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Socio-linguistic knowledge

CQ knowledge addressing socio-linguistics is your knowledge about language and communication norms. High CQ knowledge: socio-linguistics means you understand the rules for verbal and non-verbal behavior for many countries.

I was sitting in the kitchen of a coworker’s family in Manila, Philippines. I tend to be an early riser and often times I will be the first person up in the morning. One morning I was enjoying a cup of coffee when “Izzy” the four-year-old daughter of my coworker joined me in the kitchen. We had been at their home for a few days so Izzy was not shy around me. She sat in the chair across the table from me. I asked her if she wanted something to eat. Izzy did not reply. I asked her if she was hungry. She did not say a word. Izzy simply looked me directly in the eyes but said not a word. I tried to start a conversation. I asked if she slept well. Did she want some juice, fruit, cereal, or milk? No response. So Izzy and I enjoyed some time making eye contact but no conversation.

After some time Izzy’s father appeared and asked how we were getting along. I assured him we did fine but we did not converse. He then asked me a question. “Did you notice Izzy blinking her eyes if you asked her a question?” I reflected and did remember her blinking a few blinks at me. I confessed this to the father and he laughed. He informed me that there was a local custom to answer questions by blinking your eyes. As I recall, the sequence was two blinks for “Yes” and one blink for “No.” I learned that day that Izzy was really non-verbally communicating the entire time. I simply did not have high enough CQ knowledge of socio-linguistics to perceive her messaging.

One way to increase your CQ knowledge is to study a new language. Learning additional languages provides an opportunity to be effective and appropriate for diverse others. Learning a new language should also include learning some of the key nonverbal signals and behaviors used or not to be used in a particular culture. If you can not learn an entirely new language, take time to know and use a few dozen of the most used and necessary words. You are wise to also learn the non-verbals and gestures that are not acceptable. Some gestures with a positive meaning used often in one culture may communicate a negative or even a very obscene message in another culture.

It is also wise to avoid telling jokes and using idioms. Jokes and idioms are sometimes used to send a message when everybody conversing shares the language as a first language. Although, even when everyone shares the same language, jokes or idioms can be misunderstood. For example, in the United States, when you are told “Bless your heart!” in a northern or western state it can communicate “you are very kind.” If a person in a southern state says, “Bless your heart” it often means that you are not very smart and are missing the point. Same words, but a totally different message. Jokes and idioms are even more confusing for a person who speaks the language as a foreign or second language.

In comments please share your experiences learning a new language. How many do you speak? Which new language might be most useful to you and why? Discuss the comments of others then mark this step complete.

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Develop Your Cultural Intelligence

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