Imagine this: You’re having lunch near your office on a warm summer day, and this is what transpires at the table beside you.
The scene: A lunch meeting between two businessmen, one Canadian born and raised, one visiting from Japan.
The attire: Our Canadian is in Chinos and a short-sleeved shirt. Our Japanese businessman is in a suit.
The conversation: It appears a business deal is struck. (The Canadian has a very high IQ and persuasive abilities.)
The deal breaker: The Canadian pulls out the extra chair and props his foot up on its rungs.
The reaction: The Japanese businessman smiles politely, averts his eyes, and settles the bill as quickly as possible. No final deal is made.
So what went wrong here? For some traditionally minded Japanese, putting your feet on chairs or tables is considered very rude. Our Canadian businessman, smart as he is, didn’t know this. It’s not a high IQ he was lacking; it was a high CQ – cultural intelligence.
In an earlier post I wrote a couple of years ago, I pointed out how cultural differences in the workplace were becoming more the rule than the exception, creating real challenges for businesses. Since that time I’ve noticed a real proliferation of articles on the subject, and an ever-intensifying spotlight on the immigrant experience, workplace diversity, and the need to navigate the cultural divide. Right now my local branch of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is running a very interesting series called Great Expectations. The series addresses many of the frustrations even highly educated immigrants have with cultural differences in their new home.
However, there are two sides to that story. The other side is the businessperson who is well versed in mainstream Canadian culture, but lacks an understanding of specific cultural groups he or she comes into contact with through business.
The struggle to negotiate cultural differences isn’t just about doing business in Canada, though, it’s a global concern. The reality of doing business these days is that our world is increasingly borderless. To understand cultural differences and know how to cope with them is crucial.
And trying to bridge the cultural divide can be intimidating. An article in Forbes points out that the economic repercussions of failing to understand cultural differences can be acute. “More and more leaders are scared for their business. Not because their products and services are not innovative or relevant, but because they just don’t connect naturally with the changing face of America’s consumers.”
Substitute “America” for just about any other country and you’d come up with the same concern.
So what can you do to improve your own CQ quotient?
Recommendations from the Language Lab:
-Do your homework: Cultural Intelligence: People Skills for Global Business by David C Thomas and Kerr Inkson presents a three-step process for becoming more culturally intelligent. As its publisher’s blurb on Amazon says, “These steps involve learning the fundamental principles of cross-cultural interactions, such as what cultures are, how they might vary, and how they affect behavior; practicing mindfulness and paying attention in a reflective and creative way to cues; and developing a repertoire of behavioral skills that can be adapted to different situations.”
-Take tips from the pros: Harvey Schachter, writing in the Globe and Mail has a number of excellent tips, including this one: “Discreetly watch people from other cultures when you’re in public places. Attend celebrations of other cultures in your city; eat their foods and attend their music and dance events. When you’r travelling, visit public markets, shopping districts, museums and art galleries”
Hmm, going to dance events, public markets and museums as a way of improving CQ sounds more like fun than work to me!
But in answer to the question: “Which is more important? IQ (Intelligence Quotient) or CQ (Cultural Intelligence)?” say this. Try applying your IQ wisely to increase your CQ, and you’ll do just fine.
Have you ever been challenged by cultural differences in the workplace? Let us know by commenting on the blog, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.