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Thriving in different cultures

In the history many leaders have been looked up to for their intellect and sinciere and engaging charm, which have been associated with IQ and Emotional Intelligence (EQ), respectively. However now Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is being called out as the must have for any modern leader. What really is CQ, what value does it add to us and how can we master it? I invited the Director of UK Operations for the Cultural Intelligence Centre (CIC) Ritika Wadhwa to sit down with me and tell me more. Apart from her work at the CIC, born and raised in India, Ritika has the unique experience of living, studying and working in various multicultural and multi-lingual environments, which makes Ritika just the right person to have this conversaion with!

Q: What is Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and how does it differ from Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

CQ measures our ability to work and relate effectively with others in a culturally diverse context. EQ, in turn, is our ability to relate to others, to have empathy and to regulate our emotions to optimize our personal and professional relationships.

CQ stems from the same body of research as EQ. Much like EQ, CQ skills can be developed by anyone, who has the desire to do so. There is no substitute for EQ as the first step in improving the way you work and relate with others. CQ then picks up where EQ leaves off.

Cultural intelligence takes it to the next level by allowing us to have those same social sensibilities when interacting with people who behave in ways that are unfamiliar to us. For example, ability to determine your emotional state is dictated by my awareness of your cultural norms. How one might express sadness or happiness can seem very different from one culture to the next. CQ helps us move beyond EQ to have effective relationships even with those with very different values and backgrounds from our own.

Q: How does mastering CQ serve us in today’s world?

Mastering CQ allows you to make the world around you a better place. This is our mission at the Cultural Intelligence Centre. So much of what happens in the name of diversity and cultural competence training is an emphasis on self-understanding and dialogue. If we don’t first understand our own cultures, there’s little hope we can work and relate effectively with someone from a different culture. Mastering CQ will allow you to achieve more in your personal and professional life and experience more joy doing so as you adapt more effectively to all the wonderfully diverse experiences that life brings to us.

Moreover, according to a recent study by Deloitte, Cultural Intelligence is one of the key six attributes of effective leaders, which not only allows embracing individual differences, but also leveraging them for competitive advantage.

Q: What value does CQ add to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work?

The research supporting CQ’s predictive validity is astounding! CQ provides a critical link for offering individuals and organisations the foundational skills for working effectively with diverse groups. Diverse teams need CQ to leverage their diversity. They also need high CQ leaders to create inclusive and psychologically safe workplace to allow their diverse perspectives to be leveraged.

CQ is the strategic link to creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environments.

When most organisations say they want diversity, they are talking about representation — attracting and hiring people from different cultural backgrounds and identities. This is good. But whether you are trying to recruit diverse talent or ensure the hiring process is unbiased, it requires cultural intelligence to do it effectively.

Research consistently demonstrates that diverse teams with low CQ are outperformed by homogenous teams. You can have employees from a wide range of diverse cultures and backgrounds, including different gender-identities, race, nationalities, generations etc. but not understanding how to leverage those differences won’t allow you to reap the benefits.

Why? Because working with people who are different creates misaligned expectations and conflict, and apart from CQ, increased diversity creates gridlock and reduced productivity. However, the research demonstrates that when diverse teams have high CQ, they outperform homogeneous teams in every area, including innovation, decision-making, building trust, and leadership effectiveness.

CQ is the multiplying factor and ensures everyone has the skills to work together effectively.

While Diversity is about representation, Inclusion is the process of welcoming diversity and creating an environment where everyone thrives. Inclusion is having a culture and a set of organisational routines that are explicitly inclusive.

Last year, the Academy of Management reported the top three factors that influence whether diverse staff feel included are: participation in decision-making, information sharing, and informal networking. It’s easier and more efficient to make decisions with a group of like-minded people, but you lack the diversity of insights that come from involving diverse perspectives. CQ allows you to develop a decision-making process that manages bias, enables a variety of ways for a diversity of individuals to share their point of view, and ultimately reach a decision.

In addition to helping people feel they can be authentic at work, CQ provides a proven, research-based strategy for including people in the areas where they most want to be included so that they’re set up to succeed.

In short, DEI without CQ has limited effectiveness. When we build in CQ solutions, the outcomes are significant and sustainable.

Q: What are some of the ways I can cultivate my CQ?

The CQ framework consists of four key elements – Drive, Knowledge, Strategy and Action – and each require it’s unique attention and intention to be fully mastered and applied skillfully.

However, some ways you can cultivate your CQ are:

1. Build awareness of your emotional and physical stamina. Your physical and emotional state have a direct impact on your motivation for adapting to different cultural perspectives. When you’re sick, jet lagged, or emotionally burdened, it’s much more difficult to put the effort required into working with others from a diverse background.

2. Pay attention how intercultural challenges show up in your every day. Perhaps, think back to one such situation you witnessed, and analyse, what aspect of that situation was cultural and what could have been more related to other variables, e.g., organizational issues, stress, personal issues, personalities, etc.).

3. Sketch a brief plan before multicultural engagements. When engaging with someone from a different culture, spend a few moments thinking about whether your typical approach needs to be adjusted to make the engagement effective and mutually beneficial. Many of the tasks you do routinely will benefit from a little planning.

4. Pay attention to the everyday language you use. Do you usually assume people are familiar with the idioms, acronyms, or terms you use? Instead, practice mirroring your counterpart’s communication style, e.g., if someone emails you using a formal title, do the same back. If an individual greets you one way, attempt to mirror their greeting (e.g., handshake, hug, bow, etc.).

Q: What can I expect from the CQ training provided by the Cultural Intelligence Centre?

Some of the outcomes you can expect from our CQ training include:

1. An understanding of what culture is and how it influences the way we think, behave and perceive people and situations.

2. Being able to see cultural diversity as something broader than geographic, racial or ethnic differences.

3. Learning why Cultural Intelligence is a key capability for achieving effectiveness in multicultural situations.

4. As a leader, improving your CQ in yourself and those you manage.

5. Acquiring strategies to bridge cultural differences and promote inclusion.


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*Originally published in SOCIALight Magazine Conscious Growth column Issue 17. Link

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