Cultural Intelligence – How do we get there? Strategy

To develop our CQ Knowledge as individuals and as a community, our STRATEGY needs to be established and expanded. What do we need to do to grow our knowledge of those in our communities who are different from us? And what are our hidden biases that may be contributing to the lack of understanding on our part?

CQ Strategy (meta-cognition) is the degree to which you are mindful, aware, and able to plan for multicultural interactions. Individuals with high CQ Strategy develop ways to use their cultural understanding to develop plans for new intercultural situations.

 This gets us to a more nuanced understanding of how we should interact cross-culturally. If we only improve our CQ Knowledge, we run the risk of stereotyping people. Not all Indians have a “High Power Distance” orientation and not all Swedes have a “Being” orientation.

CQ Strategy helps us move beyond these simplified norms. You can find a humorous video here where stereotyping is exaggerated, making the point to be careful.

            To develop your CQ Strategy, you first need to ask yourself questions. For example, when facing a dilemma, ask what next steps can be used to resolve this challenge? It is also good to think about three different sub-dimensions: planning, awareness, and checking yourself.

Planning means developing a hypothesis or strategizing about what needs to change before a cross-cultural encounter. An example could be thinking about how you’re going to do a performance review differently if the individual comes from a different cultural background. If you are going on a mission trip, think about the possible scenarios you may face and how the other culture may deal with those situations.

 To improve your planning, pick a culture different from yours that you interact with often. Make a brief plan of things to remember that you may need to be say or do differently when relating to someone from a culture different from your own.

Awareness refers to being mindful of what’s going on internally (yourself) and externally (others) during a multicultural encounter. Some questions to ask during the interaction include:

  • How is my plan working?
  • Is this individual behaving the way he/she typically would or is he/she adapting to me?

A good way to develop your awareness is to jot down a few observations immediately following a cross-cultural interaction—things that were different from what you anticipated, things that were unlike when you would do this in your own culture, questions you need to explore further. Be careful to observe. Do not interpret the situation. Yet. (Often interpretations are based on assumptions or hidden biases.)Just observe. Notice things that are different.

What did you observe? What objects do you see? What was different? Use descriptive language.

Then ask yourself, what are some plausible interpretations? Ask the “why” questions.

Become aware of your observations and interpretations.

After doing some planning and increasing awareness, you need to do some checking. This is the degree to which you go back and check your plan, assumptions, and interpretations. You are checking to see whether the plan you made in light of the culture fits what’s going on with this particular group.

To develop your checking, find a cultural broker or coach when doing work in culture other than your own. Discuss your observations with him or her and ask for input. (e.g. “I noticed no one spoke up when I asked the group a question. Why was that?”)

Improve your CQ Strategy. Plan. Develop awareness by noticing and making observations. Avoid mis-interpreting what is going on. And do NOT judge others. Check yourself.

Cultural Intelligence – How do we get there? Knowledge Part One

Once we develop our drive and motivation, we need to grow in our KNOWLEDGE of the “others” around us. Are we ready to ask good questions to truly learn about those around us who may be or look different? Or act or think differently? Who are those in our community that are different from us? What do we need to learn about them to help us gain empathy and understanding for them?

CQ Knowledge (cognition) is your understanding about how cultures are similar and different. Individuals with high CQ Knowledge have a rich, well-organized understanding of culture and how it affects the way people think and behave.

When starting to learn about another culture, it is important to recognize there are differences. Things can be quite different. And they may even seem weird to us from our perspective. But someone else might think the way I do things is weird. It’s all about perspective.

To get an idea of perspectives being different instead of weird, watch this video.

An iceberg is often used as a metaphor to explain culture. What we see in a culture is the top of the iceberg, the CONCRETE or SURFACE/BEHAVIORAL culture.Cultural-Iceberg-2This will include things such as food, music, dress, and language. What you can observe and experience in a culture.

Much of the cultural dimensions, things such as individualism vs collectivism and power distance[1], are just below the surface. This would include things such as how one treats an authority figure or whether the culture values a long term time orientation/focus rather than immediate results. It would also include the communication styles and rules.

Down deep in the iceberg (and our unconscious), we fine the attitudes and approaches to life, things such as our cultural rules about relationships, virtue and vice, and religious beliefs, which do indeed affect our culture. And we have many things in this area that we say, “it goes without saying….”

For example, in my cultural upbringing, I was taught that one does not interrupt someone else when they are speaking. Period. It goes without saying, doesn’t it? However, recently I was talking with a young man who grew up in a household where it was assumed you would interrupt if you wanted to say something. Before I realized the difference in family cultures, I was assuming he would just know that it was wrong to interrupt me (or others) when we were talking. It goes without saying, right? But when I realized that he came from a very different family culture, that helped us have a good conversation about whether and when it’s o.k. to interrupt someone.

There are four sub-dimensions of CQ Knowledge to be aware of and to develop which I will write more about next week.


[1] I will go into more detail about cultural dimensions in future posts.