Cultural intelligence is a concept that has been more and more used in the recent years in fields like education, business, academic research, etc. It has become an important concept, which is why today we are going to see a definition of it, as well as get a glimpse of its importance in today’s world.
Cultural Intelligence Definition
Cultural intelligence, also called cultural quotient and abbreviated CQ, refers to the capacity to relate to other cultures and work effectively across them. As the world seems to be getting smaller and smaller, people all around the globe find themselves more often in situations where they need to cooperate and reach common goals.
The term is a recent one, with definitions being found in studies as early as 2003. P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang developed the concept in the book Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures. Then, the CQ idea was developed by David Livermore in his work called Leading with Cultural Intelligence. Here you can see Livermore himself explaining more about this interesting concept:
CQ as a System
Many people consider CQ as a system formed by three interactive components:
- Cultural knowledge;
- Cross-cultural skills;
- Cultural metacognition.
All of them work together to form this concept, so they can’t operate separately. Let’s find out more about each of them.
1. Cultural Knowledge
This consists of the content and processing the knowledge about other cultures. For example, the manner and the moment in which people express disagreements, how to give feedback, etc. This element can be gained from movies, books, newspapers, traveling or simply interacting with people from another culture.
2. Cross-Cultural Skills
The second element of the cultural intelligence concept refers to a set of skills that are necessary for an intercultural effectiveness, such as:
- Empathy – putting yourself in the other person’s shoes;
- Relational skills – talking and interacting with people from a different culture;
- Adaptability – changing your behavior depending on the cultural demands;
- Tolerance of uncertainty – tolerating ambiguities, uncertainties, and unexpected changes in an intercultural context;
- Perceptual acuity – understanding the other’s feelings and meanings.
These can be achieved by studying or working in a foreign environment. Most of the time, people manage to learn this skills through trial and error. The entire process is easier if a person already has the cultural knowledge we mentioned earlier.
3. Cultural Metacognition
Also called cultural mindfulness, this metacognition refers to the way in which a person controls their own thinking and learning activities when it comes to cultural experience. This means they are aware of the cultural context, they analyze the situations and act accordingly. People develop this skill by practicing mental exercises: observing other people’s behaviors, analyzing situations and your own behavior as well. Just like before, this skill will be much easily developed if a person already has the previous two skills as well.
How to Measure Cultural Intelligence?
Cultural intelligence is different than the IQ concept, for instance, through the fact that it cannot be quantified with a score. There’s no scale to use when measuring the CQ. Furthermore, it is rather unproductive to think of this concept as merely a number. Instead, you should consider it a skill that can be continuously improved and developed all our lives. However, Julia Middleton, one of the theorists that helped define the notion, came up with an idea. In her view, this is a skill we can achieve by balancing our core (the core values that represent us) and flex (how flexible are we when it comes to getting out of our comfort zone). Here you can see her explaining the Eight Poles assessment she came up with for the CQ:
Cultural Intelligence in Business
The cultural intelligence concept has been thoroughly applied in business as well. Back in 2004, Christopher Earley, together with his wife, Elaine Mosakowski, wrote an article in Harvard Business Review about this. Ever since then, the concept has gained a wide acceptance in the business community. They identified three means through which a person can develop their CQ:
- Motivational means – emotions, gaining rewards, strength;
- Cognitive – your head, learning about cultures and diversity;
- Physical – the body, use your senses and adapt.
This clip shows you more about using your CQ skills at work:
Why Is Cultural Intelligence Important?
Today’s world faces problems that didn’t even exist before. We can’t resolve major issues by ourselves anymore. Just think about the fact that one person, one culture, or one country is not enough to tackle delicate problems. That’s why it has become crucial to lead across boundaries and learn to collaborate peacefully.
If we were to have a look at organizations, they must face plenty of challenges internally. This requires all the different departments to work together: finance, sales, productions, marketing, etc. Naturally, all the leaders must also collaborate and find the best solution. The same thing applies for cities as well: they need the private, public, and non-profit sectors to work smoothly together, if they want to obtain the best results.
Extrapolating further, we see that countries and continents find themselves in positions that require people to cross old and new divisions. The entire world is currently in an avid search for innovation. People everywhere are constantly looking for new ideas, new ways, new technologies, ventures, and processes. The advantage of a culturally diverse group is the fact that it offers new perspectives.
Watch this TED talk about cultural intelligence to understand more about its importance in today’s world:
To draw a conclusion, cultural intelligence (or CQ) is an essential skill to adapt to the modern world. On a planet where we cross the geographical, political, cultural barriers every day, it’s important to know how to effectively work together with people who have a different background than you. Being a young concept, it may be developed differently in the future, so it will be interesting to watch how are people going to expand its meanings and use.
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