Cultural Intelligence – Increasing Engagement, Improving Results

Cultural Intelligence (CQ), News0 Comments

I recently came across an old but excellent article on Cultural Intelligence in Harvard Business Review.

HBR explains that:

“Cultural intelligence is related to emotional intelligence, but it picks up where emotional intelligence leaves off. A person with high emotional intelligence grasps what makes us human and at the same time what makes each of us different from one another. A person with high cultural intelligence can somehow tease out of a person’s or group’s behavior those features that would be true of all people and all groups, those peculiar to this person or this group, and those that are neither universal nor idiosyncratic. The vast realm that lies between those two poles is culture.”

Dr. Daniel Goleman defines a common critical element to both Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) as “a propensity to suspend judgment—to think before acting.”

I have had the challenge and the privilege to work with employees, colleagues, vendors and consultants across six continents throughout my career.

I will never forget my first “real” International trip (Canada doesn’t count). Here I was, this young woman who grew up on a MN dairy farm, had never been anywhere warm in the Winter, had never seen a palm tree was traveling to Singapore –  the other side of the globe.   Curious and excited the 24-hour commute began.  Wow, what an experience!

On my first day I was treated to dinner by the Asia Pacific IT Leader, a local Singaporean, who took me to a fresh seafood restaurant.   What does a Minnesotan know about fresh seafood?  Other than freshwater fish like Walleye, not much. As I loved shrimp I was encouraged to order the Drunken Prawns.  However, I was shocked to see them bring out live shrimp in a bowl, place it on the table next to me, pour wine over them and let them sit there until they stopped wiggling in the bowl.  I couldn’t gather if they were now dead or just drunk!  They tossed them in a steamer right next to me for what seemed like 60 seconds and put them on the plate in front of me to eat.  OMG, they had those little eyes looking at me and surely they still had guts in them.  I had no idea what to do.

My first lesson on cultural differences:  To a Minnesota girl, fish and seafood was always served fully prepped to eat, no bones, no pealing and definitely no heads!   To a Singaporean, this was the freshest and the best you can get.   I have to admit, I just could not get myself to tear the head off but did get myself to eat them after my gracious host did the prep for me.   I learned that Yes, this was the freshest and best you could get!

I had the fortune to stay in Singapore over a weekend and the fabulous opportunity to experience Thaipusam and important Hindu festival observed by the Tamil speaking community in Singapore.   The local controller was my host this day.  This was his faith and he shared with some of the traditions and meanings of this amazing festival.  The celebration of the victory of good over evil, where men would prepare with drums and chants, often causing the devotees to enter a trance.  Many would pierce their bodies with hooks, skewers and lances.  Others would pierce their tongue and cheek.  They would process from one temple to another, carrying a yoke or ‘Kavadi’ covered with flowers and peacock feathers, offering milk, fruits and flowers to the Lord Murugan or Kartikeya.   At first I found this difficult to watch and as I allowed myself to be curious and open, I began to see the beauty, the great spiritual commitment of these worshipers.  I thought of my own faith back home and wondered if any us would ever hold that level of commitment to our faith.

Lesson two:  There are many faiths practiced in this world.  Some wildly different than my own and yet with a common thread, a focus on good over evil, on service and gratitude.

Some thoughts to take away

  1. How can you create openness to a new experience, new culture, new person?
  2. What is it like to allow your senses to be wide open and soak in what is unique around you?
  3. What is possible when you approach each person you meet with curiosity?
  4. What can you learn and maybe apply in your own life?
  5. What is possible when you open your mind and your heart to see the gifts these uniqueness offer the world?
  6. How can growing your Cultural Intelligence improve the engagement in your team? In your company?


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