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In today’s diverse employment market, with its focus on digital platforms, global social networks and remote working, cultural intelligence has never been more important.
Defined by scholar Andrew DuBrin in his seminal work Human Relationships: Interpersonal Job-Oriented Skills as “an awareness of and willingness to investigate the reasons why individuals of another culture act as they do”, cultural intelligence, or CQ, is fast becoming one of employers’ most highly prized soft skills. But just as intelligence in and of itself covers several key concepts, cultural intelligence includes a palette of different skills, as Professor of Human Resource Management and Intercultural Leadership Marion Festing explains.
When we talk about cross-cultural collaboration at work, we’re not exclusively talking about language or national cultural barriers – although those are certainly important. We’re talking about coping with diversity as a whole, about broadening your perception, about trying your best to avoid bias.
Marion Festing, Academic Director of the Talent Management Institute and of the Excellence Centre of Intercultural Management
What is cultural intelligence?
- Cognitive CQ includes cultural knowledge, which reflects one’s familiarity with different cultures.
- Metacognitive CQ, or cultural mindfulness, deals with our ability to stop seeing our own cultural construct as dominant when interacting with people from other cultures and to be aware of possible differences.
- Motivational CQ covers our willingness to adjust to other cultures, e.g. different social structures and behaviours
- Behavioural CQ reflects your concrete cross-cultural skills.
To understand the foundations of cultural intelligence, Festing adds: “Cultural knowledge and skills can emerge with exposure. For example: are you able to follow social cues in a culture that’s not your own? How good are you at interpreting body language, accommodating specific gestures or verbal tics, or accepting certain cultural specificities to do with things like politeness, lateness, and certain group interactions?”
The benefits of a strong cultural intelligence
Concretely, what are the benefits of managers with strong cultural intelligence? Experts say that investing in employees’ CQ improves productivity, encourages diversity and helps maintain a positive brand image as a company grows. A belief shared by corporate giants PWC, for whom CQ and the wider challenge of diversity are inextricably linked as part of their Global Inclusion Index, and Ikea CEO Mikkel Ohlsson, who has previously spoken at length about CQ’s benefits both from a value and business point of view.
Any business can benefit from making CQ a priority, not just multinational corporations with offices around the globe.
Festing agrees: “If you’re struggling to understand other cultures, it might help to reframe the context.
“When we talk about cross-cultural collaboration at work, we’re not exclusively talking about language or national cultural barriers – although those are certainly important. We’re talking about coping with diversity as a whole, about broadening your perception, about trying your best to avoid bias.”
Broadly speaking, if developing your EQ helps you to relate to your peers, developing your CQ helps you to relate to people who haven’t shared your lived experiences
How to develop your cultural intelligence
In today’s global society, how can one improve cultural intelligence without necessarily being multilingual? Well, you’re probably more advanced than you think.
Festing notes: “Each of us grew up somewhere, within specific social structures and experiences, so a certain amount of cultural knowledge has been developed in early childhood. CQ is more complex than just this preliminary cultural knowledge, and has a lot more to do with how interested you are in interacting with people whose cultural reflexes are unlike your own. A first step, e.g. for developing motivational CQ is to reflect on similarities and differences you perceive. This creates awareness for stereotypes and biases that need to be made aware and managed in intercultural interaction.”
Cultural intelligence is a learnable skill just like any other.
Festing continues: “It’s important to reflect on your priorities. If you’re looking to develop your cognitive intelligence, the internet is an excellent place to start. Even if you’re not able to, say, develop a deep cultural knowledge of the country where an upcoming meeting will take place, visiting local forums and initiating discussions on social media is a great way to pick up cultural tips to help reinforce your CQ. For example, the GLOBE website provides research results on dominating national values for many countries as a first orientation.
“Intercultural group work, as has happened in ESCP’s recent series of intercultural workshops around the serious game ‘Moving Tomorrow’, is a great way to put your newly acquired skills into practice. Sharing your own perspective and receiving feedback in return, from, say, a foreign colleague or client who’s usually based abroad, is also excellent for addressing the motivational aspect of CQ, deeply rooted in the created mutual understanding. At the same time participants make decisions, get feedback on the appropriateness of the actions and learn to act in a humble and appreciative way in intercultural situations. Thus they also develop the behavioral dimension of CQ.”
Rest assured – there’s no need to book a one-way ticket to Tokyo in order to give your CQ a boost! Any business can benefit from making CQ a priority, not just multinational corporations with offices around the globe. For Professor Marion Festing, the answer is clear:
“Cultural intelligence is a learnable skill just like any other. It goes without saying that poor communicators are likely to have a lower CQ, since all of our social interactions, whether with people we’ve known for years or with a complete stranger, are powered by both verbal and non-verbal communication. The message you’re trying to get across doesn’t just need to be clearly expressed – it needs to be couched in an appropriate social context for it to be received effectively. Practice makes perfect!”