Cultural intelligence is an important step towards cultural competence.
Acquiring and developing intercultural skills can help you enjoy a more relaxed life and greater success in your career abroad.
Intercultural knowledge may help you cope with initial disorientation. You can try to learn some of the “rules” of your host country before leaving home.
However, in a smooth transition from the phase of cultural awareness to actually acquiring cultural intelligence, you should try to analyze your relationship with your own culture first.
Cultural intelligence is an important milestone on the way to cultural competence for all people living and working abroad.
Once you know more about the culture you come from, you can try to discover related knowledge about the new culture you’re soon going to live in. Thus you’ll start acquiring your necessary cultural intelligence.
In all likelihood, you will start out with some clichés and stereotypes about other countries and cultures. That’s not exactly cultural intelligence, but it’s not necessarily all bad, either: Stereotypes exist because they are simple to understand and easy to remember.
“All Germans are hard-working and over-punctual” is a far shorter statement than, “generally speaking, German businesspeople tend to live in an achievement-oriented culture with a mono-chronic approach towards time management.”
Reflecting on your own culture and gathering information on a new culture should help you understand where such stereotypes come from and how they can be replaced by true cultural intelligence.
The following points are useful steps on the way towards cultural intelligence:
– Start taking language classes. Though non-verbal communication often transmits a more powerful message than mere words, language skills are greatly beneficial. They help you to be more communicative in everyday life, to access more factual knowledge, and to address misunderstandings more effectively.
– Meet other expats who have already lived in this country and ask them about “best practice” tips.
– Immerse yourself in your new country’s rituals and products. You could, for example, read travel guides on local traditions, cook new recipes, or consume a bit of contemporary pop culture.
– Do online research on your destination or buy a few books on expat living. The materials should explain some hard facts (e.g. history, politics), give you concrete advice on everyday situations (e.g. table manners, business etiquette), and address some underlying values.
– Take seminars on cultural intelligence. However, please exercise some caution here. There are often no specified qualifications for intercultural trainers, so always ask them for references.
Always remember: Even interculturally effective persons may sometimes behave awkwardly, especially in the beginning. However, your chances of success increase the higher your level of cultural intelligence is.
Acquiring practical intercultural skills is the hardest part of cross-cultural learning. It’s not quite as simple as deciding between a bow and a handshake or between gripping your business contact’s hand firmly and touching it cautiously.
It means being able to analyze misunderstandings and set them right, or being able to avoid them in the first place. While good seminars provide the opportunity to practice your skills in role play situations, it should be an ongoing process of learning by doing when you are actually abroad.