Why organizations must prioritize cultural intelligence

image1Globalization and technology have significantly changed how companies work, requiring employees to develop new skills and intelligences to communicate effectively with overseas counterparts and current or potential clients.

This includes understanding and respecting the customs and culture of the countries, companies, and individuals they’re dealing with. For example, an American meeting with a Japanese client should know how to properly greet him or her, so as not to offend (and therefore not ending a potentially fruitful meeting before it begins). To best communicate their ideas and intentions, employees must do their due diligence and cultural homework beforehand. After meetings, any gathered information should be assessed and used to further strengthen the relationship.

In addition, when looking for new talent, managers should screen potential employees for a certain kind of intelligence (or at least an openness to honing this critical skill), called Cultural Intelligence (CQ). According to P. Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski (Harvard Business Review), CQ is described as “an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would.”

A little history: EQ (Emotional Intelligence) was introduced in 1990 by Dr. Peter Salovey and John Mayer, defining it as ‘‘the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.’’ EQ blew the then-common IQ (Intelligence Quotient) out of the water; today many consider EQ a more reliable indicator of success in the workplace. Not only that, EQ can be learned. According to a recent Business Insider report by Dr. Travis Bradberry, “As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviors, your brain builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. Before long, you begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it. And just as your brain reinforces the use of new behaviors, the connections supporting old, destructive behaviors will die off as you learn to limit your use of them.”

CQ is related to EQ, say Early and Mosakowski, but it picks up where EQ leaves off: “A person with high emotional intelligence grasps what makes us human and at the same time what makes each of us different from one another. A person with high cultural intelligence can somehow tease out of a person’s or group’s behavior those features that would be true of all people and all groups, those peculiar to this person or this group, and those that are neither universal nor idiosyncratic.”

Like a close cousin to EQ, CQ can also be learned! Some circumstances may be more challenging than others, but it is entirely possible. According to Earley and Mosakowski, individuals must approach CQ from three basic aspects:

Head: To prevent negative reactions to differences, remember that behaviors and preferences are influenced by culture.

Body: Make sure your behaviors match or mimic those around you.

Heart: You must want to improve your cross-cultural skills. Seek out opportunities to interact with others who are different than you, and don’t let past mistakes or fear of future gaffes deter you.

Make CQ a priority in your corporation. Educate all employees, old and new. Create a database or community wherein people can access data on employee’s experiences with new and distant cultures. It will make for more productive (and peaceful) business.