Multi-cultural diversity and Cultural Intelligence

A continuous challenge for organizations, but now with a solution: Cultural Intelligence
Many organizations today, regardless of their size, find it nearly impossible to avoid the global context and environment of today’s business world. Multinational corporations encounter even more difficulties the vaster their reach is and the cultural differences that incur internally and externally. Nevertheless, there is an answer and “tool” that can help improve a company’s cross-cultural relations to lead to smoother work flow and understanding between employees, and it is called Cultural Intelligence or CQ. As IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Intelligence) are necessary for today’s leaders and their teams, so is Cultural Intelligence becoming critical in the global workplace. Cultural Intelligence is “a person’s capability to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity” (Earley & Mosakowski, 2005), whether being applied in culturally diverse operations, teams, and customer needs and service.

Have you ever heard from your managers or teams how some of their colleagues in another country are too “square-minded” or so inflexible when some urgent work comes their way and they need to prioritize it? What about when some foreign colleagues come across a bit too direct in emails or meetings and this rubs your people the wrong way or creates confusion?

There are different cultural dimensions that explain just that, such as Power Distance or Uncertainty Avoidance. In my experience, I have seen companies that have had conflicts between their employees regarding some’s need for equal contribution versus having only the top manager take the decision and everyone else must follow and implement. Another company feels like working between their different European business units always seems to be a riddle in interpreting a “yes”, because they could say yes, but they may mean or act “no”.

This is where improving one’s Cultural Intelligence, on both a personal and professional level, is critical in understanding the “why’s” of a business situation and why a foreign colleague is acting in a way you usually wouldn’t. Whether these strange cultural situations are associated with one cultural dimension or another, Cultural Intelligence is a skill that can be developed and used to your organization’s advantage in your cross-country relations.

Four tips on growing Cultural Intelligence:

  1. Exploring how other fellow cultures “do business”, including their norms of communication, etiquette, and customs, is very helpful in raising your cultural intelligence.
  2. Realizing that many cross-cultural dimensions appear involuntarily between colleagues that may have worked together for a long time can help in seeing one’s own CQ gaps.
  3. Cultural intelligence is just as important as emotional intelligence in business: if you work with different countries, expressing a high level of cultural intelligence will get you farther in your people relationships.
  4. Remember, it’s not about which culture does something better or worse. It’s about understanding and accepting that each culture is different.
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