Cultural Intelligence involves changing the way you see the world

Cultural Intelligence involves changing the way you see the world

Cross-cultural skills are becoming more and more important to all businesses, whatever their size. In today’s world it is likely that your staff will be called on to interact with people from other cultures, whether as clients, partners, or co-workers. Of course, if your company is engaging with foreign markets, such skills are particularly important. The depth of your “cultural intelligence” can make or break business relationships.

Cultural intelligence combines four factors:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Awareness
  3. Adaptation Skills
  4. Curiosity

The first three can be learned; the last one can be developed, but is also a function of personality.

  • Knowledge is probably the most obvious of these components, but still is often overlooked or undervalued. Knowing something about the economics, geography, religion, values and norms of a culture is vital to understanding the values of the people you are working with and the circumstances under which they operate.
  • You also need an awareness of the effects of culture on ideas and behavior, and understand that your own assumptions about the “way things are” may not be shared by people in other cultures. Self-awareness is the beginning of this process. Knowing how culture shapes your own behavior is the first step to being able to identify the effects of culture on others.
  • Once you can perceive cultural differences you can start developing the ability to adapt your own communication style, body language, and other behavior to show respect for other cultures.
  • Curiosity about unfamiliar and sometimes surprising differences is not as easy to learn; but it’s vital to developing the relationships of respect and trust that will be most fruitful for your business. It is difficult to develop cultural intelligence if you don’t first have a real desire to learn. Curiosity alone is a great starting point for developing cultural intelligence.

The next post in this series will discuss some business problems caused by failures of cultural intelligence.

One of our cultural consultants Carol Cunningham contributed to this series.

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