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5 Tips to improve cultural intelligence

When I was working in Greece I went out for dinner with some friends. I was introduced to a Frenchman who greeted me with some lip action on the cheeks (“La bise”). I did not know how to react or where to look and I felt pretty awkward. When we sat down for dinner I asked him about the greeting etiquette, and we delved deep into the history and traditions of “La bise.” Now I can tell you how many kisses to greet people with depending on which city of France you are visiting.

The rise of globalisation has encouraged businesses to operate in foreign markets and workplaces have seen increases in diversity. Employees who have a high level of cultural intelligence bridge divides and knowledge gaps in organisations.

In 2012 Delivery Hero was the fastest-growing company in the online food ordering industry. Diversity in the workplace was a key pillar that contributed to their success. They have over 90 nationalities at their Berlin HQ, allowing them to exchange best practices and share different perspectives, that has created a healthy workplace environment, helping the company thrive.

Walmart’s low level of cultural intelligence cost them dearly, resulting in failures to localise operations in South Korea and Germany, which later saw the retail giant pull out of both regions.

Culture intelligence encourages better communication, collaboration and creativity. Here are some tips to help you:

Find common grounds. It is a great way to create a mutual bond, allowing you to connect and develop trust by eliminating communication barriers. Coming from Manchester, I usually find football the easiest topic to spark good conversation.

Be open-minded. Being mindful and accepting different cultures will give you a greater understanding. Every culture has the good and the bad, no culture is perfect. You may not agree with certain aspects but accepting different perspectives will help you to start seeing things differently.

Learn a language. You will be able to communicate with more people effectively. You are not just simply learning words, you are learning different sayings and getting to know the culture on a deeper level by learning another way to think about things. “You live a new life for every language you speak.”

Interact with people. Conversate and learn about different traditions and beliefs. Ask why. Share your knowledge and experience about your own culture, have open conversations about stereotypes and find out where they stemmed from. Understand and judge people on their own worth, not from a cultural point of view.

Travel. Live in the country as if it is your own. Take public transport and speak to the locals. You will not get the full cultural experience if you are staying in a hotel and using Uber. Be yourself but adapt, for example, think about how you present yourself at work and when you’re with your friends.

Studies show international experience and cultural intelligence creates global leaders. There has been a lot of discussion about intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EI) but what are you doing to improve your cultural intelligence?


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