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10 Effective Ways to Develop Your Cultural Intelligence (CQ)


In our increasingly globalized and connected world, it's more important than ever to be able to work effectively across cultures. But what does that mean, exactly?

In this episode, we explore the concept of cultural intelligence (CQ) and how it can help you navigate the challenges of working in a cross-cultural environment.

What is Cultural Intelligence (CQ)?

The golden rule (treat others as you’d like to be treated) can be a risky communication strategy in multicultural contexts. Different cultures tend to have different expectations, and a more nuanced approach to bonding with people across cultures feels like a more appropriate approach, or what is known as cultural intelligence, or cultural quotient (CQ). 

Let’s start by looking at the definition of cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence is the ability to interact effectively with people from other cultures. It involves understanding and appreciating cultural differences, and being able to adapt your own behavior to accommodate those differences.

People with high cultural intelligence are successful in cross-cultural interactions because they are able to navigate the complexities of different cultures with ease. They are able to build trust and rapport quickly, and they know how to effectively communicate with people from other cultures. 

How culturally intelligent are you?

  • You can recognize and adapt to cultural differences
  • You can make sense of unfamiliar situations and blend in.
  • You are OK with being uncomfortable and not knowing everything.
  • You have the ability to cross boundaries and prosper in multiple cultures
  • You are able to navigate through the variability of cultures, habits, gestures, and assumptions

If you can relate to at least two of the statements above, you probably have high cross-cultural intelligence.

Four Cultural Intelligence Components 

Ang, Van Dyne, & Livermore describe four cultural intelligence components, or CQ capabilities: motivation (CQ Drive), cognition (CQ Knowledge), meta-cognition (CQ Strategy), and behavior (CQ Action). If you take a CQ Assessment, you will likely be tested on all four (and several sub-dimensions for each capability). Here’s a brief summary:

  • CQ-Drive is a person's interest and confidence in functioning effectively in culturally diverse settings. Those who have high CQ-Drive are motivated to learn about other cultures and to interact with people from different cultures. They want to understand how other cultures think and operate, and they’re not afraid of challenges.
  • CQ-Knowledge is a person's knowledge about how cultures are similar and how cultures are different. Those with high CQ-Knowledge know a lot about different cultures – their customs, values, beliefs, etc. They’re able to see the world from multiple perspectives and can easily adapt to new situations.
  • CQ-Strategy is how a person makes sense of culturally diverse experiences. It occurs when people make judgments about their own thought processes and those of others. Those with high CQ-Strategy know how to navigate cultural differences and can manage conflict effectively.
  • CQ-Action is a person's capability to adapt verbal and nonverbal behavior to make it appropriate to diverse cultures. It involves having a flexible repertoire of behavioral responses that suit a variety of situations

Why does cultural intelligence matter?

Cultural intelligence is the ability to understand and navigate different cultures. It's an important skill to have in today's globalized world, where we're increasingly likely to encounter people from other cultures in our professional lives.

There are many benefits to having strong cultural intelligence. For one, it can help you avoid misunderstandings and communication breakdowns with colleagues from other cultures and it can contribute to breaking down silos. It can also help you build stronger relationships with people from other cultures, and foster a more collaborative and productive work environment.

Cultural intelligence in business translates into better relationships with coworkers and customers, better sales performance in various markets, and better customer service around the world.

Learn how to manage language and cultural diversity in the workplace

How Can You Increase Your Cultural Intelligence?

Working across cultures can be challenging, but there are ways to increase your cultural intelligence (CQ). By understanding and respecting cultural differences, you can build trust and communication with people from other cultures. 

Three sources of CQ: Head, Body, Heart

An influential HBR article identified three components of developing cultural intelligence: Head, Body, and Heart. 

  • The head refers to the cognitive means that will help you develop your CQ: learning about your own and other cultures and understanding cultural diversity.
  • The body, or physical means, is about taking that knowledge and transforming it into actions. You understand that when your actions coincide with those of the other culture, it is easier to build trust and create openness. You demonstrate cultural understanding through body language, gestures, greetings, etc.
  • The heart is the motivational means that help you develop your CQ. It is about gaining the confidence and motivation to interact with other cultures. You are not afraid to make mistakes because you know that you have good intentions and you are willing to learn from your mistakes.

10 ways to develop cultural intelligence

If you want to be successful in today's increasingly globalized world, then you need to develop your cultural intelligence. Here are some tips on how to do that: 

1. Understand your own cultural background. Read more about your own culture and how it is usually perceived by others. 

2. Make an effort to learn about other cultures. Be curious about the customs, values, and beliefs of other cultures. Learn about the and how they differ from your own. This will help you understand and respect differences. Read books, watch films, and talk to people from different cultures to gain a better understanding of their customs and beliefs. When you travel, talk to the locals, and pay attention to their habits, behaviors, and foods.

3. Seek out opportunities to interact with people from other cultures. Whether in person or online. Travel, work, or volunteer in another country. Join a club or group that celebrates diversity. 

4. Try to become more aware of your own cultural biases and assumptions. Take a CQ assessment and reflect on your own thoughts and behaviors.

5. Be open-minded. Thinking that our way of doing things is “normal” and “the correct way” is an all-too-common mistake. To be successful in cross-cultural interactions, you need to be open-minded and willing to accept that there are different ways of doing things. Don't try to force your own culture on others – instead, learn about their culture and try to see things from their perspective.

6. Be flexible. One of the most important aspects of cultural intelligence is flexibility. Things will often not go as planned in cross-cultural interactions, so you need to be able to adapt and adjust your behavior accordingly.

7. Be patient. Don't expect others to immediately understand your culture or point of view. Allow time for learning and adjustment.

8. Communicate effectively. Good communication is essential for successful cross-cultural interactions. Learn how to effectively communicate across cultures. Make sure you are clear and concise in your communication and be aware of potential language barriers.

9. Focus on building relationships. Building relationships is key to success in cross-cultural interactions. Get to know people from other cultures, and show them that you are interested in their culture and way of life. Always adopt a curious approach, never a judgemental one. When you build genuine relationships with people from other cultures, they will likely be more forgiving of any faux pas.

10. Learn a new language. When you learn a new language, you discover multiple correct ways of expressing the same idea. Speaking other languages rewires your brain and helps you understand other cultures and other ways of thinking.

By increasing your cultural intelligence, you'll be better equipped to work across cultures and build strong relationships with people from all backgrounds.

CQ in Action! Working Across Cultures Framework

Now that you know what CQ is all about and how to increase it, let's see what being culturally intelligent looks like in action. Feel free to use this framework when you approach an unfamiliar situation.

The first step is to look inward. Run a mindset checklist and make sure you are approaching the situation with the right mentality. Then, look outward. To make sense of unfamiliar situations, you may have to ask questions. We’ll look at some quick tips to do so in cross-cultural interactions. 

Mindset Checklist

The first step is to look inward. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Check assumptions and biases: What do I assume to be true/false about this person? How could these assumptions influence me?
  • Be present: Which ‘me’ will I bring to this encounter? What attitude and energy will help me learn, build, and achieve things with this person, group, or culture?
  • Prepare for ambiguity: Am I ready to handle ‘gray’ right now? How will I ask for clarification?

Cultural Intelligence CQ mindset

What’s most important - remember that human beings are complex. Our minds tend to put people in boxes as it helps us make sense of reality. But keep in mind that we all belong to multiple categories (or boxes) and have a wide range of characteristics. Individuals do not (and should not) represent their entire culture or country. 

Instead, approach unfamiliar situations with an open mind and curiosity. Read and learn about other cultures but forget about stereotypes. Even if there might be some truth behind some stereotypes, remember that they are oversimplified and fixed ideas about a particular group of people and it can be dangerous to rely on them.

Asking the right questions

Once you’ve completed your mindset checklist, you are ready to look outward and ask questions. We talked about asking better questions in a previous episode, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Ask open-ended questions: instead of “Will the slides be ready tomorrow?” try “When do you think the slides will be ready?”
  • Use generally, usually, typically: generalize and de-personalize questions to avoid putting people on the spot. For example, “How do people in your local team usually like to collaborate?”
  • Ask follow-up questions: keep digging with follow-up questions like, “What led to this decision?” or “What would you like to see happen?”

Cultural Intelligence CQ asking questions


Cultural intelligence (CQ) is the ability to understand and effectively navigate different cultures. It's an important skill to have in our increasingly globalized and connected world. Culturally intelligent people are able to build better relationships with people from other cultures and foster a more collaborative and productive work environment.

If you think you or your teams could benefit from cross-cultural communications training, get in touch with Talaera. We will create a business English program tailored to your needs.

If you are willing to help your international employees improve their communication skills for the workplace, share our free communication resources with them. Distribute them internally and encourage them to make them part of their lifelong learning.

Cross Cultural Communication

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