Cultural Intelligence Skills to Help You Navigate a Global Workplace

Cultural intelligence skills are essential if you want to thrive in a global economy.

“If you don’t ‘get’ culture, it will eventually get you,” said Christian Höferle, president and CEO of The Culture Mastery, of the dangers of not adapting to a new culture. “We need to be able to communicate efficiently and effectively.”

In a recent episode of Alchemizing HR, Höferle laid out a framework for understanding — and operating within — diverse cultures. Here’s how to foster cultural intelligence skills at your organization.

Foster Cultural Self-Awareness

We all carry our culture with us, but we don’t necessarily understand how it affects our behaviors. We see the world through this lens. It’s not uncommon in the U.S., for instance, to work long hours with little to no break. This has been normalized in American culture but might seem strange to employees from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

“Normal” is an arbitrary concept. Behaviors that are normal in other cultures may seem unfamiliar to us, but that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. “Every normal has its validity,” Höferle said. A lack of cultural awareness can lead to friction and inequality in a global market. We must be self-aware enough to recognize how our behaviors differ from other people’s “normal” or other cultural norms.

Find Common Ground

When merging cultures in the workplace, it’s essential to start with positive dialogue. If we start a relationship by pointing out differences — especially negatively — we won’t be able to make any progress. “We need to talk with each other, not about each other,” Höferle said. Have a dialogue with others to learn from them and find common ground.

Be open to learning more about other cultures and their work habits. You or your workforce’s initial response might be that things aren’t “right.” But just because something is unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you doesn’t mean that it isn’t also “right.” At the same time, you don’t have to condone or participate in behaviors that you consider unethical.

Facilitate New Ways of Working

Cultural intelligence skills don’t require you to internalize other ways of working or become an expert in someone else’s culture. We all have a zone of appropriate behaviors, Höferle said. Try to adjust your behavior within this zone, but don’t feel obligated to adjust too far. “Perfection is an illusion,” Höferle continued. “We can only strive to become better.”

Instead of trying to change yourself completely, focus on being successful in the new context. Continue to foster respectful awareness of the differences between your parent culture and a new culture you’re exposed to. Continued self-awareness will help you and your workforce create a new way of working that maintains who you are while functioning in a new culture.

Watch the recording for recertification credit.