Cultural Intelligence in the Workplace

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Written By JohnBarnes

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The internet and technological innovation in faster modes of travel has truly made the world a global village. Now it is possible to communicate beyond boundaries at a click of a button. Video conferencing, short message services and emails have created an environment where information transfer is almost at the speed of your thought.

Given this scenario, we are now in a new uncharted realm of human endeavour and existence. From the comfort of your office or home you have now the ability to talk to someone in the far-reaching corners of the world. Further, many companies and organizations are now welcoming foreign talents to join their ranks of staff and contribute towards the achievement of its goals. When you work in such a culturally diverse environment it is sometimes easy to forget that the people you are communicating with have different perspectives and perceptions from yours. Therefore it is important that you develop a sense of cultural intelligence to learn how you can engage positively with people from different cultures.

When Howard Gardner wrote his defining book “Multiple Intelligence” in the 1970s – he identified seven basic intelligences that all human possibly have. However, Gardner did not discount the fact that there maybe other forms of intelligences as well which are yet to be discovered. In this context cultural intelligence seems an apt addition to this list of human intelligence today.

Like many other forms of intelligences it is possible to develop and enhance our cultural intelligence. Doing so will allow us to become more sensitive and empathetic to people of different cultures with whom we may have to work with. Further as Helen Keller puts it: “The highest result of education is tolerance”. Developing your cultural intelligence will also exponentially improve your level of tolerance.

You can boost your level of cultural intelligence by developing the following qualities.

1. Overcoming Stereotyping
It is a natural human process to stereotype people into different categories. Although stereotyping sometimes might allow us to give a profile of the person, it is also a dangerous thing as stereotyping will lead to making assumptions that are unjustified and damaging. People from different culture share their own set of beliefs and practices that might conflict with our own. The best thing to do is try to empathize and judge the person on his or her own merits rather than from a cultural perspective.

2. Awareness and Acceptance
The next thing that is important in developing cultural intelligence is to create a sense of awareness and acceptance. Awareness allows us to become mindful of the habits and practices of people from other cultures. Acceptance of their ways of doing things will show our sense of compassion as to who they are and how we perceive them as. Remember to that your attitude towards a person of a different culture also reflects upon you as to how that person perceives you as. Note to that your ability to accept other people’s culture will invariably improve your level of compassion which is a defining quality in you becoming a culturally intelligent person.

3. Learn
We talk about learning being part of our existence. Most of the time we are learning new skills related to our job. We also learn soft skills like motivation, stress management and emotional intelligence. Add to this list you should make some attempt to learn about other people’s culture as well. There is no excuse today for not being able to do this as information is at your finger tip and all at a click of the mouse. The internet is an amazing knowledge database. Use it to learn about some of the cultural behaviors of the different kinds of people that you work with. By doing this you might pick some interesting points that might be inherently useful to you.

4. Find Common Ground
Although there are some cultures that may be very diverse and totally different from your own, bear in mind that as humans we do share some basic features and we all belong to one big family. Thus as you delve deeper into another person’s culture you might find some cultural practices that might be similar to yours. Finding such common ground helps you to have a better understanding of the other person as well as to break down barriers in communication. You can learn to find common ground by trying to get people from other cultures to converse with you and getting to know them better. Do not become judgmental in your assessment of other people’s practices as this will create stereotypical images in your mind that creates psychological barriers to effective integration.

5. Food
Food is a great way to understand culture as it is a common feature that all humans share. Different cultures got their special delicacies that are unique to the culture. Since you are living in a cultural melting pot, try a foreign delicacy. The way the food is prepared may tell a story that might give you great insights to the other person’s culture not to mention that it might also titillate your taste buds and make new friends in the process.

Ultimately, developing cultural intelligence is all about attitude. Having a xenophobic attitude is only going to accentuate your narrow-mindedness and inability to engage positively with others from different culture. The more you learn to integrate and maintain your own unique sense of your own culture the more effective an individual you become. And keep in mind the words of world renown anthropologist Margaret Mead who said: “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”