Dealing with Diversity – The Importance of Cultural Intelligence

Do you have the cultural savvy it takes to be considered a global player? The one characteristic that global procurement professionals need is cultural intelligence.


When we are procuring domestically, we don’t think about our own culture. It isn’t until we are procuring and dealing with people of different cultures around the world that we have to think and function with a global mindset.

Culture is reflected in what is considered normal. It is tacit. We don’t think about it on a conscious level, but when we step out of our familiar cultural environments, culture does matter and we do notice it.

One of the biggest challenges when procuring across cultures is that we often have expectations that other people are similar to us and that they ‘play by the same ground rules.’ These are dangerous assumptions.

Defining Cultural Intelligence

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the ability to work effectively across cultures. CQ supports global leaders in their cross-cultural interactions, providing greater insights and understandings into the behaviours, values and attitudes of others from a cultural perspective.

Cultural Intelligence consists of four components:

1. CQ Drive – The interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. It consists of intrinsic (i.e. meaningful work) and extrinsic interests (i.e. financial rewards), and the drive to learn and understand different cultures, their norms and behaviours

2. CQ Knowledge – Understanding cultural similarities and differences. This includes knowledge of the values, norms and practices in different cultural settings.

3. CQ Strategy – Awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions. It incorporates how we apply our CQ Knowledge insights. For example, checking assumptions and observations, and engaging in active inquiry when interacting with people of different cultures.

4. CQ Skills – The ability to appropriately adapt verbal and non-verbal communication in cross-cultural situations, including how well we can adapt when things don’t go according to plan.

Strategies for improving CQ Drive:

  • Take some unconscious bias tests and seek feedback.
  • Identify your passions and why you care about them.
  • Reflect on what guides and influences your behaviours and attitudes toward culturally diverse groups.
  • Welcome opportunities to mentor others as a ‘cultural broker.’

Strategies for improving your CQ Knowledge:

  • Choose a culture that interests you. Read a novel, magazine or local newspaper from an overseas site, or an author native to that country.
  • Listen to overseas radio programmes.
  • Visit culturally significant places to learn more about them. For example, a mosque, synagogue or sporting venue.
  • Visit art galleries or museums that display stories and artworks from other countries. These help you to gain a deeper understanding of why and how they were created and their cultural significance
  • Continuously observe body language, facial expressions, gestures when you are interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. People love to talk about their culture. This can also be a great way to build relationships.

Strategies for improving CQ Strategy:

  • Practice detaching yourself from the situation and observing. You will be more impartial and less judgemental. You will see and hear the things that are not being said.
  • Practice pausing. Pause and reflect on what you believe is occurring, how you are experiencing the moment, and how you feel, and then make the necessary adjustments.
  • Observe your own behaviours and emotions when you are in different cultural settings, such as what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Learn basic small talk, norms and appropriate social behaviours that are culturally appropriate.

Strategy for improving CQ Skills:

  • Pay attention to hierarchy.
  • Learn some basic language. For example, sorry, thank you, greetings, etc.
  • Spend time planning how you are going to act, react and manage your own expectations, and those of others during conversations.
  • Modify your tone and speed of speech according to your observations and language competency of the receiver.

So, what will your strategy be to improve your Cultural Intelligence, and build your global effectiveness?

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