How to Develop Cultural Intelligence in a Business

Cultural Intelligence

The topic of cultural diversity hasn’t only appeared in recent decades. Research has shown that cultural diversity and intermingling of societies has been around since prehistoric man. Scientists were able to track down the origins of this concept through archeological remains that point to the existence of ethnic and cultural groups within a society in prehistory.  

How were the various cultures able to integrate in a society, and gain a sort of awareness and sensitivity towards one another’s convictions, beliefs, political inclinations, and traditions? This is where cultural intelligence comes into play. 

The online and vastly open world we live in today has allowed people from different cultures to interact, work, and deal with those with backgrounds more foreign to them. Cultural intelligence should be on the top of every business executive’s list of priorities, especially those aiming for global growth. 

So, what is cultural intelligence exactly? And why should you prioritize this skill? 

What is Cultural Intelligence? 

Simply put, Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the ability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures. While this type of intelligence seems like it overlaps emotional intelligence, the one element that differentiates them from one another is intercultural interactions. 

Like emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence is all about utilizing and making sense of unfamiliar situations. But unlike emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence is about dealing with unfamiliar situations that involve cultural differences. Cultures differ in many aspects, such as gestures, traditions, holidays, and even business decorum. Being able to skillfully navigate such situations with empathy, compassion, and willingness to learn are hallmarks of a culturally intelligent individual.  

Being culturally aware and sensitive isn’t enough to create an inclusive environment in an organization. CQ goes beyond that; it encourages more engagement and communication amongst those from different cultural backgrounds, which will eventually lead to a better sense of understanding between the two parties involved.  

Cultural intelligence is a skill you can build and improve on over time as you and your teams become more and more involved with different cultures and those with different ethnic backgrounds. This won’t happen if those of the same cultural background huddle up and form groups, and in return, segregating themselves from the entire company—it happens when your teams not only learn to look past these differences, but also put effort into understanding these behaviors, and effectively “blending in.” 

Why is Cultural Intelligence important? 

With today’s globalized world, expanding your company and taking on partnerships in foreign countries is easier, feasible, and much less of a hassle. Before, larger companies and establishments were the only ones able to cross borders and promote their products or services to other countries, but now even smaller organizations and startups are given the opportunity to achieve global growth as well. Innovative communication technology has allowed smaller companies to go beyond the confines of the country or culture they operate in and explore the opportunities that lie ahead in other countries.  

Nurturing cultural intelligence within an organization, while especially important for companies looking to scale quickly, is an aspect of business that is worth investing time and money in. Thought leaders are always on the constant lookout for opportunities to expand their businesses and explore diverse markets outside their respective countries. That way they have access to more resources, talent, and information on what’s in-demand in the local market of a different country. 

This is why cultural intelligence is important for your business. 

It gives you a competitive edge 

Not everyone has the same understanding of business and views as yours, and business leaders are always looking for ways to disrupt the market through creative, innovative, and unconventional ways. One way to go about doing so is to look for opportunities somewhere else. 

So instead of sifting through CVs that look almost the same, consider looking for talent outside the borders in which your company operates, providing you with more ideas for your company and broaden your perspective of the local market. And think about looking for partners or stakeholders who might give you local insight into what’s trending in the local market. 

It refines your teams’ problem solving skills 

When you work in a more culturally diverse workplace, you’re going to face unfamiliar and slightly uncomfortable situations—there will be times when neither you nor your teams know how to deal with differences that are hard not to notice. Either of you is faced with the inevitable, and that’s to address the elephant in the room, and that’s not a bad thing. 

Placing yourself and your teammates in situations as uncomfortable as these and pushing for intercultural interactions will help not only create a more inclusive environment for those from different countries, but it will also improve their problem solving and conflict resolution skills that come in handy in other aspects of business.  

It improves the quality of your interactions with others 

Once you move past the awkwardness of dealing with cultural differences initially, you’ll start to notice the quality of your interactions with your colleagues will improve drastically, and not only with those from different cultural backgrounds, but anyone. 

Communication skills are undoubtedly one of the most important skills you could develop for the future success of your company. Learning to face challenging situations by asking thoughtful questions and creating a meaningful exchange will improve you and your teams’ relationships no matter where you are in the world.  

How to develop Cultural Intelligence? 

Cultural intelligence comes from a complete reform of company culture and turning it into one that is inclusive rather than exclusive. Company culture is an aspect of business that usually goes unnoticed by managers and c-suites because it’s hard to manage. But simply becoming more attentive and aware of your company culture will help start the process of transforming your company culture into one that is intelligent.  

Now that you know how important it is for companies to consider training their employees and teams on cultural intelligence, it’s time you learn how to effectively do so in order to reap the full benefits of it. 

Familiarize yourself with different value sets, and cultural nuances 

Depending on which country or culture you’re planning to explore opportunities in, it pays to first become familiar with the customs, values, traditions, and holidays of the country you’re aiming for.  

The first step in creating a culturally intelligent environment in any company is to simply establish a level of respect, awareness, and sensitivity towards those who are different. And one way to do that is to do your research, and you’ll see a massive improvement in your intercultural interactions. 

Practice pronouncing the names of teammates from other countries 

You might think how you pronounce someone’s name isn’t that important, but your communication with your other teammates will become more personalized when you make the effort to learn the correct pronunciation. 

Ask them to say it slowly, and then after you hear their name the first time, find a way to memorize the pronunciation. When you show this level of respect and appreciation for something as simple as a name, future interactions and meetings with those from different cultural backgrounds will improve in quality and effectiveness. 

Learn to appreciate both the similarities and the differences 

While it can be difficult and even challenging to go through a list of values and cultural nuances that are completely different from yours, this is a significant step in developing a more culturally aware company culture, because it encourages tolerance. 

It’s tempting to skip to the similarities just as much as it is tempting to fixate on the differences, but learning to become more tolerant towards those differences will make the similarities that much worth celebrating. 

Be open to different thought processes and ideas 

We all come from diverse backgrounds and have ideas that are shaped by our life experiences, which are what makes us unique individuals. Having diverse cultural backgrounds is no different, and only enriches a business even more. 

Encourage teams and team leaders to be open towards ideas that may be considered atypical in their culture. Atypical can mean the difference between a company’s performance stagnating and a company thriving within both local and global markets. Let everyone, no matter their cultural backgrounds, be heard and feel valued for their contributions. 

How can Cultural Intelligence help businesses grow globally? 

Crossing borders to find new talent, gather resources, and collect information on markets outside your country will give you access to more accurate insight into the needs and wants of the demographic you’re targeting. These opportunities aren’t as easy to grasp without developing a sense of awareness and sensitivity towards another culture and learning how to respectfully communicate with those who think differently. 

If you’re looking for a fast way to achieve global growth as a business, at Tarjama, we can help you develop content that has cultural intelligence at its core.

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