Cultural intelligence: A skill you can’t do without in today’s multicultural world

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the term ‘IQ’, or intelligence quotient, became popular and led to a rapid spread of different standardised tests that assessed general mental ability. Later, by the end of 20th century, Daniel Goleman popularised the term ‘EQ’, or emotional intelligence, which describes interpersonal skills. Nowadays, we also speak about a third main type of intelligence quotient, namely ‘CQ’ or cultural intelligence, which focuses on cross-cultural skills. Dr. Linn Van Dyne and Dr. David Livermore, who lead The Cultural Intelligence Center, argue that in today’s increasingly global and diverse environment CQ is of great importance, matters much more than general IQ or EQ, and that it is an absolutely necessary skill for working effectively in culturally diverse situations.

Given the importance attributed to cultural intelligence, the recent book of David Livermore describes strategies for improving one’s cultural intelligence, which is defined as the capability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts. Livermore argues that CQ is something anyone can develop and learn through four different capabilities, called CQ drive, CQ knowledge, CQ strategy, and CQ action.

CQ drive is about one’s motivation, interest and confidence to operate in culturally diverse contexts and function there effectively. A simple truth that underlies this first capability is that, without the will and motivation you are hardly going to achieve success. Thus, Livermore posits that being successful in a multicultural situation should start with being ready to take on the possible challenges of this situation, and being ready to adapt cross-culturally.

CQ knowledge refers to one’s cognitions about cultures, about how they are similar and different. Naturally, this capability is not about knowing everything about all the different cultures, as such expertise is quite impossible. Rather, it is about being aware of core cultural differences and an understanding of how such differences influence yourself and others. CQ knowledge may include information about unique cultural values, economic and legal systems, norms for social interaction, religious beliefs, aesthetic values, and language.

CQ strategy is a competence of making sense of culturally diverse experiences and planning accordingly. In other words, it is about being mindful and aware of individuals having different cultural value orientations, and that these orientations influence what people do, how they do it and why they do it. For example, interpreting the tone of an e-mail from a cultural other based on one’s own cultural norms would be an indication of low CQ. In comparison, recognizing that this person’s cultural norms might be different and, hence, the tone of the e-mail should be interpreted differently from your own cultural perspective is already a sign of cross-cultural awareness and higher CQ.

Livermore suggests that being aware of the differences implies thinking and strategizing before an encounter, checking expectations during the encounter, and adjusting expectations when actual experiences differ from the ones assumed.

Finally, CQ action is the capability to adapt the behaviour appropriately for different cultures. Adapting your behaviour to specific cross-cultural situational needs may include changes both in verbal (e.g. accent, tone) and non-verbal (e.g. body language) behaviours.

Further reading:

Livermore, D. A. (2011). The cultural intelligence difference: Master the one skill you can’t do without in today’s global economy. New York: American Management Association.

4 thoughts on “Cultural intelligence: A skill you can’t do without in today’s multicultural world

  1. The article leaves some interesting questions like:

    How do you assess cultural intelligence?
    May it be easier to assess openness using the Big Five?
    Does the training produce long term changes in behavior?

    1. Dear Alex,

      These are indeed interesting questions. Please check out this week’s follow-up post on the topic that addresses these questions.


  2. Cultural intelligence is your capability to grow personally through continuous learning and good understanding of diverse cultural heritage, wisdom and values, and to deal effectively with people from different cultural background and understanding.Cultural Intelligence a new domain of intelligence that has immense relevance to the increasingly global and diverse workplace.In today’s globalizing world, cultural intelligence is a necessary tool for every manager who deals with diverse teams of employees, customers, partners, competitors, government, and other business players.

  3. I think the question remains on how do we measure that one has culturally intelligence? Maybe a grey area that needs further research

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