Cultural Intelligence

Breaking Down Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Cultural Intelligence (also called Cultural Quotient [CQ]) refers to a person’s capability to adapt effectively to new cultural contexts. It involves the capability to deal effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds.

Cultural intelligence is a concept prominent in the spheres of business, government, education and academic research.

From the horse's mouth ...
Many fields and disciplines are interested in cultural intelligence. The business world is tapping into the research to become more successful in culturally diverse markets. Government officials are being trained in cultural intelligence to become better at “winning” in foreign settings. And educational institutions want to know how to accomplish learning objectives among students coming from different cultural backgrounds. — David A. Livermore, Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World.

The essence of cultural intelligence is to be able to understand and respond to different cultural situations without losing one’s own identity. This requires more than understanding—it requires motivation and capability to respond appropriately. The concept is related to that of Cross Cultural Intelligence (CCI)Opens in new window.

Components of Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence, the capability to deal effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds, is a multifaceted competency consisting of three components which combined to provide a template for intercultural flexibility and competence. They include:

  1. Cultural Knowledge
    This involves the knowledge to understand cross-cultural phenomena. A core part of CQ is to understand the notion of culture itself and how it interacts with what we all share as human beings versus what is unique to each of us as individuals. Increasing our knowledge of the very idea of culture and how it affects us is core to cultural intelligence.
  2. Mindfulness
    Mindfulness is a means of observing and understanding cultural meanings and using that understanding as a basis for immediate action and long-term learning.

    The practice of mindfulness is being aware of our assumptions, ideas, and emotions; noticing what is apparent about the other person’s assumptions, words, and behaviour; using all of the senses in perceiving situations; viewing the situation from several perspectives; attending to the context to help to interpret what is happening; creating new mental maps of others; creating new and more sophisticated categories for others; seeking out fresh information to confirm or disconfirm the mental maps; and using empathy.
  3. A Repertoire of Behavioural Skills
    Knowledge and mindfulness are key elements of cultural intelligence, but in themselves they are not enough. Being culturally intelligent means developing a repertoire of skilled behaviours and knowing the appropriate context to use each one. In so doing you will be able to act appropriately and blend successfully into any cross-cultural situation.

Culturally intelligent negotiators have the knowledge required to anticipate communication differences, practice mindfulness by paying attention to both the context and the conventions of communication as well as its content, and adapt their negotiation behaviour to make concessions, persuade, exchange information, and/or build relationships, as appropriate for the negotiation and cultural context.

While everyone can learn to be culturally intelligent, certain characteristics of individuals support the development of cultural intelligence. These are integrity, openness, and hardiness. For those who are unsure of themselves in these areas, acquiring cultural intelligence is also likely to increase competence and confidence in all interpersonal situations.