The benefits of developing cultural intelligence

As a Canadian, I am proud to live in a country, province and town with strong multicultural influences. Not only do we get to experience the wide spectrum of cultures, music, language, art, religion and cuisine, we get to do so without having to board a plane and put ourselves at risk for current air travel incidents known as “recline rage.”

In all seriousness, I have learned a great deal from friends and neighbours who come from a different cultural or ethnic background than our family. My wife and I love trying new foods from the myriad ethnic restaurants found throughout the GTA. We learned how to make a fantastic bhel poori from our neighbours who hail from Mumbai as well as where to find the best Latin American cuisine from another neighbour who comes from Guanajuato, Mexico. From our social networks to business colleagues, Canadians have more opportunities than ever to become better educated on cultural diversity. In fact, I recently discovered that there is an actual term for the process of being more culturally “literate”: Cultural intelligence.

In previous posts and videos, I have talked about concepts such as emotional intelligence, where the ability to empathize and understand others can carry tremendous benefits in our careers, interpersonal relationships and private lives. Likewise, according to authors such as David C. Thomas and Kerr Inkson in their book Cultural Intelligence: People Skills for Global Business, improving your cultural intelligence can bring a host of advantages for many industries and businesses, including meeting and event planning.

As Thomas and Inkson explain, cultural intelligence, in its broadest sense, “is the capability to interact effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds.” With most business meetings and events, planners must be increasingly aware of the cultural differences and concerns of their delegates, host communities and stakeholders. Learning about and understanding the main concepts of cultural intelligence can go a long way towards improving that awareness. Here, then, are a few tips for ways that you can works towards improving your CQ (cultural quotient) or level of cultural intelligence:

Become interested in learning and adapting to different cultures. Try to explore new cultures and communities.

  • Network with people in different neighbourhoods and social groups.
  • Learn a second (or third or fourth) language.
  • Keep an open mind, especially when working with or meeting new people who come from a different background from you — culturally, ethnically, politically or ideologically.
  • Seek out work or business opportunities that put you into contact with different organizations and social groups.
  • Study local media, movies and magazines geared towards different cultures.

 Learn how culture shapes people’s beliefs, behaviours and values.

  • Read books and visit websites about how to live and work within specific cultures.
  • Observe how people from different cultures behave and interact.
  • Familiarize yourself with a culture’s history and how it may affect a person’s values and behaviours.
  • Apply what you learn about different cultures to help you make culturally sensitive decisions and plans.
  • Question your assumptions about the reasons things might happen differently in various cultures.
  • Record (in a diary or notebook) your observations, emotional reactions, challenges and ideas when dealing with various cultures.

Modify your actions or behaviours depending on the cultural situation.

  • Learn to think quickly on your feet and stay in control of your emotions (and develop more emotional intelligence).
  • Learn about business etiquette for various cultures you will be dealing with.
  • Learn to understand and replicate (without mimicking or making fun of) body language, gestures, vocal intonation and conversational style. As a great example of how gestures can be misinterpreted, my neighbour from India always shakes his head from left to right when listening to me speak, as if disagreeing with me. I could never figure out why he was always contradicting me with his body language. To my relief, and much mutual good humour, I later learned that this gesture, in India, is the equivalent to North Americans nodding in agreement during a conversation.

As always, if you have any other tips or suggestions for working with different cultures and developing cultural intelligence, we’d love to share them. Feel free to add them to the comment section below.

About the author:

Sean Moon brings more than 20 years of senior communications experience to the MediaEdge team. His experience includes several years as an editor with the Canadian Press, 10 years as the Corporate Communications Director of an international nutrition marketing company, several years in the magazine advertising industry and more than five years as a communications and PR consultant. He has also worked extensively in magazine production, corporate event planning, public relations and marketing communications.

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