Defining Cultural Intelligence – A Practitioner’s Perspective?

  1. It is a globalizing, shrinking world. Boundaries are blurring across geographical, political, economic and cultural divides.  Major cultures are grating against each other like continental tectonic plates.  Understanding cultural values that inform different ways of life has become imperative. Identifying these values helps explain why people think, speak and behave as they do; this is vital for effective political, economic and social intercourse between people from different cultures.
  2. Ultimately, the advantage in any cross-border transaction ranging from diplomacy to business, involving interaction with the ‘other’, will accrue to those who do not perceive global heterogeneity as threatening but as a creative professional challenge. Cultural intelligence (CQ) is the key to understanding one another.
  3. It is a relatively new professional services industry. Cultural intelligence as a managerial discipline has evolved from models developed since WWII, which catalyzed globalization. It is now the sum total of three streams of thoughts to promote mutually beneficial interaction between people across cultural and geographical borders
    Cross-culturalism: This was an embryonic but decisive step for promoting interaction between cultures in the newly globalizing world.  However, its conceived mandate is limited to educating about social graces, about cultural-specific dos and don’ts, ranging from etiquette (greeting, meeting, eating), and gender behaviour to such concepts as ‘saving face’.  In essence, its primary objective is not to offend. 
    Multiculturalism: Multiculturalism goes beyond cross-culturalism in response to cultural diversity. Its fundamental proposition is that all cultures that exist under a common umbrella – locally and nationally, have equal value. It allows all diverse community sections to express their cultural attachments and celebrate them within the framework of liberal democratic values.  However, significantly, it takes no stand on whether or not a common civic culture should, could or would evolve – or when.  Its primary objective is the acceptance of the ‘outsider’ in the local social matrix.
    Interculturalism: Interculturalism goes beyond just the passive acceptance of the outlier to actively promote a dialogue and interaction between peoples from diverse cultures. The pre-condition for this is the mutual understanding of the civilizational values that consciously or subconsciously drive others’ thinking and behaviour.  They dictate an individual’s attitude in daily existence towards faith, gender, family, community, professional relationships, etc. The objective is to engage with them to nurture a common civic culture and social solidarity based on the rule of law, fundamental human rights, freedom of speech and worship, and acceptance of obligations within a democratic framework – and minimize tendencies towards segregated cultural islands and ghettos.
  4. Cultural intelligence is a composite of these three strands: cross-culturalism (graces), multiculturalism (acceptance) and interculturalism (understanding). It promotes the competence to work effectively in social and professional settings, involving people from diverse cultural backgrounds who bring a mélange of deeply rooted civilizational values to the table.  Such settings may range from integrating a culturally diverse staffing mix to achieve managerial objectives to diplomatic negotiations.  CQ skills enable individuals to relate personally and work professionally across cultures.

Rakesh Ahuja
14 March 2023

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