What is Cultural Intelligence?

Cultural Intelligence
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Use Cultural Intelligence to Power Your Productivity

You’ve heard about business intelligence and emotional intelligence. If you want to increase your ability to manage high-performing teams, however, you need to learn more about cultural intelligence or CQ. In today’s increasingly diverse workplace, your ability to adapt to these changes will enhance your interactions and 

What Is Cultural Intelligence?

Simply put, it means having the ability to work with people of different cultures and backgrounds. It goes beyond tolerance and acceptance. When we expand our knowledge of other people and what they bring to the workplace, we relate to them with empathy and understanding. 

How does this relate to your productivity at work? An appreciation of culturally different beliefs, values and work styles will give you an edge when it comes to managing projects and people. You’ll improve your ability to communicate with others, enhance cooperation and avoid conflicts. In today’s increasingly global marketplace, your ability to understand and appreciate other cultures will give you a competitive edge.

Cross-Cultural Leadership Is in Demand

According to an article in Organizational Culture, “A core skill that organizations are looking for in their project managers today is the capacity to lead manage global change initiatives in a way that considers the human and social aspects and respects the people affected.” 

Today, successfully managing teams involves understanding the behaviors, motivations and attitudes of people from different backgrounds and cultures. 

Leading with Cultural Intelligence: Your 4-Step Plan

1. Improve your ability to recognize emotions

High-performing people often experience high levels of stress and anxiety. How good are you at reading your team members’ emotions? Studies have found that people are good at recognizing emotions in members of their own cultural group but have difficulty doing the same thing cross-culturally. This lack of understanding can lead to conflict and misunderstanding. According to an article in the NeuroLeadership Journal, “Identifying emotions from facial expressions is an important people skill for effective leadership.” 

How do you improve this skill? Research suggests that being open to learning is key to success in this area. Regular interactions with people from other cultures will actually rewire your brain to be more receptive and flexible. 
Leaders with high CQ “enjoy intercultural interactions and are confident that they can achieve their goals during such interactions.” Acknowledge that others express emotions differently, and listen to them when they express emotions. Put yourself in their shoes as you consider what they’ve expressed. Over time, it will become natural to interpret their emotions.

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2. Rewire your brain with regular cultural interactions

In a fascinating article titled “This Is Your Brain on Culture,” the authors describe a study by scientist Ying-Yi Hon. It looked at the cultural wiring of Chinese and American students at the University of Illinois. The Chinese students had newly arrived in the U.S. 

During the study, all the students received brain scans while they viewed the same pictures. An analysis revealed, “There was a consistent difference between the neural activities that occurred in the American students versus the Chinese.” For instance, in a picture of a sheep standing in a hotel lobby, American students focused on the sheep, and Chinese students focused on the lobby. Chinese students were also more likely to feel anxiety about the strangeness of the picture.

What made Hong’s research more interesting, however, is that she repeated the study several months later. This time, she found that the brain scans of the Chinese students were now more like those of the American students. Hong concluded that cultural differences are real, but they are not permanent. When it comes to culture, our neurological wiring is flexible. 

What does this mean for you as a business executive or project manager? It shows that a culturally diverse environment enriches everyone. People from different backgrounds and cultures can understand each other if they work together on shared goals. If you have the opportunity to work with a culturally diverse team, embrace it. Your differences may seem sharp at the beginning, but you will become a productive team.

3. Learn the business customs of other cultures

Leading with cultural intelligence means understanding the rituals, beliefs and customs of other countries. In some countries, for instance, it is considered rude to show up for a meeting right on time. In others, the exchange of small gifts or business cards is considered essential to any business meeting. 

In an article for Psychology Today, CQ expert Marie-Therese Claes writes that developing your CQ means understanding what different words mean in diverse cultures. “One of the problems in international relations is the misunderstanding that happens because we all speak the ‘international language’ of English but use English words with our own native meaning.”

An understanding of that gap will increase your ability to make meaningful connections with business partners from all backgrounds and cultures. If you want to operate on a global level, this knowledge will help you navigate the global workplace with ease. Some of us learn these skills by living and working in other countries, but you don’t have to travel the world to gain this knowledge. You don’t need to become an expert in other cultures. You just need to have an open, inclusive mindset. 

4. Assess your CQ level

In a case study published in the Harvard Business Review, researchers developed a CQ assessment scale that can help you see where your beliefs about other people and cultures might affect your productivity. We all have strengths and weaknesses when attempting to cross the cultural bridge. Knowing yours is an excellent starting point.

Enhance Your CQ to Increase Your Productivity

At the Leonard Productivity Institute, we specialize in helping project managers and executives increase their productivity through the proven science of neurological rewiring. Our evidence-based solutions can help you achieve the levels of success you deserve. To learn more, contact us today.