspectives and ideas of members with linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.