Cultural Intelligence or Quotient (CQ) is in short the ability to understand, communicate, and interact effectively with people from different cultures. In today’s ever-changing and globalised world, this skill is becoming more in demand to further connection and understanding with others, but who has it and who doesn’t, and why is it so important in 2023/ 2024?
The benefits of having a higher CQ include being an effective communicator, better at handling conflict and misunderstandings and more skilled at interacting with people from different backgrounds. It is an asset for business and work relations in our globalised economy to further collaboration and strong relations, address challenges, increase customer satisfaction and improve team efficiency.
But it is not just a trait ideal for international organisations. Individuals with highly developed levels of cultural intelligence show empathy, acceptance and respect towards others, are more self-aware, are better at collaboration and are high achievers who don’t feel the need to trample over others as they climb the organisational ladder.
So how can you tell who has high CQ?
When hiring, the candidates with high CQ will stand out. They may have obvious international experiences, language skills or global work history, and can demonstrate knowledge of cross-cultural interactions, but equally, they may be interested in news around cultural concerns and demonstrate interest and initiative outside of a work context. You will notice that they really listen. They deeply listen and ask questions with authenticity because they really want to know for reasons other than personal gain.
CQ is also a skill that can be developed and improved over time. Having a genuine incentive and interest to engage and learn allows individuals to develop high CQ through education, experience and practice.
How do those with high CQs show up in the workplace?
They adapt – Those with high CQ are able to adjust and adapt their working styles to accommodate others which can result in more effective, successful outcomes. For example, they will notice that some workers prefer direct communication and a clear strategy of how to get from A to B, but others thrive on feeling empowered and having autonomy. Being able to adjust your leadership style and show flexibility are two vital skills in today’s management pathway.
They have a true understanding of the importance of diversity – With CQ comes developed communication and collaboration skills. This isn’t just a matter of speaking different languages, it is having a deeper understanding of different cultures and wanting to embrace diversity and networking for a good working culture, to lead to more successful projects and partnerships and allow for innovative ideas with those from different backgrounds.
They collaborate more and more effectively – Those with high CQ rarely operate on autopilot. They have more than a willingness to listen to other points of view, they have a desire to do so to ensure companies are not missing out on valuable talent or input. Being able to listen and communicate with diverse, distributed groups opens up so many more opportunities for organisations. They look for what or who is missing when searching for solutions.
They are less biased – With 60 percent of respondents in one study reporting a presence of bias in their workplace, it is important to counteract this to ensure individuals feel heard and supported. Those with high CQ will approach situations without preconceived ideas or bias offering a safe and respectful working environment and better collaboration and communication.
They prevent conflict – A CIPD survey in 2020 found that just over 35% of employees had experienced some form of interpersonal conflict, either an isolated dispute or an ongoing difficult relationship that year. The communication skills that come with CQ enable them to anticipate potential conflicts, difficulties, controversies or cultural misunderstandings and proactively address them with cultural sensitivity to resolve them. They are more likely to effectively navigate these situations by consulting with a variety of sources from DEI leaders to colleagues with diverse backgrounds to obtain valuable insights.
They are always one step ahead – High CQ suggests individuals are observant and proactively pay attention to what is happening in and around organisations now and in the future. This forward planning offers stability and allows companies to find the next great opportunity whilst always staying in congruence with their and the organisation’s values.
They accept failure. Leaders with high CQ know their perceived position and status may limit some information getting to them. Knowing that colleagues may worry about sharing information if it puts them in a bad light, those with cultural intelligence won’t assume they have the full picture. They will seek to build a psychologically safe environment where transparency is asked for and failure is okay in the context of learning and development.
They take time to reflect. High CQ individuals reflect before making decisions and think before they act. They are self-aware and know that taking time to stop and think, look at and talk through all the alternatives often produces the best solutions. This doesn’t mean they are slow to react, but rather that they respond rather than reacting impulsively.
They are exceptional leaders. Leading in today’s digital, diverse world requires the cultural intelligence to think strategically and consciously about the individuals and contexts involved and the adaptations needed. When we lead with cultural intelligence, we’re much more likely to lead everyone inclusively and effectively.
Thom Dennis is a Certified Facilitator accredited by the CQ® Center,