The Value of Cultural Intelligence

Hands of different colours reaching out to earth, symbolizing different cultures, diversity, cultural intelligence, CQ

Cultural intelligence (CQ) is the ability to relate to and communicate effectively with people of different cultures. As career professionals, we need to hone the critical skill of cultural intelligence because it’s linked to our emotional intelligence (EQ). I’d like to share why I believe CQ is so important to the work we do.

My Background

As a Canadian-born citizen with parents from eastern Europe, I have learned a lot about different cultures over the years. Culture, whether as part of one’s background or within an organization, is the driving force that brings people together around a unified vision through shared experiences, sentiments, beliefs, and values. But culture can also divide when that vision no longer unifies or serves, or when values, beliefs, and experiences are challenged to the point they no longer reflect the majority’s core.

Earlier this year, I viewed an interesting TedTalk by Julia Middleton, — Cultural Intelligence: The Competitive Edge for Leaders. Julia Middleton is the founder and Innovation Officer of Common Purpose, an international charity that runs leadership development programs globally. Her goal is to “develop leaders who can cross boundaries, both at work and in society.” Julia defines cultural intelligence as the ability to cross borders and boundaries and thrive in multiple cultures. It is the ability to relate to and work harmoniously with diverse people from all walks of life.

However, the most challenging thing may be not only embracing other cultures and their differences, but embracing the essence of your own culture. She talks about her cultural experiences in a foreign country and how she learned to strike a balance between her “core” (attitudes, beliefs, and values that define “you”) and “flex” (those that are outside your “core”). In her view, the more flexible you are with your “flex,” the more you garner people’s trust. Nevertheless, it is important to not lose your core. Cultural intelligence transcends core and flex and shifts as you progress in life.

10 Things I Have Learned About Culture Over the Years

  1. Culture can teach us important lessons about ourselves and others; we come to discover that we are more alike than different.
  2. How we perceive culture is often subjective.
  3. Avoid judging others and leaning into common assumptions about culture. You don’t really know about anyone’s culture until you have fully embraced and experienced it yourself.
  4. People sometimes use “culture” as a justification for certain attitudes, learned behaviours, biases, stereotypes, and values.
  5. Cultural values are a positive vehicle for meaningful exchange of stories and traditions.
  6. Culture can unite, but it can also divide people due to misperceptions, ignorance, and lack of empathy.
  7. Values such as integrity, adaptability, ethics, politeness, respect, and authenticity are a part of every culture.
  8. The most challenging culture to understand is sometimes your own.
  9. It is important to acknowledge when your culture challenges you; openly look outside yourself to experience a new perspective.
  10. Have gratitude for the uniqueness and beauty of your culture as well as the cultures of others.

Why is Cultural Intelligence Important?

Today’s world is more diverse and multicultural than ever. While diversity breeds opportunities, it comes with some challenges related to adaptability and flexibility.

But cultural intelligence goes beyond just getting past personal biases and being able to understand, relate, and adapt to cultural differences. It’s about embracing new environments and being attuned to various beliefs, values, and attitudes of people from different cultures. Moreover, it involves responding with empathy and authenticity to those differences from a place of compassion and understanding. When you have cultural intelligence, you can function successfully in a wide range of settings. Culture is not just inclusive of nationality, ethnicity, or religion, but encompasses social groups, business organizations, departments, age groups, and teams.

Dr. David Livermore suggests that becoming culturally intelligent is a 4-step process:

  1. CQ Drive: The motivation to learn about new cultures.
  2. CQ Knowledge: An understanding of how cultures influence what people say and do.
  3. CQ Strategy: The ability to deploy a plan to respond to cultural differences.
  4. CQ Action: The ability to act or function in culturally sensitive ways, including navigating any difficulties that arise.

10 Tips for Enhancing Cultural Intelligence

  1. Work with people in diverse communities and social groups.
  2. Improve your cross-cultural communication skills by learning and communicating in a foreign language.
  3. Utilize your interpersonal and non-verbal communication skills.
  4. Challenge your stereotypes and assumptions about people in different cultures by asking relevant questions.
  5. Study or read about different cultures.
  6. Keep a journal to record your thoughts and observations about how you practise cultural intelligence.
  7. Listen with empathy and non-judgment.
  8. Show a keen interest in and respect for other cultures.
  9. Appreciate the uniqueness of other cultures and their values and traditions.
  10. Initiate honest and authentic conversations about culture.

Learning cultural intelligence offers us hope. It helps us aspire to become brave and inspiring leaders, coaches, and mentors who are capable of fostering true change, demonstrating openness, and embracing people from all walks of life without judgment and with genuine acceptance.

You can learn about cultural intelligence, among many other interesting topics, by completing CPC’s Work-Life Coaching course. Earn your Certified Work-Life Strategist (CWS) designation in 2022!

Lori Jazvac is a passionate, award-winning Master Certified Résumé Strategist and Certified Employment Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada. As a multi-certified Master Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Coach, she specializes in helping clients navigate challenging career transitions. In 2013, an empowering vision inspired Lori to launch Creative Horizons Communications, a holistic career services firm where she virtually supports jobseekers around the globe to embrace their next career milestone. In her spare time, Lori enjoys dance, blogging, watching comedies and reality shows, yoga, and taking long walks in nature.

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