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Cultural intelligence and CQ capabilities

What is cultural intelligence, and how can it help you? Learn the basics in this article with Annette Wheatley.

What is cultural intelligence (‘CQ’)?

The Cultural Intelligence Centre USA defines cultural intelligence as “the capability to relate and function effectively (adapt) in culturally diverse contexts (national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc)”. Essentially, it is about the development of skills to reach that adaptability.

Cultural intelligence is also referred to as ‘CQ’ – this stands for cultural quotient. Cultural intelligence can be measured, much like other forms of intelligence (e.g. IQ, EQ).

In culturally diverse situations, CQ increases the chances to:

  • Navigate potential ambiguity and uncertainty well
  • Adapt more confidently to new environments (without fundamentally changing who you are
  • Negotiate successfully
  • Make better judgements and decisions
  • Build innovative teams

Without developing cultural intelligence, an individual might misjudge the behaviour of others who are culturally different.

To counteract the tendency to function based on one’s own cultural values and beliefs (‘cultural lens’), one needs to develop cultural intelligence.

Note that cultural intelligence is not about being an expert on specific cultures and their social etiquette – this is called cultural knowledge. CQ goes beyond ‘cultural awareness’. Knowing about differences does not mean being able to navigate differences. By reading a book, one doesn’t learn how to behave in certain situations described in the book.

Cultural intelligence (CQ) is not, as some argue, ‘common sense’ and it plays a particularly important role in conflict situations when we tend to revert to our default problem-solving behaviour.

Cultural intelligence can be summarised into the four following CQ capabilities:

CQ capabilities infographic

CQ Strategy and CQ Action illustrate the fact stated earlier that being culturally intelligent goes beyond awareness. CQ Strategy enables us to reflect on our experiences and make use of the knowledge we have acquired (CQ Knowledge) to then plan future culturally diverse encounters. CQ Action is where everything comes together and the knowledge and skills learned enable us to adapt appropriately to the situation at hand without, however, completely changing who we are.

How well do you think your CQ capabilities are developed currently? Is there any particular capability you’d like to focus on developing more?
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Introduction to Cultural Intelligence

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