In the first of a series of articles, Tom Verghese introduces Cultural Intelligence (CQ), what it means and why it is so important in business today.
Last year, one of my clients returned from a holiday to India. She expressed to me her dismay at the different entrance prices at various monuments and tourist site sites that she had visited. She believed that the different pricing structures for locals and tourists was unfair. and that there should be one price for all entrants, regardless of their status.
I reminded her that she was a visitor and that what she considered to be fair pricing was reflective of what she was familiar with. For example, in countries like the US and UK the pricing structure tends to objective, and having one price for all is considered to be fair and equitable. However, in many parts of the world pricing is subjective with many variables influencing price such as how well I know you, the relationship we have, the company that you represent, the links and connections that you have, and even what time of day it is.
This example serves to demonstrate how ‘culture’ can play a part in even the simplest everyday situations at both a personal and professional level. In this story, the conflict of one set of cultural norms over another highlights how cultural differences can create conflict and misunderstandings.
Let’s take a look at some of the defining features of culture so as to better understand how we interact with culture. Culture is the lens through which we view the world.
- Culture is subjective. That means we use our own culture as a reference point. The practices in our culture are what we use as norms and we use these to compare other cultures
- Culture is deep. Culture is mostly transmitted through stories, which provide a history of that culture. When we look at tensions or animosity and hatred that passes from one generation to another, it’s because those stories are passed on and perpetuate a view that may no longer be accurate
- Culture is biased. This means that each one of us interprets and makes judgements by the standards inherent to our own culture
- Culture is tacit. That is we never really consider or think about our culture until we are outside of it. Culture is important because it essentially impacts the way we think and behave and impacts our worldview.
Most people believe that they have some degree of cultural awareness. This may mean they can identify the languages, foods or traditional dress of certain countries, or other defining characteristics.
However, in our increasingly interconnected and globalised world, as organisations are being required to source talent and conduct business across multiple countries with people from a diverse range of backgrounds, a broader understanding of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is necessary. Having an understanding of what CQ is and how to practically apply it can make it easier to navigate different cultures. For specialists in procurement, the ability to use CQ is particularly relevant. One of the biggest challenges when working across cultures is that we have expectations that people are similar to us and operate according to the same rules. This is a grave error.
What is CQ?
CQ is the capability to work effectively in culturally diverse situations. It goes beyond existing notions of cultural sensitivity and awareness to highlight a theoretically-based set of capabilities needed to successfully and respectfully accomplish your objectives in culturally diverse settings either locally or globally.
CQ can be broken into four components. These components can be both inherent and developed. These four components are:
- CQ Drive – The interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. It consists of intrinsic (i.e. meaningful work) and extrinsic interests (i.e. financial rewards) and the drive to learn and understand cultures, their norms and behaviours
- CQ Knowledge – Understanding cultural similarities and differences. This includes knowledge of the values, norms and practices in different cultural settings
- CQ Strategy – Awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions. It incorporates how we apply our CQ Knowledge insights
- CQ Action – The ability to appropriately adapt verbal and non-verbal communication in cross cultural situations, including how well we can adapt when things don’t go according to plan
Over the next 12 months we will be discussing each of these components, what they are and the ways in which you can further develop your own CQ and make improvements on your performance when interacting in cross cultural situations to obtain better outcomes.