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What is Cultural Intelligence?

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Here we explain why Cultural Intelligence is so important in Business, and how it affects every decision we make from Advertising to negotiations and company structure. We also look at how crossing boundaries is becoming vitally important to have this skill.

Cultural Intelligence (also known as CQ) according to Harvard Business Review is an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would.

The skill to work beyond our normal cultural sensitivity and awareness is highlighted by certain skill sets that are built-in or adapted or learnt over time through diverse situations. A person who has Cultural intelligence is not just aware of the different cultures but is able to culturally adapt, work and relate to people across a different cultural context.

Cultural Intelligence is a higher level of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligent people can pick up on the emotions, wants and needs of others. People with high cultural intelligence are attuned to the values, beliefs, and styles of communication of people from different cultures, creating further empathy and understanding. Unlike IQ, cultural intelligence cannot be quantified by a score, however, it is something that is continuously improved over time.


Now how does it relate to your business?

As we live with globalisation and constant connectivity across many different businesses and individuals it’s hard not to realise that you have to use CQ every day. By having people from different cultures in the workplace to dealing with overseas businesses or external operators, we all deal with cultural intelligence to some degree.

But how well do we currently use it?

For businesses that want to expand internationally the biggest reason of failure is misunderstanding another culture and its intricacies. According to the International Labour Union, 70 per cent of international ventures fail due to cultural differences. More than 50% of the world’s population lives in Asia and its consumer demand is worth US$10 trillion annually, like the U.S. Only 5.1% of workers are fluent in one or more Asian languages. Only 19% of directors and 14% of senior executives have the knowledge, skills, networks, and experience required to be effective in Asia (however these figures slide to 5% depending on the source).

The process of expanding cultural intelligence means increasing our knowledge of the ways that various cultures work within business settings to improve language and behaviours that encourage better problem-solving.

Achieving cultural intelligence adds a competitive edge to your company by improving communication, cooperation, teamwork, and overall performance. It also results in leaders that purposefully manage what is common and how power functions in an organisation. Cultural Intelligent managers ensure the usual patterns of advantage and disadvantage are creatively and positively disrupted.

So in future, look at how you engage someone else or a group of people and find ways to engage or improve cultural intelligence. By doing this you’d have better outcomes in negotiations or even working with a colleague.