Understanding Cultural Intelligence: What is CQ Knowledge?

Understanding Cultural Intelligence: What is CQ Knowledge?

by Felicity Menzies

CQ (Cultural Intelligence) Knowledge is your understanding of culture and cultural differences.

Members of a social group develop similarities in their thoughts and behaviours as they interact with one another. Shared patterns reflect what is required for acceptance and success in that setting. Different cultural groups develop distinct sets of shared beliefs and customs.

Obvious cultural variations include language, customs, and appearance. But similarities in cultural displays may mask more fundamental differences. Core cultural differences are invisible, but they cause the most problems and are often overlooked. Hidden cultural differences include values, assumptions, and beliefs.

Your CQ Knowledge includes your understanding of broad cultural differences and cultural variations relevant to a particular setting.

Do I understand broad cultural differences?

Social scientists summarise the differences between cultures as variations on a core set of values. Cultural values represent a group’s collective agreement on how best to organise itself to ensure its social and physical survival. Examples include the division of gender roles, the legitimacy of power, the relative importance of group welfare over the needs of the individual. Value differences drive variations in tangible cultural differences including language, customs, technology, and institutions.

Why do I need to learn about broad cultural differences?

Today’s leaders and employees work across a broad spectrum of cultural diversity, and they do this daily. It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict and prepare for every exchange. Learning the core set of values on which cultures vary is a more efficient method of understanding cultural differences than memorising long lists of context-specific dos and don’ts.

A persons cultural identity is dynamic and complex. It is shaped over a lifetime by various influences, including family, peers, media, education, and travel. Adhering to rigid group stereotypes is problematic. It may leave you floundering when facing a novel or ambiguous setting. In contrast, a broad awareness of how culture might be influencing any situation helps you to be creative and flexible in your interpretations and responses.

But what if I want to know more about a particular group?

Context-specific knowledge may be useful when seeking to better understand particular subcultures, for example, regional, generational, gender, sexual orientation, or professional.

Why do I need CQ Knowledge?

To understand others better

Without knowledge of how culture affects your own and others’ behaviour, you interpret the world through your own cultural lens, failing to attribute differences in behaviours and beliefs to cultural influences. CQ Knowledge helps you to overcome cultural blind spots. You can better explain and predict the responses of others and thereby prevent confusion and anxiety in diverse settings.

To enhance problem-solving and decision-making

Increased knowledge of cultural differences improves problem identification and resolution, judgement, and risk assessment.

To improve relations

By increasing your understanding of the intentions, behaviours, and viewpoints of diverse others, CQ Knowledge tempers bias and stereotypes, which in turn promotes interpersonal harmony.

What are the other components of Cultural Intelligence?

CQ Knowledge 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 and unconscious bias and includes your capacity to persist in challenging interactions, even when confused, frustrated, or burnt out.

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.

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

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.