Our multicultural societies mean that we now live, study and work with people from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds. While this amalgamation of different perspectives, preferences and attitudes is often a source for innovation, creativity and growth, it’s not without its challenges either. To successfully navigate this cultural diversity we need to ensure that we don’t let our differences hamper our chances of a fruitful collaboration. This is where Cultural Intelligence (CQ) comes in.
You have probably heard of Intelligent Quotient (IQ), which measures abilities such as analytical, problem-solving and reasoning skills, and Emotional Quotient (EQ), which is all about your ability to recognise, understand and manage your own emotions and acknowledge and react to those of others. Both of these are incredibly important in allowing us to do our jobs to the best of our abilities, while EQ in particular helps us to become better team players and leaders. However, to be truly successful you now also need CQ: an ability to recognise and adapt to cultural differences.
Cultural differences aren’t just about differences in nationality: religion, race, gender, sexuality, politics and age all play a role in making up our cultural identities. Together, these different elements impact how we see and present ourselves but also how we interpret the world around us. Since our culture is so ingrained in who we are, we can unknowingly lack the sensitivity and awareness needed to relate to others with different cultures.
CQ is about building that awareness. It means taking a step back and realising that not everyone acts and thinks in the same way as you and being able to adapt the way you work and communicate to allow for a more successful collaboration. You need to be open to learning about different cultures, although nobody is expecting you to be an expert in every kind of culture; instead, it’s about your ability to pick up on cultural differences and respond to them with understanding rather than judgement.
So what does this look like in practice?
Imagine you kill a mosquito hovering around a colleague’s desk and notice that they seem quite upset by this. Your EQ kicks in and you ask what the matter is, to which they respond that in their culture, all life is sacred – even a mosquito’s. This might not mean much to you, but it’s clearly significant to your colleague. It’s your ability to recognise this and to adapt your behaviour accordingly, first and foremost by apologising to your colleague, that makes for a culturally intelligent response.
By being culturally intelligent you are able to bridge divides in the workplace and build strong and fruitful interpersonal connections in multicultural spaces. This makes for teams that aren’t just happier and more productive, but also more creative and innovative as they are able to successfully draw from a pool of diverse perspective to come up with better ideas and solutions.
As our workplaces continue to diversify, it’s CQ and not IQ that will help you stand out. So do a little bit of introspection to find out how culturally intelligent you are – there are plenty of tests available online to help you with this. Bear in mind though, that the most important thing isn’t how you score, but the steps you take to develop your CQ.