Thursday, May 04, 2006

What is your Cultural Intelligence?

A wise man once said, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing(Socrates).

Every company sets out to hire the most intelligent people they can, so I know your company is no different. I think it is safe to say, you have some of the most brilliant minds in the world working at your company. Will anyone admit, “I have nothing to learn?” Knowing in advance that no one will honestly admit they have nothing to learn, I ask you today, “Do you have cultural intelligence?”

In 1958, authors William Lederer and Eugene Burdick wrote a best selling book titled, “The Ugly American.” Are you an Ugly American?

"For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious. Perhaps they're frightened and defensive, or maybe they're not properly trained and make mistakes out of ignorance" (Lederer and Burdick).

In the global world in which we live, we can not afford to make mistakes out of ignorance. Knowledge and skills are available to everyone through Online resources and also through intercultural classroom training for a fee. Other resources are free for the avid seeker. Understanding the need for cultural awareness and sensitivity is just the beginning. The world is growing smaller every day, “How well you interact with others really depends upon your level of cultural intelligence and understanding.”

Enhancing respect and trust and eliminating the “Ugly American” stereotype requires each of us to act like ants. As the ant collects morsels of food in the summer to survive the winter, we should collect cultural tid bits in the same way, as one never knows when the knowledge and skills will come in handy. Just because you have no intercultural interaction today, doesn’t mean you won’t have an opportunity tomorrow. Intercultural lessons are a life time journey.

Cultural short-sightedness and/or a lack of cultural competency or care, is the reason many international relationships and ventures fail. I was told by a professional (anonymous) first generation immigrant to America, “People are very nice here, but they just don’t care about learning about other cultures.” The challenge isn’t the lack of technical or professional expertise, individuals have plenty intelligence, it is a lack of care or desire to look at the world differently. Developing global cultural competency is one of the most challenging aspects of working globally.

In today’s global workplace, being culturally savvy is no longer just “a nice to have,” but rather the key to success. “What are you doing to increase your cultural intelligence?

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