The world has indeed become more and more interconnected than ever. And I say that with all conviction—whether we like it or not. With the rise of different inventions like mobile phones, the internet, and even social media, it’s almost impossible not to assume so.
Everywhere we go—be it physically or virtually—it has become part of our normal to see people of different ethnicities and backgrounds roam around our corners and often leave traces of their culture as they go, too. We may find some actions interesting, and some, we can’t help but frown upon—all because they’re different and foreign to us. In a world where cross-cultural experience has become a routine, cultural intelligence is definitely something we must all ponder upon.
Table of Contents
- What is cultural intelligence?
- What is the difference between cultural intelligence vs. emotional intelligence?
- What are the three sources of cultural intelligence?
- Why is cultural intelligence important?
- What leads to cultural intelligence?
What is cultural intelligence?
The whole concept of cultural intelligence was first introduced by Christopher Earley and Soon Ang in 2004 and defined it as one’s ability to adapt to new cultural settings.
To be culturally intelligent does not mean having to memorize every single detail of different cultures perfectly, but rather, it calls for something more—it pushes one to see past boundaries, make sense of people’s actions, and find the meaning behind their behaviors—whether they’re driven solely by culture or other more factors like occupation, age, mood, etc.
People with high CQ tend to be more confident even when exposed to a new environment. Due to their awareness of the influence and complexity of culture, they can properly design and address specific concerns involving so in a more acceptable manner.
Simply put, cultural intelligence is one’s ability to rightly recognize, understand, and adapt to even unfamiliar gestures of different cultures, as if it was their own.
What is the difference between cultural intelligence vs. emotional intelligence?
Since both CQ and EQ are necessary components for better social interaction, many may consider them as one. Don’t.
As discussed by Harvard Business Review, cultural intelligence picks up where emotional intelligence leaves off. EQ allows a person to identify and act upon their emotions and the emotions of others. CQ, on the other hand, paves the way for one to understand the behavior of a foreigner better, sort out whether it’s universally accepted for their culture or distinct to the foreigner alone.
What are the three sources of cultural intelligence?
Harvard Business Review identifies three main components for CQ, namely:
Cognitive – This section refers to one’s knowledge and understanding of a culture taken from research and observation. It requires continuous rote learning about a culture’s beliefs, customs, traditions, and even taboos. Although your knowledge alone can not completely protect you from unfavorable situations, it should at least help you analyze things better, adapt, and decide on your words and actions in ways acceptable.
Physical – This section refers to the translation of your knowledge through body language. To avoid disarming your foreign colleagues, make sure that your actions (gestures, body language, nonverbal cues) prove that you understand them. Moreover, this is the most evident way for your CQ to be seen by others.
Emotional/motivational – This section is what completes everything. It isn’t enough to just know the details about a specific culture, nor is it sufficient to merely practice the right way of handling foreigners. Rather, it would help if you were assertive and self-confident too. You see, adapting to different cultures is in no way a walk in the park. It entails a few setbacks from here and there. You can only overcome all those when you have enough drive and self-assertion to do so. As soon as you do, you will come out stronger.
What are the four main dimensions of cultural intelligence?
- Drive – This generally pertains to your willingness to work with others from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, it is your ability to overcome unconscious and/or personal biases, stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.
- Knowledge – This refers to your knowledge about the similarities and differences of various cultures—language, customs, traditions, appearance, etc. It is necessary to rightly dissect the hidden meanings behind different values and practices to avoid making and giving out wrong assumptions.
- Strategy – This refers to your ability to properly use gathered information to plan how you should respond to these cultural differences strategically. This involves having to be mentally alert and flexible to these perceived boundaries.
- Action – This targets your ability to read behind verbal and nonverbal cues. Moreover, it is also your ability to use appropriate gestures and cues to get your point across better. Ultimately, this helps you control and turn the emotions that you display into more accepting forms.
How to measure CQ?
Just like IQ, there are a lot of ready-made assessments used to measure one’s cultural intelligence. Examples include The Cultural Intelligence Scale (CQS), Cultural Intelligence Self-Assessments, and more. Generally, these try to target the 4 dimensions of CQ: CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ action.
Why is cultural intelligence important?
Core vs. Flex
Honing our CQ begins with ourselves. In Julia Middleton’s talk about this, she introduces the core vs. flex concept. These two are aspects of ourselves that help shape us and our reactions to differences. The core represents part of us that we are not willing to change. They may be behaviors that we either always do or would never even welcome in the first place. Generally, this part is what shapes us and sets us apart from the rest. On the other hand, our flex represents our adaptability to differing ideals or circumstances. Flexing our behavior is one thing, but flexing our accustomed ideals is a totally different story.
A high CQ person can consistently adjust these two aspects of themselves as they learn and encounter new experiences every day.
Furthermore, Middleton states, “The more core you are, the more people trust you. The more flex you are, the more people trust you.” What does this mean? You simply have to find the right balance of things to promote your efficiency in adapting to change while not disregarding yourself and your identity as you move along.
In what way does cultural intelligence help a leader be more effective?
Everyone, especially leaders, need CQ to be effective. In this highly globalized world where the ability to connect to international relations is given high regard, CQ is a factor that we must not turn a blind eye on. It is a critical aspect that allows us to strategically use our cultural differences to come up with brighter solutions.
What leads to cultural intelligence?
Where do you find it?
Cultural intelligence is not honed by simply traveling nor studying abroad alone. It demands a continuous practice of learning, observing, analyzing, and understanding. It’s best when honed at an early age to give more room for flexibility and improvements.
Interested to learn more? It is important to tap on the right sources and tools to help make things easier for you. In this case, tap on TransCultural Group to guide you and/or your kids in this critical journey.
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For many years, we’ve been told that IQ is important for success. This, we have to change. Yes, IQ still is important, but it isn’t and shouldn’t be our be-all-end-all. As 21st century workers, we have to be reminded of how the paradigm has greatly shifted today. It’s not anymore all about academic achievements. Rather, it’s about our capacity to feel—to understand people and where they’re coming from. CQ allows us to interact with foreigners better, regardless of the cultural divisions and boundaries that are separating us.