As globalization continues to increase the number of cross-cultural interactions, the ability to function effectively in different cultural contexts has never been more important. But each culture has its own behavioral code and normative principles, so the actions, gestures, and words a person encounters in a foreign business setting can be easily misinterpreted leading to misunderstandings and missed opportunities for cooperation. For global companies, it is important to assess strategic initiatives through a cultural lens. This has far-reaching implications for change management—the people side of change.
The role of cultural intelligence
Managing change across cultures requires not just the ability to feel comfortable when dealing with people of different cultures, but also awareness of and sensitivity to cultural norms such as body language, tone of voice, patterns of handling emotions, and concepts of justice, leadership and self. This ability to act appropriately and effectively among people with unfamiliar backgrounds is generally referred to as cultural intelligence (or CQ). To some extent, cultural intelligence can be viewed as emotional intelligence (or EQ) across cultural contexts. It involves acquiring perspectives and knowledge through cultural mindfulness—openness to new experiences and ideas—and then being able to transform that knowledge into behavioral skills. Anyone who is motivated enough can cultivate his or her cultural intelligence, and anyone involved in managing change across national and cultural boundaries should.
Unquestionably, global companies benefit from change management resources (and leaders) who are culturally intelligent because they are better equipped to:
- Work effectively in culturally diverse teams.
- Manage conflict and misunderstandings that arise from different cultural perspectives.
- Help others understand how cultural orientations affect attitudes and behaviors.
- Coach others to manage challenging cross-cultural situations.
- Take cultural differences into account when developing change management plans.