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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd

CEO

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Nine qualities of cultural intelligence

Hiring great talent for your organisation requires finding people with cultural intelligence. Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership Ltd, outlines the nine qualities found among those who possess this sought-after skill, so you can easily spot them among your candidates.
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Cultural intelligence or quotient (CQ) is a business-critical skill, especially for those working in dispersed teams and global organisations.

Those with high CQ are brilliant collaborators, communicators and conflict managers, no matter who they are working with. When recruiting new talent into your organisation, you’ll want your hiring managers to easily identify who possesses this skill among your candidates. Luckily, it’s not that difficult to spot them.

When hiring, the candidates with high CQ will stand out.

What are the benefits of cultural intelligence?

The benefits of having a higher CQ include being an effective communicator, better at handling conflict and misunderstandings, and more skilled at interacting with people from different backgrounds.

It is an asset for business and work relations in our globalised economy to further collaboration and strong communication, address challenges, increase customer satisfaction and improve team efficiency.

But it is not just a trait ideal for international organisations. Individuals with highly developed levels of cultural intelligence show empathy, acceptance and respect towards others, are more self-aware, are better at collaboration and are high achievers who don’t feel the need to trample over others as they climb the organisational ladder. 

How can we identify someone with cultural intelligence?

When hiring, the candidates with high CQ will stand out. They may have obvious international experiences, language skills or global work history, and can demonstrate knowledge of cross-cultural interactions. But equally, they may be interested in news around cultural concerns and demonstrate interest and initiative outside of a work context.

You will notice that they listen. They deeply listen and ask questions with authenticity because they want to know your answers for reasons other than personal gain. They also have curiosity about differences and a hunger to learn more.

Those with high CQ can adjust and adapt their working styles to accommodate others.

CQ is also a skill that can be developed and improved with training. Having a genuine incentive and interest to engage and learn allows individuals to develop high CQ through education, experience and practice.

What qualities do people with high cultural intelligence usually have? 

1. Adaptability

Those with high CQ can adjust and adapt their working styles to accommodate others, which can result in more effective, successful outcomes.

For example, they will notice that some workers prefer direct communication and a clear strategy of how to get from A to B, but others thrive on feeling empowered and having autonomy. Being able to adjust your leadership style and show flexibility are two vital skills in today’s management pathway.

Those with high CQ rarely operate on autopilot. They have more than a willingness to listen to other points of view.

2. Genuine appreciation for the significance of diversity

With CQ comes communication and collaboration skills, which are planned strategically through a knowledge of difference.

This isn’t just a matter of speaking different languages or having visited a foreign country. It is about having a deeper understanding of different cultures and wanting to embrace diversity and networking for a good working culture, to lead to more successful projects and partnerships and to allow for innovative ideas with those from different backgrounds. 

3. Collaboration

Those with high CQ rarely operate on autopilot. They have more than a willingness to listen to other points of view, they have a drive to do so to ensure companies are not missing out on valuable talent or input.

Being able to listen and communicate with diverse, distributed groups opens up so many more opportunities for organisations. They look for what or who is missing when searching for solutions, and recruit accordingly.

4. Reduced bias and more awareness of it

With 60% of respondents in a Deloitte study reporting a presence of bias in their workplace, it is important to counteract this to ensure individuals feel heard and supported. Those with high CQ will approach situations with fewer preconceived ideas or biases, offering a safe and respectful working environment and better collaboration and communication.

5. Conflict aversion

A CIPD  survey in 2020 found that just over 35% of employees had experienced some form of interpersonal conflict, either an isolated dispute or an ongoing difficult relationship that year.

The communication skills that come with CQ enable them to anticipate and strategise for potential conflicts, difficulties, controversies or cultural misunderstandings, and proactively address them with cultural sensitivity to resolve them.

They are more likely to effectively navigate these situations by consulting with a variety of sources – from DEI leaders to colleagues with diverse backgrounds – to obtain valuable insights. 

6. Staying ahead of the curve

High CQ individuals are observant and proactively pay attention to what is happening in and around organisations now and in the future. This planning strategy offers stability and allows companies to find the next great opportunity, whilst always staying in congruence with their and the organisation’s values. 

High CQ individuals reflect before making decisions and think before they act.

7. Comfortable with failure

Leaders with high CQ know their perceived position and status may limit some information getting to them. Knowing that colleagues may worry about sharing information if it puts them in a bad light, those with cultural intelligence won’t assume they have the full picture.

They will seek to build a psychologically safe environment where transparency is asked for and failure is okay in the context of learning and development.

8. Self-reflection and self-awareness

High CQ individuals reflect before making decisions and think before they act. They are self-aware and know that taking time to stop and think, look at and talk through all the alternatives often produces the best solutions.

This doesn’t mean they are slow to act, but rather that they respond rather than react impulsively. 

9. Positive and strong leadership

Leading in today’s digital, diverse world requires the cultural intelligence to think strategically and consciously about the individuals and contexts involved and the adaptations needed.

When we lead with cultural intelligence, we’re much more likely to lead everyone inclusively and effectively.

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