Our world

We live in a global interconnected multicultural world.  From promoting planetary wellness, to maintaining a competitive business edge, to making the most of a holiday abroad, we need to communicate with different cultures.

Communication is crucial and challenging at the best of times. Factor in the cultural element and the stakes rise. There is the issue of language and knowing what to say, how, when, where and why. Not even to mention the non-verbal behaviour.  Then is our inclination to see what we want or expect to see and to reject possible interpretations that don’t fit with what we expect; a tendency which becomes even more apparent when faced with a different culture.  We evaluate behavior as good or bad, and make judgments based on our own cultural bias.  And all this adds to high levels of stress.

For leaders, the ability to understand, build trust with and serve people from different cultural backgrounds with different values and assumptions and to unleash this human potential to reap the benefits of diversity, is critical.

The theory

IQ, EQ, CQ – are the commonly accepted abbreviations to represent intellectual, emotional and cultural intelligence respectfully*. As leaders we have been concentrating on the first two. Cultural intelligence which layers onto these is no longer an add-on: we must give it our attention.   With various studies that conclude 16-40% of all managers who are sent on foreign assignments end them early, it makes no sense for companies not to.

Cultural intelligence can be simply defined as being intelligent about cultures – having the ability to make appropriate behavioural choices depending on the culture-based values and attitudes of the people with whom one interacts.  It is not about being an expert about every culture but more so having the ability to be effective and respectful in any cultural situation.

And the practice

Last week, I was in Connecticut with a group of IT managers who were exploring this very thing.  What mindset and behaviours did we need in order to be more effective globally?  What does it mean for me as a Texan to lead a multicultural team?

Culturally intelligent people I know? They have developed their awareness, knowledge and skills. They are cognitively strong, open and mindful. Appreciative of difference, they take time to learn about their own culture, to dig deep into their own assumptions and learn about other cultures and their languages.  They have the physical means, in that they have a high attuned awareness. Their ‘antennae’ are finely tuned to non-verbal behaviour and they are perceptive and sensitive to context, so adjust and adapt as necessary.  Motivationally, they have a strong inner purpose and are comfortable with ambiguity. They are resilient and use the richness of cultural differences to create new options.

If IQ gets you the job and EQ gets you promoted, well perhaps we can say CQ gives you ‘the world’.



* The Q stands for the quotient,  the measurement of these intelligences. The abbreviations of IQ, EQ, CQ have become accepted ways to talk about both the intelligence and the measurement.

Economist (2010), In Search of High CQ,  April 6,  http://www.economist.com/node/15859723

Brooks Peterson (2004) Cultural Intelligence,  Intercultural Press

With much respect and admiration to all you culturally intelligent folk – you know who you are


Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

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