Written by: Peter Muijres
Around a decade ago a few people spearheaded the introduction of anew concept: ‘cultural intelligence’, also called ‘cultural quotient’ or ‘CQ’. Ang, van Dyne, Earley and Livermore were among these people and introduced CQ to help understand and predict why some expats adjust better than others to communicating with people from different cultures and living in a new environments.
CQ is more concerned with the personal potential to adapt, not merely with the outcomes in terms of cultural competencies. Therefore, proponents claim that CQ is able to measure and predict expatriate performance more precisely1 than cultural competence based measures. The concept of CQ seeks to line up with cognitive, social and emotional forms of intelligence . However, the differential CQ is different because it is not confined by specific cultural borders.1,2 In fact, CQ is concerned with the capability to identify and reconcile cultural differences.
CQ comprises four parts: cognitive (CQ knowledge), metacognitive (CQ strategy), motivational (CQ motivation) and behavioural (CQ action).
Cognition and meta-cognition are concerned with what information is collected and how it is processed. For example, a woman with a well-developed CQ knowledge, is aware of her personal and interpersonal experiences during everyday interactions, when they happen and how she responds. Sensitive to the responses of others and her effectiveness, she might then use information to adjust her learning strategy or her communication or problem solving style to fit the demands of the situation.
An American tourist who did not show this behaviour, was once spotted with his wife in a quiet backstreet bar in Amsterdam. He was very happy and excited about being in Holland and really felt like making some new friends on the spot. However, his loud and expressive communication style, considered obnoxious and disruptive by the Dutch visitors, only met with resistance. However, he did not reconsider and trying something else but decided not to give up. Instead, he became louder and more enthusiastic in increasingly desperate attempts to win the interest of his potential new friends.
As a part of CQ, ‘motivation’ describes a person’s level of initiative and effort: how much does he or she try to adjust to his or her new environment? Persistence, efficacy, self-confidence, affinity with the new culture, personal objectives, goals and the level of effort required, are all players in the motivation to engage with people from different cultures. Although the strategy of the American tourist did not render any new Dutch friends, he definitely deserved credits for his motivation.
CQ behaviour describes the ability to develop culturally appropriate behaviour and responses. Observing and imitating the behaviour of local role models (social mimicry) is a powerful method to acquire the culturally appropriate behaviour that facilitates effective communication. Picking up easily on new languages is considered a good indicator of culturally intelligent behaviour1, because it demonstrates an ability to recognize subtle culture specific meanings and use that in communication.
Although CQ does not provide a unique and exciting new perspective model, it has several positive sides. One of the most powerful ones is that the CQ model seeks to answer the training needs and connects with other models and theories. Many frameworks within the intercultural field, especially those developed before the 1980s, did not consider other theoretical models, research findings, field experiences or training needs.
CQ takes notions of cultural psychology and cognitive psychology into account by paying attention to how information is selected and processed and affecting the self-concept. The influence of Bandura’s social learning theory, for example, is visible in the attention for social mimicry as a social learning strategy. CQ might further complement our understanding of human intelligence by including the ability to think ‘outside the box’, including the reinvention of problem solving and communication strategies under different conditions.
The association of CQ with other types of intelligence provides a familiar reference that may foster general acceptance, but CQ seems a pretty mainstream and hardly innovative model nonetheless. In spite of an interest in other models and practical applications, the concept sticks with determining traits and capabilities of the individual. Host national views, expat experiences, the steps and stages in the process, the dynamics at play during the process receive less or no attention.
CQ makes a constructive step towards connecting theories, HR interests, and outside the box survival. Then again, the model itself makes sure to stay within the comfort zone of an established Western science. Perhaps it’s the lack of something new, bold and thought provoking, the ‘out of the box’ model seems to promise but not make true.
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(1) Earley, P. C. (2002). Redefining interactions across cultures and organizations: Moving forward with cultural intelligence. Research in organizational behavior, 24, 271-299.
(2) Earley, P. C. & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: An analysis of individual interactions across cultures. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
(3) Earley, P. C., Ang, S., & Tan, J. S. (2006). CQ: Developing cultural intelligence at work. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.