3 reasons you haven't thought of why you should work on your cultural intelligence

 

It’s natural to look at things through our personal lenses. In everything I look at I spot nuances affected by cultural differences, may that be a national trait or corporate culture, we are all surrounded by people who behave in certain ways which is affected by their values and beliefs. Living in London exposes me to numerous cross-cultural situations, hence it’s very common to be engaged in conversations with people from foreign nations or hear stories from others about ‘others’. I am extremely happy to observe an increasing awareness of cross-cultural differences and also I do smile when literally all awkward situations are excused by ‘cultural differences’. That is the main reason that should convince each of you to learn about cultural intelligence, enhance intercultural competencies and become culturally smart! Here you go, a few elaborated reasons and benefits of picking up that piece of knowledge:

 

 

  1. More effective ‘everything’ in a cross-cultural context. It seems obvious, right? I think I have written several articles on that. And I am not the only one. We are talking here about more successful business, stronger leadership skills, better functioning teams, higher customer satisfaction and loyalty, and effective communication skills etc. On the other hand there are fewer marketing failures, misunderstandings when entering new markets, and unmet expectations. This is in short but there is nothing to add to that. We all know it. That’s why I want to focus on the next two benefits.

 

  1. Corporate culture - stronger, built in a conscious way, well-fitted. I have recently talked to a few companies which were looking at developing specific skills in their workforce. Such skills are often perceived as a cure to all evil. I am always a fan of simple solutions, but in this case it’s not that simple! In fact it is easy… it would be easy if only it was possible. But it is not. Time management, sales skills, communication skills, customer service… taught to people who know already that it will not help. Yes, there are still a few who should pick up on such skills, but most often the root cause of the problem lies at the extreme opposite side of the scale. People who come to training and complain that they know it all are absolutely right because they often really do. They have all knowledge and skills to perform their job. What they lack is the right attitude, drive, and motivation to do so. Some are lucky, intrinsically motivated, but some not. Some need the right environment, strong leadership, right tasks, and the right level of support to perform. It all needs to come from the top. The ‘top’ needs to lead the way, gives a good example… ‘a’ good example? Or THE good example? The example top leaders give, behaviours they demonstrate spearhead all around organisation. And it should not be random, accidental or not-well-thought-through. This is the corporate culture you want to create as a leader, this is what you want your teams to follow, this is what you want your teams to believe and live every day! Understanding how cultures work and how to benefit from differences between people’s strengths and values will help you succeed in that context.

 

  1. Personal gain in a form of understanding what’s happening around you and… inside you. Actual understanding of the reality starts from within. Our reactions, behaviours, opinions are deeply embedded in us. It also affects the way we perceive the world. If we are strong, independent, confident… anyone who is shy, indecisive, quiet is in a real danger to be perceived by us as worse. Obviously we all like people who are like us. Those who do not fit the mirror reflection may be unconsciously discriminated. Thus it is crucial to be self-aware in the first place, to know our own CULTURE. Secondly, it’s worth taking time and effort to start noticing differences, respecting and understanding them, and lastly benefiting from them. People differ, organisations differ, we will never be able to please everyone, and we don’t have to. We don’t have to fit in every situation, every organisational culture, or every role within an organisation. That’s absolutely fine. However understanding such differences will help us to maintain a healthy attitude towards new situations without swaggering or judging others on one side, and loosing self-confidence and self-esteem on the other side. Let’s think of a situation when you apply for a new job, in a company you don't know well, you don't know what it is like to work for them. You find out that the culture is not exactly who you are. In fact they are growing fast and are pretty successful, but you also heard they are pretty aggressive in entering new markets, put a lot of pressure on numbers rather than people, just for the sake of hitting their targets. The offer is tempting but is that what you want? Knowledge about cultural nuances can help you in taking a conscious decision. Do I fit in or not?

 

As we can see, knowledge, skills and awareness of cultural aspects are applicable in variety of situations, not only when you go abroad for an international assignment, or negotiate with a new foreign supplier. Culture surrounds us. And learning about it helps in various contexts and leads to personal growth and development. Good luck!