We’ve all heard about IQ, emotional intelligence and today I saw the term Cultural Intelligence. Naturally, we work a lot with cultural awareness on our intensive language courses as many of our students work within international teams or do business globally. We discuss different habits, conventions and even barriers to working harmoniously together. Arguably then, being comfortable working in a multi-cultural – as well as multi-lingual - environment is more important and relevant than ever. So, what is cultural intelligence and why is it important?
Cultural intelligence goes beyond being familiar with a culture and tolerant of the differences. It is made up of three main features:
- Cultural Knowledge is the clearest element: it means knowing about what is similar or different (the what) in a culture and how this is expressed. An example would be how and when people express disagreements with each other. We can gain this cultural knowledge through multiple channels, such as articles or tv programmes, through travelling to another country or of course, working with people from a different culture. Our intensive courses provide plenty of opportunities to share experiences and learn from other students and from the team at the school.
- Cross-Cultural Skills is a broad category which includes a number of different areas. It’s how we interact with people from other cultures; how we adapt our behaviour or attitude to different situations and how tolerant we are to ambiguity. Some cultures are more direct than others so understanding subtleties and knowing how to reframe questions is an area where language meets culture (and where we can help in the classroom!). So again, these skills can be developed through experience – at work or by spending a period of time in a foreign country.
- Cultural Metacognition or Cultural Mindfulness: slightly more complex but this is the ability to consciously analyse a situation while you are in it and plan a course of actions for different cultural contexts. You need to pay attention to how the other person acts and reacts to you in a number of situations. What clues do you observe when, for example, you arrive early - or late - for a meeting or when you start a meeting with a warm-up chat with colleagues? Can you adapt to different circumstances and how do you manage a multi-cultural team with varying expectations and experiences? We discuss these themes in class and students and staff share their knowledge and expertise throughout the course.
In our globalised economies, employees who have a high level of cultural intelligence play an important role in bridging divides and knowledge gaps in an organization. They can inform and help people to understand different concerns and this helps to build understanding and trust and make for a smoother working environment. This in turn should help organisations make the best use of their resources and that’s something worth investing in.
What’s your experience of working in a multi-cultural team? What have been the most important benefits and also the challenges?