January 27, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
Cultural intelligence is key in a multicultural world. The skills are as helpful in navigating a multinational as they are any where in today’s diverse global world. Organizations, groups, professions, nations, ethnic groups all have their own cultures. Even facilitating conversations between different groups or divisions in your own organization requires strong cultural intelligence.
Consider, for example, the divide that can exist between engineers and sales folks in many large organizations. Difference language, values, training, expectations, goals, worldview, behaviors, practices. Learning to diagnose and move comfortably and ably between cultures is a skill to be treasured.
The idea of multiple intelligence dates back to the early 1980s and the work of Howard Gardner. Gardner proposed that a single general capacity that every individual has – one that could be measured by IQ tests and the like – was too limited for the reality of the human experience. Individuals are unique in the portrait of their diverse skills and strengths and in the different kinds of intelligence that underpins each. A star athlete knows and uses different knowledge and skills than a great artist or a Nobel prize winning scientist. Gardner proposed seven intelligences: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spacial, body-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.
In the 1990s, Daniel Goleman broadened interpersonal intelligence into the idea of emotional intelligence.
Ten year later, Christopher Earley and Soon Ang popularized the concept of cultural intelligence (CQ): the ability to understand someone’s gestures and behaviors in the way that person’s colleagues and group-mates would.
Bottom-line, strong cultural intelligence is the capacity to determine the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, behaviors, and practices that characterizes a group, institution, or organization. That’s not an easy task. CQ is not stereotyping or equating the idiosyncrasies of an individual from a cultural group as characteristics of the entire group.
Those with high CQ are akin to good anthropologists with strong ethnographic skills. They look, study, discern, watch over time and situation, compare — and suspend judgment as they work. They note differences and determine the meaning of behaviors from those within the culture who know.
So how does one increase cultural intelligence? Become more open to (and even intuitive in) teasing out the appropriate responses and understandings in a cross-cultural situation? Remain comfortable while knowing that despite best efforts to decipher gestures, language, and behavior that you will never be able to learn, know, or plan for everything? Mistakes will happen – and that’s OK.
Building CQ involves cultural studies and learning about your own and others cultures. There’s a clear cognitive component in CQ. However, just knowing about a culture doesn’t mean you’ll be comfortable in it or have the courage and motivation to adjust body movement and language to mirror someone very different.
That’s where experimentation and practice come in. Accept that we all have our own brand of CQ and that like learning a new musical instrument, practice will expand skills and capacities.
Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski studied 2000 managers from 60 different countries and identified six different portraits of CQ, each emphasizing different combinations of natural skills, strengths, and experiences. They found:
1. The Provincial with predispositions for the comfort of predictability of the known
2. The Analyst with good learning, planning, and environmental scanning skills
3. The Natural with strong intuitive capacities
4. The Ambassador with confidence, as well as motivation and behaviors that convey “I belong”
5. The Mimic with abilities to sense how to mirror actions and engage in the cultural dance
6. The Chameleon with skills and orientations that draw from all of the portraits .
So what’s your current style? Which portrait best fits your approach to cultural differences? How’s your motivation and what’s your plan for growth and development?