Cultural Intelligence: What Is It and What Is My Score?

Matthew MacLachlan

13 Dec 2016

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is making headlines. Is it more important than Intelligence Quotient (IQ) or Emotional Intelligence (EQ)? Read on to find out…

CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE: THE NEW IQ OR EQ?

When you are in an international environment:  Are you good at noticing cultural differences? Can you spot body language signals and understand why people with different cultural backgrounds behave differently? Are you motivated to learn about differing cultural attitudes, beliefs or norms? You must have Cultural Intelligence (CQ)!.

Are you able to build rapport and connect with people from diverse cultural backgrounds?

 

What is Culture?

First, a look at what we mean by culture. Culture is a set of shared assumptions and values that distinguish one group from another. Very often, looking through our cultural lens prevents us from seeing beyond national stereotypes.

The other challenge is seeing beneath the surface. Underneath the obvious physical appearance, mannerisms, dress code, customs and practises lie attitudes, beliefs, values and a way of life that have been learned over a lifetime and transmitted down the generations that are not as obvious.

Many organisations recognise the importance of understanding culture and its impact on global working by offering their employees cultural training, international management or global leadership programmes to help support and prepare them to work internationally.

Culture is a set of shared assumptions and values that distinguishes one group from another.

Importance of Cultural Intelligence (CQ)?

Intelligence comes in many forms. First, we had IQ, then EQ, and now there is a growing awareness in the business world for the need for leaders with cultural intelligence. CQ is not just a buzz word. It evolves from EQ and IQ and goes further.

It is more than having basic intelligence, social skills and respect for other cultures. CQ was developed by the research done by Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne as a way of measuring and predicting intercultural performance.

In a rapidly changing global world where interacting with multinationals is becoming the norm, there is growing need to not just cross geographical borders, but also cultural. Centuries ago, the poet John Donne said, “No man is an island.”

That applies even more now to the business world. Today, even countries cannot survive without co-operating and collaborating. For businesses, sharing new ideas, new technologies or new ventures is crucial to expansion and development.

CQ was developed as a way of measuring and predicting intercultural performance

Aspects of CQ

According to Dr David Livermore, a thought leader on cultural intelligence and global leadership, CQ consists of four components:

  • Drive, i.e. being motivated to learn about a new culture;
  • Knowledge, i.e. learning how culture shapes people’s behaviours, values, and beliefs;
  • Strategy, i.e. being able to factor culture into longer-term planning; and
  • Action, i.e. behaving in a culturally sensitive way.

Fortunately, although some aspects of CQ are innate, this is an area, unlike IQ, which can be learnt, measured and developed.

Benefits of CQ

CQ enables you to be more successful in a multicultural setting. For example, on international assignments, you can:

  • Establish rapport and connect more easily
  • Communicate, negotiate and collaborate more effectively
  • Suffer less from disorientation caused by culture shock; adjust and adapt more easily and quickly, and consequently have a more pleasant and productive time if living and working in a cross-cultural environment
  • Appreciate multiple perspectives which enable you to effectively establish long-term relationships benefiting yourself, your business and your company

The way Forward

Culture is not just about geography, nationality or ethnicity. It is also found in different professions, businesses, organisations, and even departments and divisions within organisations.

A leader or a manager, therefore, needs awareness and sensitivity to communicate and interact with various internal departments, be they marketing, legal, PR or HR.

These areas are all tested in your interaction in a multinational, multicultural and multilingual setting:

  • Cognitive (i.e. intellectual understanding);
  • Physical (i.e. body language)
  • Emotional (i.e. motivation, reactions and responses)

A good example of a man who has been successful in blending all these is Brazilian Carlos Ghosn, currently the Chairman and CEO of Paris-based Renault, Chairman and CEO of Japan-based Nissan, and Chairman of Russian automotive manufacturer AvtoVAZ.

CQ falls on the line between our core and our flex.

Julia Middleton puts it brilliantly in her TED talk on cultural intelligence. She says that CQ falls on the line between our core and our flex. By core, she means our deep-rooted values that define us, that make us what we are intrinsically, what people respect us for and which should never change; and flex is our flexibility where we can empathise, adapt and change when necessary.

Balancing these two intelligently allows us to change without losing ourselves or compromising on what matters.

As we live and grow, travel the world and meet new people, we discover the knots in our core and CQ enables us to unpick them. By smoothing these knots, we also smooth our lives and relationships. We no longer judge others by our standards because, as Julia says, the opposite of cultural intelligence is cultural intolerance.

To quote Jim Sutcliffe, Managing Partner at Arboretum Partners LLP and Chairman of Sun Life Financial in Canada, “I know we have all thought business was about products, customers, finances and people, but it’s more than that now. You have to understand the context in which you are operating and the communities you are part of.”

I know we have all thought business was about products, customers, finances and people, but it’s more than that now. You have to understand the context in which you are operating and the communities you are part of (Jim Sutcliffe, Chairman of Sun Life Financial in Canada)



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