The Essentials of Cultural
The twenty-first-century world is increasingly global, and relating effectively to others who are culturally different has become a daily necessity. This globalization is being fueled by dramatic economic shifts in many countries and by advances in communications technology. We may not travel the world, but the world has come to us. We have to deal daily with international issues and transactions, and with people from other countries and cultures.
Despite rapid modernization, culture is slow to change. For the foreseeable future, cultural differences will remain a key factor in interpersonal interactions. And we have long known that in the organizations where we spend most of our time—both those we work in and those we are customers of—interacting effectively with others is the most important part of our lives. In an increasingly competitive world, individuals who do not keep their skills up to date run the risk of losing out. Organizations that do not develop these skills in their employees risk falling behind their competitors.
In this book, we have introduced what we believe to be a key competency for the twenty-first century: cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence, the capability to deal effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds, is a multifaceted competency consisting of cultural knowledge, the practice of mindfulness, and a repertoire of cross-cultural skills.
In order to get a sense of your current level of cultural intelligence, go to the back of the book and complete the short form of the Cultural Intelligence Assessment in the appendix. The higher you score on this assessment, the higher your level of cultural intelligence is likely to be.
As shown in Chapter 8 (Figure 8.1), cultural intelligence is developed through repetitive experiences over time, in which each repetition of the cycle builds on the previous one. The feedback from each cycle of
experience leads to an ever-higher cultural intelligence quotient, or CQ. In this way, specific knowledge gained in both formal and informal ways is transformed into an ability that can then be applied to new situations.
Culture has a profound influence on almost all aspects of human endeavor. The culturally intelligent person has special knowledge. He or she understands the possible effects of cultural variation (e.g., differences in values) on his or her own behavior and that of others. The culturally intelligent person also knows how and in what circumstances these cultural differences are likely to have an effect. Culture matters, but it doesn’t matter to the same degree in all circumstances all the time.
Cultural intelligence also requires the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is
• being aware of our own assumptions, ideas, and emotions
• noticing what is apparent about the other person’s assumptions, words, and behavior
• using all of the senses in perceiving situations
• viewing the situation from several perspectives
• attending to the context to help interpret what is happening
• creating new mental maps of others
• creating new and more sophisticated categories for others
• seeking out fresh information to confirm or disconfirm mental maps
• using empathy
Knowledge and mindfulness are key elements of cultural intelligence, but in themselves they are not enough. Becoming culturally intelligent means acquiring cross-cultural skills. It is not just about becoming more skilled but also about developing a repertoire of skilled behaviors and knowing when to use each one. While everyone can learn to be culturally intelligent, certain characteristics of individuals, such as openness, extraversion, and agreeableness, support the development of cultural intelligence.
• Culturally intelligent decision makers understand the different ways in which people with different cultural backgrounds mentally simplify the complex decision-making process. They know their own motivation and goals in making decisions, and they understand how the
motivations, goals, and decision-making methods of people from other cultures might differ from their own. They also know that cultural factors may sometimes outweigh Western concepts of rationality. They are mindful of the ethical components of business decisions and the relationship of ethical behavior to their underlying cultural values. Finally, they are able to adapt decision-making behavior, such as the type and amount of information gathered, the weighting of decision criteria, and the degree of participation in decisions that is appropriate to the specific cultural context, while at the same time respecting the universal rights of all those involved.
• Culturally intelligent communicators and negotiators know that cultural differences have a huge influence on the communication and negotiation processes. In organizations we spend most of our time in communication with others, and in no other activity is people’s cultural grounding more influential. Both language and nonverbal behavior make it tricky to communicate across cultures. Culturally intelligent negotiators know how to anticipate communication differences, practice mindfulness by paying attention to both the context and the conventions of communication as well as its content, and adapt their negotiation behavior to make concessions, persuade, exchange information, and/or build relationships as appropriate for the negotiation and the cultural context.
• Culturally intelligent leaders know that leadership exists largely in the minds of followers. While all followers expect leaders to have a vision, to be able to communicate that vision, and to have skill in organizing followers, the specific behaviors that they use to do these things vary dramatically across cultures. The culturally intelligent leader understands that his or her leadership style will be largely either task- or relationship-oriented but that some adaptation of this style may be required depending on the characteristics of followers (e.g., their degree of collectivism). Culturally intelligent leaders do not unthinkingly mimic the leadership behaviors of another culture. Rather, they pay close attention to leaders like themselves who are effective in the cross-cultural environment and model their behavior appropriately.
• Culturally intelligent team members and leaders know that culturally diverse work groups and teams have the potential for very high achievement but also characteristics that make them prone to failure. The key to managing culturally diverse work groups lies in maximizing
the benefits of diversity while minimizing the costs. Culturally intelligent team management also requires fostering cultural intelligence among team members. In order to do this, team members and team leaders must understand the effects of group processes and the steps to cultural intelligence. Team managers must consider the effects of group type, the nature of the group task, the cultural diversity of the group, and the group’s internal processes to resolve conflict.
The development of cultural intelligence is an iterative process. Each intercultural interaction in which we engage offers the opportunity to enhance our cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence can be developed at home. However, for a person seeking cultural intelligence, a period of time living and working overseas, either self-initiated or as a company assignment or training program, can be extremely rewarding.
We wish that we could somehow endow you with high cultural intelligence or that you could download it from the Internet. But developing cultural intelligence will involve hard work on your part. It is essentially a process based in experience. As such, it is often both physically and emotionally taxing. However, we think the sense of confidence and control in cross-cultural interactions that you will feel will make it worth the effort. We hope this book has helped you to start on this journey.