Knowing what makes groups tick is as important as understanding individuals. Successful managers learn to cope with different national, corporate, and vocational cultures.
Cultural Intelligence by P. Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski
You SEE THEM at international air-ports like Heathrow: posters ad- vertising the global bank HSBC that show a grasshopper and the message "USA-Pest China-Pet. Northern Thai- land-Appetizer."
Taxonomists pinned down the scien- tific definition of the family Acrididae more than two centuries ago. But cul- ture is so powerful it can affect how even a lowly insect is perceived. So it should come as no surprise that the human actions, gestures, and speech patterns a person encounters in a for- eign business setting are subject to an even wider range of interpretations, in- cluding ones that can make misunder- standings iikely and cooperation im- possible. But occasionally an outsider has a seemingly natural ability to inter- pret someone's unfamiliar and ambig- uous gestures in just the way that per- son's compatriots and colleagues would.
even to mirror them. We call that cul- tural intelligence or CQ. In a world where crossing boundaries is routine, CQ becomes a vitally important apti- tude and skill, and not just for interna- tional bankers and borrowers.
Companies, too, have cultures, often very distinctive; anyone who joins a new company spends the first few weeks de- ciphering its cultural code. Within any large company there are sparring sub- cultures as well: The sales force can't talk to the engineers, and the PR people lose patience with the lawyers. Depart- ments, divisions, professions, geograph- ical regions-each has a constellation of manners, meanings, histories, and val- ues that will confuse the interloper and cause him or her to stumble. Unless, that is, he or she has a high CQ.
Cultural intelligence is related to emotional intelligence, but it picks up where emotional intelligence leaves off.
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BEST PRACTICE • Cultural Intelligence
A person with high emotional intelli- gence grasps what makes us human and at the same time what makes each of us different from one another. A person with high cultural intelligence can some- how tease out of a person's or group's behavior those features that would be true of all people and all groups, those peculiar to this person or this group, and those that are neither universal nor idio- syncratic. The vast realm that lies be- tween those two poles is culture.
An American expatriate manager we know had his cultural intelligence tested while serving on a design team that in- cluded two German engineers. As other team members floated their ideas, the engineers condemned them repeatedly as stunted or immature or worse. The manager concluded that Germans in general are rude and aggressive.
A modicum of cultural intelligence would have helped the American realize he was mistakenly equating the merit of an idea with the merit of the...