You’ve probably read about emotional intelligence, artificial intelligence and intelligence quotient.
Now, many experts argue that cultural intelligence is increasingly important for success in business. Cultural intelligence, or cultural quotient, refers to the ability to set aside biases, understand other cultures and collaborate effectively with people from different cultures. That’s especially important in public relations and corporate communications.
Different cultures have different attitudes toward conflict, completing tasks, and group decision-making. Because even gestures and tones hold different meanings among different cultures, misunderstandings can arise easily. That’s often the reason that diplomatic discussions between nations fall apart. Without cultural intelligence, it’s easy to offend inadvertently.
Different professions and organizations also have their own cultures. That explains why established corporations sometimes struggle to integrate with start-ups and why PR and marketing personnel, lawyers and engineers sometimes misunderstand each other.
Because cultural intelligence improves cooperation and communications, it provides businesses a competitive edge, an advantage that’s especially valuable in an era of increasing globalization of business operations. If you can understand how others view the world and relate, you can better communicate with them. Better communications lead to more business success.
Managers who perform well in their own country or corporate culture often flounder when transferred to a different culture. Some people have a natural ability to understand, respect and work with different cultures. Happily, most people can hone their cultural intelligence skills with patience and conscientious effort. Experts offer these recommendations:
8 Steps to Improve Your Cultural Intelligence
Assess your strengths, weaknesses and biases. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses with a self-assessment tool. Online tools abound. Simulated business encounters and feedback on actual encounters offer other assessment options. Hughes Electronics, for example, staged a cocktail party to evaluate an expatriate manager’s grasp of South Korean social etiquette, writes P. Christopher Earley, chair of the department of organizational behavior at London Business School, and Elaine Mosakowski, a professor of management at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in Harvard Business Review.
Improve your knowledge. Make a definitive effort to learn about the culture of the individual or group with whom you will be dealing. At a minimum, study the history of their religious, political, family and business cultures. Learn about the language, the aesthetics and etiquette of the culture. Even a few hours of study can be helpful in better understanding another culture. More study is better.
Tap your network. Most individuals are open to discussions about their country and its culture. Having extended conversations with peers from other cultures can be an extraordinarily enlightening and very personalized way to learn about their cultures. Express interest in learning about their cultures. Ask both open-ended and specific questions. In many ways, your personal network is your best source for knowledge and guidance on cultural matters. When travelling to another country, arrange detailed background briefings by local company staff.
Consider formal training. Training programs can improve weaknesses. Many organizations offer assessments, workshops, online courses, and other experiences for both individuals and groups. Customized programs typically produce better results.
Be aware of your own culture. Self-awareness benefits many aspects of your life. “In order to communicate more effectively, take the time to think about how your approach to others is affected by your cultural norms and how it might be tricky for others to work with,” says Aliya Fastman at the PR agency GK.
Observe interactions. Observe how people from different cultures interact differently from people in your native culture. Also observe how they act similarly to one another. “Only when conduct you have actually observed begins to settle into patterns can you safely begin to anticipate how these people will react in the next situation,” write Earley and Mosakowski.
Listen before you talk. Listening helps better understand audiences. While the general perception of communicators is that they’re supposed to only talk, the truth is that if you want your talk heard, you need to listen well first, says Svetlana Stavreva, president of the International Public Relations Association and a communications manager at IBM. Talk only when you know what to say and have a valid reason to speak, she writes in Forbes.
Be succinct. If you cannot say something in 300 characters, chances are you won’t be able to make your point in 300,000 characters either, Stavreva says. “If you ask someone to outline the top three differentiating points of a message/service, you don’t want to get a 100-page presentation. Keep it as short as possible — only what you need to say, no more,” she says.
Bottom Line: PR and communications professionals with cultural intelligence collaborate and communicate well with people from other cultures. Those who lack the ability struggle in different cultures and can commit embarrassing faux paux. While training programs are available, patiently observing how people from other cultures interact can improve your cultural intelligence.
Schedule a Free Online Demo of the Glean.info Media Monitoring & Measurement Dashboard.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.