What Is Cultural Intelligence? (Components And Importance)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 20 October 2022

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As the global economy is quickly transforming, more companies are preparing their employees to have the skills to work with diverse populations worldwide. The most significant skill for this type of work is having intelligence about various cultures. Learning about this concept can help you understand its importance and how it can help improve a business's performance and cultural harmony. In this article, we define cultural intelligence, discuss its components and importance, share the steps for encouraging it in the workplace and answer a few frequently asked questions.

What Is Cultural Intelligence?

Cultural intelligence, or cultural quotient (CQ), is the ability to relate to and interact with other cultures effectively. Since large corporations often operate on a global scale, employees can often adopt the cultures of their colleagues. Like emotional intelligence, CQ requires contextualising the interests, emotions and cultures of others. This entails understanding that people from different cultures have different socially acceptable responses, work styles and lifestyles, which may differ from those you are familiar with in your workplace. Those with a high CQ can easily understand culture-specific behaviours.

Related: What Are Intercultural Skills? (Plus How To Improve Them)

Components Of Cultural Intelligence

The following are the primary components of cultural intellect:

Using cognitive skills

Understanding the fundamentals of various cultures can help you interact and participate in a multicultural society. To accomplish this, you can utilise your cognitive abilities to observe and assess your colleagues' behaviours and actions. This aspect of CQ includes recognising and comprehending a different culture and then adapting your behaviour and approach accordingly. You can enhance this trait and better comprehend cultures by developing new methods for researching them, often outside your workplace.

Related: Cognitive Learning: Definition, Benefits And Examples

Understanding physical cues

This is the ability to understand and communicate with other cultures using reciprocal gestures. This is especially important because different cultures use distinct physical cues. Physical cues may include creating and presenting a slide deck to another culture while being conscious of the audience, the style and the language to communicate effectively.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Non-Verbal Communication Skills

Learning from mistakes

Individuals with a high CQ have the motivation to learn from their mistakes. You can use your personal initiative and self-determination to engage with others, which can help you assess your current cultural intellect. Putting your newly gained cultural knowledge into practice can effectively ensure success in business negotiations or interactions in new cultural settings. The objective is to continue refining and gaining self-confidence after you experience challenging encounters with diverse cultures.

Related: Relationship-Building Skills (With Definition And Examples)

Importance Of Cultural Intelligence In The Workplace

Here are some of the key reasons cultural intellect is important in the workplace:

Creates harmony

By increasing cross-cultural understanding, team members can become more empathetic to differing opinions and perceptions. When colleagues are adaptable and can assimilate into each other's backgrounds, a culture of harmony can develop, making it easier to be productive at work. Leaders with a high cultural understanding may find it easier to foster a cohesive team. For instance, team-building exercises can encourage members to recognise each other's strengths and weaknesses and facilitate problem-solving through collaboration.

Related: What Is A Diverse Workplace? (Definition And Benefits)

Improves communication

Cultural intellect is crucial to effective workplace communication, particularly in large organisations with culturally diverse employees. Strong communication can enhance how employees perceive others' behaviour in unfamiliar settings. A culturally intellectual team can more easily comprehend and interact with one another, resulting in less miscommunication.

Related: How To Overcome Communication Barriers: Benefits And Tips

Expands innovation

Businesses can depend on their teams' ability to identify opportunities for innovation, such as when they are developing and implementing new strategies to sell a product in a new region. Using your cultural intellect, you can facilitate your ability to understand and adapt to new demographics. It also helps create an environment where everyone feels comfortable enough to express their opinions.

Related: What Is Business Innovation? (With Types And Examples)

Builds connections

A culturally intelligent individual is likelier to establish connections with international partners, customers and investors. A high CQ is an asset when negotiating with investors from diverse backgrounds and can aid in establishing long-lasting relationships with vital business partners. You can gain your clients' and business partners' trust by understanding their cultural perspectives. Team leaders with an enhanced cultural understanding can manage employees, resolve external conflicts and implement policies that foster supportive team environments.

Related: 11 Ways To Collaborate With Your Team (With Benefits)

Encourages healthy competition

As globalisation makes the business environment more dynamic and competitive, organisations incorporating cultural diversity are likelier to attract a greater number of employees and business partners. Companies can increase their chances of recruiting the best talent with a high level of CQ by encouraging applications from candidates from multiple cultures instead of only considering domestic candidates. This increased diversity can improve a company's global market performance by strengthening its interactions outside its domestic market.

How To Encourage Cultural Intelligence In The Workplace

A high CQ helps you and your colleagues develop a cohesive, competitive and compassionate workplace. Follow these steps to encourage cultural intellect in the workplace:

1. Accept everyone's opinions

Using your cultural intellect to observe and empathise with a colleague can make it easier to connect with them on several levels. Individuals with a high CQ are receptive to a wide range of suggestions, opinions and advice from diverse people with different strengths. If you are unsure about anyone's behaviours or language, consider being open and honest about these to understand cultural differences.

2. Aspire to learn more

As you learn different skills in the workplace, such as stress management, self-motivation and emotional intelligence, ensure you improve your cultural intellect, too. You can practise this by taking a CQ test, interacting with people from different cultures and carefully observing them. Learning about and interacting with diverse cultures can help you improve and understand certain behaviours or actions in the workplace. Cultural understanding can assist in learning and adapting to different cultures through the following practices:

  • Understand why different cultures do certain activities differently to help you make more informed decisions while interacting with someone from another culture.

  • Observe behaviour through social media and remember different cultural practices to understand your colleagues effectively.

  • Keep records of your observations to refer to when in doubt to ensure you regularly improve your cultural understanding.

3. Stay objective

Do not evaluate a person from a cultural perspective because this can lead to false assumptions. To increase your CQ, be objective and observe other cultures with an open mind. Accept the differences that exist between cultures as normal. Acceptance can foster empathy and promote cultural sensitivity.

Related: What Is Self-Awareness? (And How To Become More Self-Aware)

4. Develop a conflict-solving practice

Conflict may occur within any team. Cultural intellect can help identify the sources of disagreements and establish strategies to solve problems. Team members can utilise practices that neutralise any conflicts cultural differences may cause. You can be proactive with culturally responsive training courses to minimise conflicts before they happen.

Related: What Is Conflict Resolution? Using This Practice At Work

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few frequently asked questions about CQ:

What are the four major elements of CQ?

The following are the four major elements of CQ:

  1. CQ drive: CQ drive relates to the level of your interest in experiencing other cultures, persistence in adapting cross-culturally and confidence in operating in culturally diverse environments. It is a crucial starting point in adjusting your behaviour accordingly in a multicultural setting.

  2. CQ knowledge: CQ knowledge is the extent to which you understand how cultures are similar or dissimilar and how this influences cross-cultural conversation dynamics. This includes both your general knowledge about the major components of a culture and specific knowledge about a particular culture and how to be effective within it.

  3. CQ strategy: CQ strategy is the extent to which you prepare for, maintain awareness during and evaluate the outcomes of multicultural interactions. This builds on your CQ knowledge and can enable you to make accurate and insightful observations about cross-cultural interactions.

  4. CQ action: CQ action measures your adaptability and use of behaviours and skills in cross-cultural interactions. It expands on the readiness and awareness gained through the CQ strategy and allows you to modify your behaviour during interactions.

What is cultural competence?

Cultural competence is a set of cognitive, affective and behavioural skills that facilitate effective and appropriate communication with individuals of different cultures. Here are the four major components of cultural competence:

  • Awareness: Many individuals may have blind spots or unconscious biases because of their personal beliefs and values. It is essential to raise awareness about prejudices and stereotypes and examine the value of diversity.

  • Attitude: Your values and beliefs can reveal the degree to which you are receptive to divergent views and opinions. Stronger beliefs can make you more likely to react emotionally when confronted with cultural differences.

  • Knowledge: The greater your understanding of other cultures, the more thoughtful you can be towards others. Understanding how cultures influence management style, problem-solving and asking for help can improve cross-cultural communication.

  • Skills: The ability to effectively manage cultural differences, awareness, knowledge and a positive attitude regarding cultural differences is essential. To prevent cross-cultural discrimination, you can gain and utilise cultural competence skills.

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