Understanding Cultural Intelligence: What is CQ Action?

Understanding Cultural Intelligence: What is CQ Action?

by Felicity Menzies

CQ (Cultural Intelligence) Action is your ability to flex verbal and non-verbal behaviour. This helps you to respond to diverse others in a way that conveys respect and builds trust and rapport and decreases the risk of miscommunication.

Am I able to flex my verbal behaviour?

Cultural differences in verbal behaviour involve language, paralanguage, and speech acts. Paralanguage refers to non-word vocalisations that carry meaning. These include pace, volume, inflexion, accent, tone, and silence. Speech acts refer to messages with an intended social function. For example, apologies, gratitude, and requests. Different social groups use language in different ways when forming speech acts.

Variations in paralanguage and speech acts can threaten effective communication, even with language fluency. To create shared meaning, you must understand the language and the unique ways of using language and non-vocal emphases.

Your misuse of language can have greater ramifications than lack of fluency. Errors in paralanguage or speech acts are not as easily excused. They can suggest disrespect or social incompetence, and these misperceptions are often greater for fluent speakers.

Am I able to flex my non-verbal behaviour?

Cultural differences in non-verbal behaviour include variations in gestures, body language, and greetings, as well as in facial and emotional expression. Variations occur in touch, eye contact, and personal space and also in dress and other aspects of physical appearance.

Why do I need CQ Action?

To improve communication

If there is a mismatch in behavioural scripts, shared meaning is difficult to develop. Inappropriate execution and interpretation of behaviour causes misunderstandings or communication breakdowns, which increase frustration, conflict, and negative stereotyping.

To create a favourable impression

Your verbal and non-verbal behaviours are the most obvious features in a social exchange. CQ Action, therefore, is critical to your Cultural Intelligence.

Successful interactions, even between individuals sharing a similar background, require skills in impression management. The criteria by which people judge social competence vary across cultures. Social behaviour considered competent in one culture may be deemed graceless in another setting. Cultural competence is not a fixed attribute but involves flexibility across different cultural settings. If you stick to your own behavioural script in a new setting, you may appear rude, disrespectful, or ignorant.

Awkwardness in executing new behaviours may be problematic as well, suggesting incompetency or low intelligence. Conversely, contrived behaviour change may convey insincerity. CQ Action helps you to perform smooth, authentic, and relaxed behaviours.

There is cross-cultural variation in the importance given to social competence. “Fitting in” is more critical to social success in some settings than in others.

To maintain emotional composure

Culture shock can provoke negative emotions, including anger, frustration, confusion, and even fear or disgust. These may show in your facial expressions and body language. CQ Action helps you to control your display of troublesome emotions and to approach diverse others in an open and accepting manner.

What are the other components of Cultural Intelligence?

CQ Action is just one component of the four factor model of Cultural Intelligence. Individuals with high Cultural Intelligence (CQ) display three other critical competencies:

CQ Drive is your willingness to work with diverse others. This involves your ability to overcome explicit or unconscious bias and your capacity to persist in challenging interactions, even when confused, frustrated, or burnt out.

CQ Knowledge is your understanding of culture and cultural differences. This involves more than awareness of variations in language, customs, and appearance. Core cultural differences are invisible, but they cause the greatest number of problems and they are often overlooked. Hidden cultural differences include values, assumptions, and beliefs.

CQ Strategy is your ability to flex mentally. With high CQ Strategy, you are not confined to a single worldview, but are open to new or integrative ideas.

Van Dyne, L., Ang, S., Ng, K. Y., Rockstuhl, T., Tan, M. L., & Koh, C. (2012). Sub-dimensions of the four factor model of cultural intelligence: Expanding the conceptualization and measurement of cultural intelligence. Social and personality psychology compass, 6(4), 295-313.

Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.