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What Is Cultural Intelligence And How Is It Measured?

As our vast world continues to shrink into a global village, we are more frequently faced with culturally nuanced situations. Acquiring the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to manoeuvre effectively in multicultural environments is increasingly important. Especially in this time of restricted travel where we reduced to less-than-ideal communication channels; cultivating cross cultural understanding is key.

This is where Cultural Intelligence, - a ‘vitally important aptitude and skill’ according to the Harvard Business Review - steps in.

Cultural Intelligence, or CQ, offers the pathway to navigating complex multi-cultural situations. As with other forms of intelligence (IQ and EQ), Cultural Intelligence can be measured and developed. It measures your capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations. 

As organisations strive to harness cultural diversity in teams, create inclusive environments and connect with customers across regional and international borders, developing CQ is no longer an option but a fundamental factor for success. In fact, research demonstrates that Cultural Intelligence may easily be the single greatest difference between thriving in the 21st-century world and becoming obsolete. 
What Is Cultural Intelligence

The four CQ capabilities

There are 4 capabilities that describe CQ. 

  1. CQ Drive: Your level of interest, persistence and confidence during multicultural interactions
  2. CQ Knowledge: Your understanding about how cultures are similar and different
  3. CQ Action: Your ability to adapt when relating and working in multicultural contexts
  4. CQ Strategy: Your awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions

CQ capabilities in action

For a practical understanding, let’s look to how these capabilities might show up on a spectrum of low to high Cultural Intelligence:

CQ Drive

  • Typically, someone with low CQ drive shows limited interest or motivation to engage across cultures
  • Someone with high CQ drive is energised by working with people from different cultural backgrounds which results in higher levels of confidence to address the inevitable challenges that come with cross cultural encounters

CQ Knowledge

  • Someone with low CQ knowledge has a limited understanding of how cultures are similar or different
  • Someone with high CQ knowledge has a good overall understanding of how culture influences people’s behaviour. They can identify when something is indicative of culture rather than personality

CQ Strategy

  • Most commonly, someone with low CQ strategy invests little time in planning for cross cultural engagements
  • Someone with high CQ strategy will consciously plan before a cross cultural encounter, which results in stronger relationships and better negotiation outcomes

CQ Action

  • Inevitably, someone with low CQ action does not adapt their behaviour when a cultural situation requires it
  • Someone with high CQ action has the ability to adapt when required and is driven to reflect on cross cultural situations to improve their knowledge

Measuring CQ

These 4 capabilities can be measured through a Cultural Intelligence assessment which has strong psychometric characteristics and reveals an individual’s capability for working and relating across cultures. 

The CQ assessment also uncovers an individual’s personal cultural value orientations and provides a mapping of their preferences on 10 cultural values. Undertaken with peers, this offers both a common language and key insights into similarities and differences across cultures.

  1. Individualism vs. Collectivism
  2. Low vs. High Power Distance
  3. Low vs. High Uncertainty Avoidance
  4. Cooperative vs. Competitive
  5. Short Term vs. Long Term
  6. Direct vs. Indirect
  7. Being vs. Doing
  8. Universalism vs. Particularism
  9. Non-Expressive vs. Expressive
  10. Linear vs. Non-Linear

CQ requires intentional effort and abilities that go beyond simply being intelligent, emotionally mature, and having travelled extensively (myth no.1 - I travel therefore I am culturally intelligent!). People with strong Cultural Intelligence can adapt to others who might perceive the world differently. It allows you to make appropriate adjustments to connect with people of different cultures.   

When we speak of culture, most people think of nationality and ethnicity. However, we all have multiple cultural identities - such as gender and generation, among others. CQ measures our capability to function across a range of cultural contexts and with people of different cultural backgrounds.   

There’s no arguing that these capabilities are essential in today’s culturally diverse business environments. 

Author Credits

Gaiti Rabbani is the author of Curious about Culture, a book about cultivating cross cultural understanding. She is an Executive Advisor, People and Culture and a Cultural Intelligence Specialist. She is also the founder of Rabbani Collective, a company that enables businesses to harness the potential of their people.  For more information about how Gaiti can help your business visit www.rabbanicollective.com

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