Five Ways to Build Cultural Intelligence

Five Ways to Build Cultural Intelligence and Raise Your Cultural IQ

Simma Lieberman

(Simma Lieberman is a member of the Million Dollar Consulting® Mentor Hall of Fame)

In the 1990s and beyond, people who made culturally offensive comments were often sent to “sensitivity training,” in hope that they would show remorse. It was viewed as a punishment and met with resistance.

While some organizations and institutions are still providing sensitivity training to employees who have made statements deemed offensive, there is growing understanding that by providing “culturally intelligent” education, people are better able to communicate across differences, and develop peer relationships.

Cultural Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively with groups of people from any culture. In other words, someone with a high cultural IQ can be dropped into a culture they know nothing about, and will be able to observe, empathize, and develop relationships with people, despite not speaking a word of their language.

This helps break down biases, prevent incorrect assumptions, and motivate individuals to become comfortable in new situations with people from different cultural groups

Everyone in your organization needs to raise their “cultural IQ” in order to work better together and become leaders in the global business environment.

When people in organizations or institutions develop a high level of cultural intelligence, they have the skills to ask the right questions, give the right answers, and work with people from any culture or cultural mix. (This cultural mix can include ethnicity, age, religion, economic background, sexual orientation, or industry.)

I’ve found ten key ways to raise your Cultural IQ.  Here are the first five.

1. Be curious and interested in learning about other cultures.

Are you willing to take a risk, observe other people’s behaviors, and ask questions in appropriate ways? If you’re not interested or willing to view situations from another perspective, it won’t matter how many countries you visit or diversity potlucks you attend.

2. Develop an awareness of self in relation to others.
Identify specific ways in which your own cultural background and experiences have influenced your perspective, and how other people’s behaviors are determined by their culture and experience. Look for differences and similarities. Be mindful of the fact that not every person from a particular culture thinks the same, and that there are differences based on generations, economics, etc.

3.  Make your mind a clean slate.
When you are observing other cultures, use an objective mindset. If you find yourself being judgmental, do a “thought-intervention.” Reframe your inner conversation by thinking, “That’s interesting…I want to know more.”  This also means being extra conscious of your own biases and the need to make people who do things differently wrong.

4. Develop an awareness of your biases towards other cultures and traditions.

Learn and practice ways to break away from those biases. Awareness without practice keeps people culturally ignorant

5. Put yourself in situations with people from different cultures
and practice the other four tools.

Suggested reading: “The Cultural Intelligence Difference,” by David Livermore

Simma Lieberman is internationally known as “The Inclusionist,” because she creates inclusive cultures where employees love to go, and customers love to buy.

She is recognized as a thought leader in diversity and inclusion/culture change strategy,

Visit her website www.simalieberman.com for more information, or email Simma@SimmaLieberman.com. You can also call Simma at 510-527-0700.

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