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How cross-cultural encounters help your cultural intelligence

Published on February 17th, 2023

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Can you believe that one simple miscommunication almost led to a fight in a meeting? 

A global company, with offices all over the world, brought together a multicultural team to find a new way to market their product worldwide. Upper management noticed they had many different cultural profiles in this team and were hoping that the cross-cultural encounters bound to happen can the variety of the team’s perspectives, experiences, and ways of thinking to work. However, the decision to round up people with no previous cultural intelligence training was a risky one.  

As team members Mark and Sam met for the first time, some communication challenges got in the way of cooperation. Let’s see what that looked like for them… 

Off to a bad start

To improve his career options, Mark volunteered to take the role of manager of this team in Europe, leaving New York behind. He was going to be working closely with Sam, and he was enthusiastic to hear their ideas for the rebranding.  

After a few pleasantries, the team got to work, and Sam was supposed to pitch their idea to Mark. They were eloquent, expressive, and seemed very passionate about the project. Yet, as they went along, it sounded to Mark they were improvising a lot. They included seemingly unrelated elements in the presentation which had Mark impatient and a bit irritated.  

He was feeling the team’s time was being wasted so he had to step in. He assessed the situation and decided to give Sam some sharp feedback in front of the team. What surprised Mark was that Sam had an answer to everything – they would not accept criticism. Sam had started an argument in the middle of the meeting, and Mark sternly asked them to change their tone. 

You could say this was a cross-cultural encounter gone wrong, but things took an unexpected turn. 

Is it rude or just expressive?

The way the encounter was described was Mark’s understanding of the situation. On the other side, there was Sam who saw things very differently.  

This kind of back-and-forth was normal to them – loud talk and expressive gestures were a big part of their identity. After all, that’s how they were used to showing dedication – you fight for what you believe in, even with your superiors. By no means did they intend to offend Mark or make the team uncomfortable. They explained this kind of behavior is just a part of their culture and apologized. The meeting went on uninterrupted, but the situation left both Sam and Mark thinking – why did this happen the way it did?   

It was that both employees lacked the cultural intelligence to help them navigate this cross-cultural encounter better. If they had looked into each other’s WorldPrism profiles, Mark would’ve known Sam was an expressive communicator with a tendency to take a more circular route to problem-solving. Sam, on the other hand, would’ve known Mark prefers things simple, factual, and to the point. This information could’ve given them the opportunity to see things from each other’s perspectives and adjust their behavior to get the best results in this meeting. 

The value of CQ

Instances such as these are at the heart of the theory of Cultural Intelligence (CQ). The theory explains CQ as the ability to understand, appreciate and effectively work with people from diverse cultures. Through cross-cultural interactions, people can develop cultural self-awareness, which involves recognizing their own cultural values and biases. This, in turn, leads to cultural empathy and the ability to adapt to different cultural norms and behaviors, lowering the potential for misunderstandings and conflicts in interactions such as Mark and Sam’s.  

One of the most distinguished scientists in the field of cross-cultural studies are professors P. Christopher Earley of the National University of Singapore and Soon Ang of the Nanyang Technological University. They studied cross-cultural interactions and the role of cognitive, physical, and emotional abilities in successful adaptation to different cultural environments. Their work helped establish Cultural Intelligence as a scientifically recognized concept and gave rise to further research and development in the field. 

Help your team develop CQ and encourage cross-cultural encounters

If your goal is improved communication and collaboration with diverse colleagues, customers, and partners in your company, developing CQ is the best way to get there. Here are a few ways you can help your team with that process: 

  • Invest in developing culturally intelligent skills 
  • Encourage cross-cultural encounters and interactions through diverse teams, global assignments, and international business trips
  • Promote open-mindedness and respect for diverse perspectives 
  • Provide opportunities for employees to learn about different cultures through language classes, cultural events, and cultural exchange programs 
  • Motivate employees to engage in reflective practices, such as journaling or discussing cross-cultural experiences, to gain insight into their own cultural biases 

If you start prioritizing cross-cultural experiences and understanding, you can turn your business into a diverse workplace with an inclusive culture. This will help every employee reach their full potential and improve your organization’s ability to succeed in a global market.


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