Harness your Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Skills


Cultural intelligence (CQ) is defined as “the capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations”. It is the ability to function effectively in different cultural situations.  In today’s multi-cultural/globalized world, being ‘culturally intelligent’ is an essential skill for expatriates to develop and nurture while living and working in any other foreign land. It is more than being smart or intelligent, emotionally mature, and/or having good general social skills.

A ‘culturally intelligent’ person goes the extra mile in being culturally sensitive and aware to function in different traditional settings. This is the first step but it goes beyond that. Being culturally intelligent means a person is not only aware but more importantly, he/she can also effectively relate with people of diverse nationalities across different cultural backgrounds.

We can develop cultural intelligence by the following:

  • Be knowledgeable:
    • Learn about the culture of the country you are going to by doing a lot of reading newspapers/books.
    • Search the Internet about its history and read up on the main issues that are on the people’s minds.
    • Do not simply rely on news sources for this specific information.
    • Acquire first-hand information by actually living and working in a foreign country. Interact with its people with their different culture.
    • When you arrive in the country, be observant, listen more and talk less. Optimize this learning process by embracing or observing closely what is distinctive about this culture, discovering its uniqueness and thinking how you can utilize this specific knowledge to your advantage in the near or far future.
    • Never criticize or play along with the locals even if you hear them criticizing their own country & behavioral habits.
  • Ways to develop and enhance Cultural Skills:
    • Nurture your interpersonal skills and learn to enjoy talking/interacting with people from other cultures.
    • Ensure you have the virtue of tolerance (patience to accept or embrace sudden and unexpected changes in an intercultural interaction).
    • Be adaptable and flexible to change your behavior according to the cultural demands
    • Have empathy by putting yourself in a culturally different person´s shoes and imagine the situation from his/her perspective.
    • Be sensitive in understanding other people´s feelings and ability to interpret subtle meanings during intercultural interactions.
    • The best way to develop your multi-cultural skills is through first-hand experience and practical application of these skills through trial & error.
  • How to develop a cultural mindset and awareness: 
    • Have self-control over your own thinking and interpretation of cultural experiences and strategies.
    • Observe others´ behaviors and your own, analyze situations and reflect on how you react.
    • Pay attention to how the other party acts and reacts to you in different scenarios. This serves as the foundation for evaluating whether your behavior has achieved your desired goal. Based on this analysis, you can then decide what action you wish to take next.
    • Reflect on successful as well as unsuccessful intercultural interactions and write down what knowledge and skills you have used during those interactions. Are there any clues you missed or misread? Was there any word or behavior you did not know how to interpret? What would you do differently in a similar context?
    • Again, this learning experience will be optimized if you already have some cultural knowledge and cross-cultural skills. For example, if you can relate to your counterpart and are able to put yourself in his or her shoes, it will be easier for you to interpret his or her behavior and plan for your next move.

Developing your Cultural Intelligence (CQ) will surely make a difference to ensure that you are able to navigate smoothly across cultural boundaries when you live and work in a foreign country.

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