What is cultural intelligence?
It is defined as
the desire and ability to communicate with cultural outsiders, and to form healthy social, personal, and professional relationships across cultural boundaries.
Cultural intelligence refers to a person’s aptitude for facing the challenges posed by intercultural communication and cooperation. As well as it is also roughly synonymous with the idea of cosmopolitanism or global citizenship. Finally, cultural intelligence is a measure of a person’s suitability to live and work in a globalized, multi-cultural world.
Central Capabilities of Cultural Intelligence
Psychologists describe cultural intelligence as including four central capabilities:
- strategy, and
The first capacity, drive, is often taken to be the most psychologically important. Also known as “CQ Drive”, the drive for cultural intelligence is a person’s level of interest in other cultures and desire to work with a diverse group of people.
In the modern western world, this drive is fairly common – most people consider themselves to be fair-minded and open to the vast diversity of the world, and increasing numbers of people are inspired to embrace the beauty of that diversity. Thus, they have a high CQ Drive and are good candidates for developing high cultural intelligence. Without a high CQ Drive, the person in question probably will not show much initiative in improving their cultural intelligence, and therefore is less likely to improve – hence the deep psychological importance of CQ Drive.
CQ Drive is a product of personality and natural inclination.
Someone with a high “CQ Knowledge” is one who is well-informed about the similarities and differences between world cultures – including their history, politics, geography, and religious practices.
Many people with high CQ Knowledge are self-taught individuals who learn by reading books, attending cultural events, and traveling; however, CQ Knowledge is also an important part of formal education, and many colleges and universities are starting to emphasize this aspect of their mission by promoting cross-cultural classes and study-abroad opportunities.
CQ Knowledge needs education.
CQ Strategy refers to the strategies and techniques that a person employs in cross-cultural situations. How does he or she approach situations where intercultural communication will be necessary? How does he or she relate to coworkers and partners from other cultures?
Strategies for cultural intelligence range from researching other cultures to mindfulness practice (i.e. meditation), which has been shown to improve people’s open-mindedness and mitigate the anxiety that cross-cultural situations may cause in some people. CQ Strategy also includes the ability to lean on a continual basis by checking one’s assumptions against the facts and learning from each encounter.
CQ Strategy needs the process of self-reflection.
Finally, CQ Action is a person’s ability to adapt, in practice, to real-world situations of cross-cultural interaction. At the most basic level, this means the ability to employ culturally-specific forms of nonverbal communication, such as appropriate gestures, body language, idioms, at humor.
Example: The “a-OK” Symbol
Consider the case of a common gesture: the “a-OK” symbol. Common in the United States, this gesture involves closing the thumb and forefinger into a circle while spreading out the other fingers. In America and parts of Europe, it is understood as a signal of approval or reassurance – everything is all right. However, in many other countries (notably Brazil, Venezuela, and Turkey), it is an extremely rude gesture with crass and insulting connotations. In some Arab countries, the same gesture is used as a threat, and can even signal willingness to fight.
A person with high CQ Knowledge would be aware of this distinction; a person with high CQ Action capability would put cultural knowledge into practice – in the appropriate cultural setting.
The Importance of Cultural Intelligence
In today’s globalized economy, many ventures and projects in all fields are managed by multi-cultural teams. This is good for business, since it increases creativity and innovation while simultaneously bringing a wealth and diversity of global talents. Cross-cultural communication can be difficult even under the best of circumstances. The advantages of a culturally diverse working team are difficult to unlock in practice. This is why cultural intelligence (along with other core cultural competencies such as language fluency) is so important.
Improving CQ Capabilities – An Infinite Process
No one is perfectly open-minded, perfectly knowledgeable, or entirely free from preconceptions and prejudices. Thus, cultural intelligence includes a recognition of the constant need for self-improvement.
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