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Cultural intelligence: Why CQ can be important to CX


Emotional intelligence is a key consideration when service teams are recruiting staff. But should cultural intelligence also be considered?

17th Jun 2022
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Emotional intelligence has been long regarded as a valuable attribute to possess for those in customer-facing roles. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the recruitment process to gauge applicants' EQ in an effort to identify the most appropriate candidates. 

But what about cultural intelligence?

"As a direct result of business globalisation, there is a growing understanding and recognition of the importance of cultural intelligence, or a high cultural quotient (CQ)," says Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership. 

"Having a culturally intelligent workforce is increasingly recognised as being hugely beneficial to teamwork, performance, communication and cooperation, and is fundamental to good business in this day and age."

Those customer-facing staff with high CQ would better appreciate and respect how others’ individual experiences and perspectives differ and are more likely to be compassionate and knowledgeable about cultural influences. 

So is cultural intelligence something that customer experience management should be paying greater attention to?

What is CQ? 

"Cultural quotient, also known as cultural intelligence, is a globally recognised measure that isn’t just about being culturally sensitive," explains Dennis. "Instead, it delves deeper into the understanding and recognition of cultural differences from nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, socio-economics, location and how these influence our beliefs, attitudes and values."

The four main capabilities that constitute CQ were outlined by Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne in their CQ model:

  1. CQ Drive or Motivation measures your interest and confidence in multicultural interactions.
  2. CQ Knowledge or Cognition looks at your understanding of the similarities and differences between cultures, rather than for example personality differences.
  3. CQ Strategy or Metacognition is how you plan and deal with multicultural interactions to build better relationships.
  4. CQ Action or Behaviour is your agility to reflect and adapt when working in a multicultural environment. 

CQ can be developed on both an individual and organisational level and can be measured based on ten key and mappable cultural values including: Low vs. High Uncertainty Avoidance, Neutral/ Non Expressive to Affective/ Expressive, Cooperative vs. Competitive, Linear vs. Non-Linear, Being vs. Doing and Individualism vs Collectivism.

What are the benefits of staff having high CQ?

If your customer-facing staff have strong cultural intelligence, they are more likely to be excellent communicators, and easily develop rapport and make strong connections with customers. They are also more likely to appreciate diverse points of view and adapt easily and be able to calmly and effectively deal with any conflicts or disagreements that arise. 

However, an employee with a low CQ is more likely to create or escalate these conflicts as they are less able to see situations from another’s perspective, which can be problematic in a customer service environment. 

Culturally intelligent organisations as a whole will have established better trust, tolerance and understanding.

"Diversity alone is not enough," stresses Dennis. "Research consistently demonstrates that diverse teams with low CQ are outperformed by homogenous teams. This is because working with people who are different can create misaligned expectations and conflict, and without CQ, increased diversity tends to reduce productivity. 

However, the research also demonstrates that when diverse teams have high CQ, they outperform homogeneous teams in every area, including innovation, decision-making, building trust, and leadership effectiveness." 

How can you increase your CQ as a business?

When a business wants to improve their CQ, they can address issues and problems through intentional, innovative learning strategies, inclusive recruitment and engaging workshops, courses, coaching and digital tools, but we can all improve our CQ levels.

Here are some ways that organisations can improve their organisations' cultural intelligence, as recommended by Dennis. 

  1. Choose culturally intelligent leaders and employees. Actively recruiting and progressing culturally intelligent individuals will create more inclusive, diverse and equal teams. Cultural and ethnic miscommunications and conflict are often due to lack of awareness, common values and culturally intelligent people in the workplace.
  2. Real inclusion leads to diversity of thinking. In 2019, the Academy of Management reported the top three factors that influence whether diverse staff feel included were participation in decision-making, information sharing, and informal networking. It’s easier and more efficient to make decisions with a group of like-minded people, but you are likely to lack a diversity of insights. CQ allows you to develop a decision-making process that manages bias, enables a variety of ways for a diversity of individuals to share their point of view, and ultimately reach a decision.
  3. Be considerate. Consider how influential your culture has been on your decision making and perspective and actively notice that it is likely to be different to others, so be open to learning. Look for similarities and differences and be aware that we may think differently, and “our way” is not always the only way. 
  4. Be interested. Preconceptions can automatically hinder your ability to form work relationships. Be open-minded and be curious rather than judgemental and share a little about yourself too. Ask questions and stimulate discussions about culture to increase your awareness and understanding. Use positive language to make others feel comfortable and show you are authentic in your interest. 
  5. Notice your own bias. Question if you have any unconscious bias that may be coming into play because it prevents us from realising others’ potential and can hinder our ability to optimise other perspectives. We all have biases; accepting that as a start point is a good way to begin.
  6. Assess for individualised development. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is an old saying but the beauty of CQ is that it allows for personalised development by allowing each person to assess their skills against the benchmark of the worldwide norms. They can then create an action plan that is customized to their skill set and goals. Cultural Intelligence can be measured and developed.
  7. Create rapport. Finding common ground helps us to connect and bond and therefore establish sufficient and effective work relationships. Once this has been established, trust and respect will be at the forefront, breaking down cultural barriers that could have got in the way. 



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