What Is Cultural Intelligence?


What does cultural intelligence or CQ stands for? Cultural intelligence means being skilled and flexible in understanding and interacting in different cultures. Moreover, a culturally intelligent person is mindful of cultural cues as well as her own emotions, and can easily adapt to unexpected cultural situations. Easy peasy, right?


So what does it actually mean on daily basis? When you live and work in a foreign country, you notice contextual cues of the culture and how people behave, for example how in Finland we leave our shoes at the entrance or if you asked us ‘’how are you?’’ we would give an honest answer depending how we truly feel.


When your only touchpoint to a new culture is via emails and you have not experienced the culture yourself, the chances increase that you will miss the cultural subtleties influencing the communication.


Often people concentrate on the individual ignoring the cultural background, though of course, each of us has unique personal traits. If we would assume that culture does not matter, we would become bias, look at the situation through our own culture, and draw hasty conclusions.


For example in the case where you are politely asking a Finn ‘’how are you?’’ expecting her to reply ‘’I’m fine, thanks’’ and instead you will hear how terrible her morning has been, you would probably assume that she is very direct as a person. Instead, it is actually the cultural background speaking since we Finns are not that good in small talk.


Marseille, France

However, being culturally intelligent does not mean that you have to know every tradition of each culture in the world. What is more important, is to understand the unique differences of your culture and the other person’s culture, and appreciate both of them.


Moreover, you need to adapt to the situation and be able to flex accordingly in order to avoid misunderstandings. Yet, culturally intelligent person has knowledge when she is adapting too much and has the ability to balance between her culture and the other. This requires an understanding of your own culture and the way you look at the world.


Also, what you should keep in mind, is the relative position of the two cultures instead of the absolute position of one culture. Got confused? What I mean by this that you can study different cultures until the end of the world but what truly matters is how the two different cultures are similar or different in relation to each other. For example, Finns understand Swedish and Norwegian cultures quite easily since we share a lot of common traits (and even a language!).


However, it is a lot harder for a Finn to get a hang of Japanese culture. Germans may find it easier to relate to a person coming from New Zealand than a person coming from France. Or Americans may understand British better than a Columbian yet still struggle to understand British humor.


Depending on several different cultural traits, for example, if you are coming from high or low context culture, how you perceive time and how hierarchical the culture is, influences the way we see the other culture. Even the language we use to interact molds our behavior! You can read more about it on the post La Vida Is Bella.



Stay tuned for new blog posts about the fabulous world of cultural differences, or get in touch for coaching!



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