Ask anyone, “What creates the foundation of a relationship?” and you’ll likely hear, “Trust.” In order to face and move through inevitable challenges, there needs to be an established level of trust. This is no different when we look at professional relationships. 

One major barrier to trust is the fact that we all carry implicit biases which have the potential to erode relationships and offset progress. Though we have a world of information at our fingertips, there can be huge discrepancies between what we know and what we need to know about each other in order to establish healthy business relationships. Even if we have similar goals and the best intentions are in place, what is the solution?  

Cultural Intelligence is now being recognized as one of the most important elements of business development, alongside emotional and social intelligence. 

diverse group working together

What is cultural intelligence?

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is defined as the “capability to function effectively in culturally diverse settings.” The global market has magnified the need to connect cross-culturally, but we also have a need to develop CQ on our own turf. In order to successfully communicate with our peers and colleagues from different generations, ethnicities, functions, organizations, and regions, we must actively face our implicit biases and develop cultural intelligence.

The first step in developing cultural intelligence is understanding what is unknown, which can be uncomfortable. As an art teacher, I lead students through the most difficult part of the creative process, the period of uncertainty before discovery. In order to be open to new ideas, it’s necessary to face the unknown, which can be a vulnerable experience. Developing a tolerance for unexpected situations is imperative when communicating across cultures. 

Key components of cultural intelligence

Cultural intelligence can be broken down into four elements: cultural mindfulness, cross-cultural skills, cultural knowledge, and willingness to adopt new behaviors. These elements influence and build on each other. 

Cultural mindfulness

Metacognition is the awareness of one’s thinking. Being aware of cultural context and evaluating various responses to situations is important to developing cultural mindfulness. The inherent cultural decisions people make can sometimes be unmistakable, but other times can be quite subtle. Awareness can enhance the motivation to learn, which creates momentum to do the work of practicing skills and educating oneself. 

Cultural knowledge

Norms, beliefs, rules, and symbols are the building blocks of culture. Knowledge of these building blocks can be developed by reading magazines, watching films or TV series, and being exposed to other cultures through friendship or travel. 

Cross-cultural skills

Putting yourself in situations where you’re interacting with people from different cultures is a great way to practice cultural knowledge and develop the skills necessary for cultural intelligence. Keep in mind that, especially in the beginning, mistakes will be made. Lean into patience and humility. This will help keep the ego at bay and will strengthen one of the major skills needed for CQ: empathy. 

Willingness to adapt

We know that understanding purpose drives connection and productivity. In order to work through the difficult moments of learning about a culture, reflect on why it’s important to you. Ask yourself if you’re willing to be open to new situations and different perspectives. If the willingness isn’t there, exposure and knowledge will not do much to raise cultural intelligence.

Leading with cultural intelligence & why it’s important

Culturally intelligent employees can envision multiple perspectives and connect with diverse talent. This combination has the potential to drive innovation and productivity. Leaders who want to see their business grow must be able to recruit and manage diverse teams. Through understanding and empathy, leaders also can demonstrate respect and build trust among their employees. 

Final notes on CQ development

Developing cultural intelligence at work isn’t about finger-pointing or blaming. It’s about empathy and tolerance for uncertainty. It’s also now being observed as an essential skill. 90% of leading executives from 68 countries named cross-cultural leadership as a top management challenge. The solution to this challenge is to stay curious and reflect on or perhaps define your company’s Why in order to stay motivated. 

Is the purpose of your business or place of employment still unclear? We love helping people discover what makes them tick.