We don’t need to look too far to get a glimpse of diversity. As we sit in a coffee shop in one of Dubai’s busiest malls, we look around and realize that we are drinking Colombian coffee brewed in a famous Italian coffee shop chain, served by an Indian lady and surrounded by brand name stores from London, Portugal, Italy, Spain and the US. Moreover, as we observe the people passing by we can recognize distinct languages: French, Dutch, Arabic, and Japanese. We can’t help but think how extraordinary it is that the fabric of what makes this country’s economy is so varied. And it’s probably true for most people around the world.
In an increasingly globalized environment with companies wondering how to make diversity work and redefining its actual meaning on a yearly basis, creating a setting that encompasses diversity and harmony is far from easy. And Dubai is no exception! With over 200 nationalities working, living and interacting with each other on a day-to-day basis, we feel fortunate and proud to live in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. And this, as you can imagine, doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. From our way of driving to our way of doing business and from our beliefs to our attitudes, we all hold different perspectives of how we see the world and it can often lead to frustration, interpersonal conflicts and discomfort.
With a population composed of a mosaic of cultures and that counts 16.6% Emirati citizens, 23% other Arabs, 42.3% South Asians, 12.1% other Asians and 6% other expatriates, Dubai has managed to emerge as one of the most innovative cities in the world. Coincidence? Not really. Decades of research clearly demonstrate that diversity within an organization or a team brings more innovation and creativity than in homogenous ones and ultimately helps build stronger businesses. And although reaching a consensus with a diverse group of individuals can be tedious, the variety of perspectives and compelling ideas can be pretty powerful!
And so it is not uncommon for most organizations in Dubai to count a minimum of 15 different nationalities within their workforce. Having people from different horizons working successfully together and towards one common goal certainly sounds exciting and yet it is not always smooth sailing! We can all recall at least one stressful situation that includes a cultural clash, with a colleague, a neighbour or even a friend. The key is to learn to understand others. And how can we do that? Well, it actually starts with gaining a better understanding of ourselves and discover what makes us strive in a culturally diverse environment and this is done through assessing and improving our level of Cultural Intelligence.
So what exactly is Cultural Intelligence (CQ)?
CQ was developed by Professors Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne as a researched-based way of measuring and predicting intercultural performance. It is a measure of a person’s capacity to function effectively across different cultural contexts. Being culturally intelligent means having the knowledge and understanding of key cultural patterns, similarities and differences that live across cultures. Not to be confused with Emotional Intelligence (EQ). People with high EQ will pick up on the emotions, wants and needs of others. CQ goes a step further and those with a high CQ are attuned to the values, beliefs, behaviours and body language of people from different cultures and they use this knowledge to interact with others.
What does CQ actually measure?
According to Dr. David Livermore, the President of the Cultural Intelligence Center and thought leader, CQ can be measured through a specific assessment and consists of four capabilities: Drive, Knowledge, Strategy and Action. Now, let’s take a closer look into each one of them:
CQ Drive: Being motivated to learn about a new culture or setting. Drive is your confidence and motivation to learn and adapt to new and diverse cultural settings.
CQ Knowledge: Cultural knowledge isn’t about learning a new culture inside out. Rather, it means learning about how culture in general shapes someone’s behaviours, values, and beliefs. It includes the overall knowledge of how cultures vary from one another.
CQ Strategy: This element is inherent planning and is done by individuals who are culturally aware. It involves taking what you have learned and know and making thorough culturally sensitive plans for new cultural contexts. Also, it is regularly monitoring, analyzing and adjusting your assumptions and behaviours in different settings.
CQ Action: The last part of cultural intelligence relates to how to act appropriately in a range of cross-cultural situations. It draws on the other three capabilities of CQ to translate the motivation, understanding and planning in action.
Can CQ be developed?
Yes! That’s the good news and it can be done is so many different ways. Also, it is making a conscious effort to be open and learn from a different culture by talking to friends or colleagues, read books or articles on a specific country before traveling to a different place or learning about the do’s and don’ts of how to conduct business before an important meeting. The options are many! The most important element is for you to assess your own cultural intelligence, design a strategy to develop it and plan on how and when this new found knowledge can be used in the future at work or in a social setting.
Why is CQ so important?
To put it simply it is as important as basic leadership skills! In today’s dynamic and global context, organizations are standing at global crossroads to find a way to use CQ as a way to boost cross-cultural collaborations. Organizations require individuals to connect internationally, lead diverse teams, build relationships or expand into new regions, so it is crucial to build cultural intelligence as it shapes the way we pursue culturally diverse contexts. Having a high level of CQ helps create a positive environment of tolerance, trust, adaptability and empathy in intercultural interactions. Furthermore, research demonstrates it has a direct link to the bottom line and to a company’s sustainability; therefore, having high CQ is a real power and a fundamental component in our increasingly diverse world. As Stephen Covey said: Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” and so we must use diversity as a mean to bring different perspectives to the table and new creative ways of doing things.