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Why Cultural Intelligence is an Essential Skill for the 21st Century

Multicultural team meeting

Cultural Intelligence (CI) or Cultural Quotient (CQ) is a skill that enables you to effectively adapt to different cultural contexts.

The first to introduce and describe this concept were Professors Soon Ang and Christopher Earley in their book “Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures”.

Developing Cultural Intelligence has become especially relevant today.

This is because, in the post-pandemic period, many companies are moving into an online, globalized, environment. Team coordination, communication, process management, etc. all take place there.

Virtual teams tend to be much more culturally diverse because their members can participate in the workflow entirely remotely and the employer can seamlessly collaborate with professionals from anywhere in the world.

Now and in the future, employers need professionals who can collaborate virtually across cultures.

Why Cultural Intelligence is Important for Professionals

A high level of Cultural Intelligence allows a person to integrate effectively into a new cultural environment without many challenges.

By developing this skill, a professional learns to navigate cultural differences and how to positively manage their own biases, stereotypes and assumptions which could prevent them from doing their jobs effectively.

Self-awareness is important. By consciously looking at situations or contexts from different perspectives, we can approach people and situations with more clarity and create a good environment that encourages communication and trust.

According to Christopher Earley and Soon Ang, there are four components of Cultural Intelligence:

1. Motivational consists of a personal interest in other cultures, self-confidence, and a desire to immerse oneself in another culture.
2. Cognitive consists of a person's theoretical knowledge of the norms of behaviour in a particular culture, its religious, social, linguistic and other specific characteristics.
3. The metacognitive component is the ability to adapt your thinking according to your experience and knowledge of another culture.
4. The behavioural component is the practical application of cultural knowledge. The manner and structure of communication, behaviour and nonverbal communication (gestures) are adjusted accordingly.

Through constant exposure and conscious practice, cross-cultural learning gives you the skills and confidence to handle the unfamiliar contexts, situations or behaviours you may find when working across cultures.

Cultural intelligence training

Why Management need Cultural Intelligence Skills

Culture and business are notoriously difficult to integrate, however, when done properly this integration potentially offers a competitive advantage to your business or organization.

A culturally diverse team offers more perspectives on ideas, tasks and processes; it generates fresh and original ideas and improves decision-making. The higher the CQ level of team members - the lower the rates of emotional burnout and the higher their rates of productivity. These factors eventually lead to increased profitability of your business.

Effective management in a cross-cultural environment is also critical for companies with culturally diverse teams.

Managers need to understand cultural differences in many areas such as communication, teamwork, approach to time, work values, business practices, etc. If virtual teams come together without any proactive management of how they are supposed to collaborate, then that’s when the problems start.

For example, it is common for professionals who don’t understand differences across cultures to make bad judgements about their colleagues and their behaviour. They can misinterpret situations and cause conflict between team members.

The main risks associated with a lack of Cultural Intelligence are:

• Misunderstandings between employees, partners and customers
• Lack of cohesion in the team and inefficient interaction between departments
• Demotivation of employees and a false sense of competence
• Mistakes in business, bad practices or poor customer service

In order to avoid these difficulties, managers should consider cross cultural awareness training.

This training helps to motivate and engage teams by exploring the influence of culture on the workplace and how best to create a ‘team culture’ that transcends nationality, borders or time zone.

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