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The value of cultural intelligence

It allows people to recognise differences in cultures and allows for greater empathy

Gulf News

Whether we are working in London, Europe, Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Qatar, we are certainly fortunate to be in an international working environment. It is an advantage to have that richness around us that comes with having a diverse working culture but we also need to be aware that an effort is sometimes needed to fully appreciate the cultural backgrounds, beliefs and attitudes of our colleagues and peer group.

Those of you with good ‘cultural intelligence’ probably work hard at understanding cultural differences and can appreciate the value in doing so. You probably modify your behaviour accordingly and will therefore be achieving a greater output of work by building better working relationships than those who fail to make the effort.

Having Sensitivity

There could be an instance when you may not immediately understand why one of your team is acting in a certain way at a particular moment but by making time for some sensitive questions and having empathy with the individual, you may achieve a greater understanding as to who they are as a person, their values and their beliefs. However, this is also where the challenge sometimes lies.

The manager may not think that they have the time to spend ‘getting to know’ their team member – after all, they are there to do a job and not there to establish friendships! Well, of course, they are there to do a job but behind that ‘doing a job’ comes a person who may be different to you in many ways and who brings with them another world of culture and richness of which you are totally unaware. But when you do make that time to get to know them and grow your relationship, then you will see how this new relationship can translate into improved ‘performance’ and ‘productivity’. Now here are two words that I certainly know will get you reading further and I guess you are now on board to see how you can be more culturally intelligent.

‘Cultural intelligence’ is related to ‘emotional intelligence’ but goes a little deeper. People with ‘emotional intelligence’ pride themselves on identifying the needs, wants and emotions of others whilst those with ‘cultural intelligence’ can recognise values, beliefs and the body language of people from different cultures resulting in a greater empathy, understanding of them.

Now I am not saying that people who are culturally intelligent are great experts on cultural issues and nor do they need to be, but they usually have an open mind and ask questions because they want to, rather than because they have to! They are attuned to building in-depth relationships with their peers and so what better way than to try and have empathy with them by appreciating ethnic differences.

They use cultural intelligence to monitor their own behaviour and responses and instead on relying on stereotypes, and they keep an open mind so as to recognise everyone as an individual. They make informed decisions about why others are acting as they are and don’t just make snap judgements.

Managers of a new cross-functional team will learn very quickly how important it is to be culturally intelligent. They will want to build rapport quickly and bring the team together as early as possible.

Being different can take many people out of their comfort zones but comfort zones are for moving and people are for growing.

International assignments will be seen as a challenge with cultural intelligence being a strong predictor of strong performance and lasting productivity.

We can all improve our cultural Intelligence:

Firstly, you need to be aware of the value of the issue.

Secondly, you need to learn more about yourself and your own judgements and prejudices as they may get in the way.

Thirdly, make a concerted effort to get to know your team and what is behind the person and the desk!

So what is going to take to get you there? Well, here are some ways forward just for starters:

Motivation: Without an eagerness to take on the challenges of multi-cultural work, leaders faced a high rate of failure.

Knowledge: Not all leaders are culturally aware but they do need to understand core cultural differences and the effect on business.

Behaviour: Leaders need to show by example and openly adapt their behaviour to different cultures, whilst still being true to their own values.

Now it is over to you!

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