Cross-cultural communication

The science of uncommon sense


There is a lot of debate about where we can draw the line between personality and culture…but why do we have to separate them? We can argue about the fact that culture is stable within its environment and it is about groups of people, not individuals, although we must admit, culture affects behaviour just like your personality.

When I talk to companies about cultural differences most people think about only different nationalities and they seem to think they are doing OK. When we go deeper and mention diversity, they seem to add the gender differences to it. As the conversation progresses we manage to add six to eight different cultural groups they have and belong to at the same time: generation, profession, education, position within the company, department, etc…

These are all cultural groups with their own unwritten (or written) rules regarding how they SHOULD behave, what is accepted, what is strongly advised, what is tolerated and what is not.

The importance of ICQ

In simple terms culture is a group habit driven by values and needs. It is what we accept as normal, familiar and predictable. When something surprises or annoys us, it does not mean that is right or wrong. It just means it is not normal for us. Cultural Intelligence (ICQ) is about understanding how personality types and cultural background impact communication, behaviour and decision-making. The more we understand how our mind works, the patterns, processes, values and beliefs, the more we can unlock the disconnect within ourselves and between others.

Cultural Intelligence is not about the five do-s and five don’t-s in different countries, that was the pre-globalisation approach. If those solutions worked, then more than 13% of employees would be actively engaged and 83% of joint ventures would not fail today. The reason is that diversity has been turned into a PR activity, a trendy hype, instead of a strategic goal by HR. What people do not realise is that diversity is the greatest asset or liability depending on the level of cultural intelligence.

Diversity has been turned into a PR activity, instead of a strategic HR goal. Click To Tweet

Another challenge is that most of the intercultural models were created 30-40 years ago based on the results of people of whom the youngest ones would be 60-70 years old today. They grew up without internet, cheap flights and 100s of international TV channels.

Those solutions focus on one cultural group, the country of origin, which is just one out of the many that shape us. They might be useful inter-national models, but not inter-cultural ones, not to mention the fact that over 80% of the differences on cultural values were found within countries, and less than 20% of the differences were found between countries (Management International Review).

Companies realise how important it is to recruit, retain and engage the best employees, they invest a great amount of time and money into training and yet … :

  • 71% of surveyed organisations aspire to have an inclusive culture, but only 12% have achieved this objective. (Deloitte, 2016)
  • 89% of CEOs struggle with leadership, culture and engagement. (Deloitte, 2016)

Inter-cultural communicationYour success depends on the quality of your relationship with the individual in front of you, your clients, colleague, boss or employee.

Cultural Intelligence allows you to understand and optimise the diversity of mindset. If you know what your customers expect, you can exceed those expectations to impress them. If you know what drives your employees, you can create that motivating environment around them so they can excel.

Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85% of financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge.

Change in a VUCA world

We live in a world that’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) and it might seem that disruption is the one constant we can rely on in the future, but it doesn’t need to imply a negative outcome.

We cannot control change, but we can control our response to it. It is part of the brain’s executive functioning and requires us to access a host of reasoning, working memory, problem-solving skills, and planning functions, as change occurs. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to restructure knowledge to adapt and make use of it in different settings and situations, in other words, learners must be able to apply knowledge in the real world. Cognitive flexibility also extends to our belief system; enabling us to change our mind when assumptions and attitudes we consider true at one point, may not apply in the near future.

inter-cultural communicationCultural intelligence is the competitive advantage and it is a skill that can be dramatically improved in a relatively short period of time. Personal and cultural differences can be measured and leveraged to make individuals and companies resilient and thrive in a VUCA environment where the most adaptable one will survive, not the strongest one…

The challenge is that the world has completely changed in the last 30-40 years, however the solutions companies are offering are mostly based on the results of pre-globalisation researches.

In the next article we are going to introduce you to the only post-globalisation intercultural model designed for addressing the new people challenges throughout the complete corporate lifecycle including recruitment, team building, leadership and engagement. The solution that turned around CISCO Latin America and whose developer was recognised as the world’s top 30 organisational culture experts in 2016.

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