Promoting cultural intelligence in the workplace

Background of the Report Methods of Investigation In order to have a better understanding on some of the issues of cultural intelligence and how we can better promote cultural intelligence in the workplace, the team conducted an intensive research on this issue through various research studies, academic journals and book references. In the process of the research, we also made several references to numerous videos relating to cultural intelligence. The videos were found mostly on the internet as well as in some movies. Once we felt better equipped with the knowledge of culture and cultural intelligence, we headed out onto the streets to conduct interviews with business professionals to get a firsthand account on their experiences of working with people from different cultures. Additionally, we also conducted short interviews with our peers to get an overview of the youths’ take on Cultural Intelligence and its importance in society. Some of the peers whom we spoke to were from overseas and thus, this gave us a greater insight on cultural sensitivity which contributed to helping us formulate our report outline. Lastly, in order to investigate the level of awareness and the importance on the issue of Cultural Intelligence, we posted up an online survey on Zoomerang. From the survey, we then discovered that although 73% of the 100 respondents have worked with people from a different culture, majority (71%) of them were either unaware or vaguely aware of the issue on Cultural Intelligence. However, once the concept of Cultural Intelligence was explained, majority (60% of them thought that Culture Intelligence is very important in the workplace. Additionally, it is also noted that 33% of the respondents have ever been at the receiving end of cultural/racist jokes and thus, this leads in to the importance of our topic. (Please refer to the appendices for the entire survey questionnaire and survey results) Objectives – To address the issue of cultural intelligence and the significance and importance of it in the workforce. – To increase awareness of the various cultures and some of the fundamental issues in cross cultural interactions – To examine the various factors that contribute to cultural intelligence and use this knowledge to help one be more culturally sensitive. – To investigate some of the problems and challenges in the workforce in the issue of cultural intelligence – To enable one to have a repertoire of behavioural skills that would enable them to respond appropriately to different intercultural situations. – To propose solutions that can help one increase his or her cultural intelligence which would in turn, contribute to a more effective workforce in the globalised society. Introduction Everybody has heard of IQ, the measure of one’s learning potential and the ability to reason. (Wrightslaw, 2008) More recently people have become familiar with EQ–emotional intelligence. However, Cultural intelligence, or CQ, is an unfamiliar concept to many as it is a new idea that builds on these earlier concepts, while incorporating the capability to interact effectively across cultures. Culture and Cultural Intelligence Culture is frequently described as an iceberg as most aspects of culture are intangible and hidden – just like an iceberg which hides most of its bulk under the water. As it was in Titanic, the shop sank as the captain did not notice the iceberg. Similarly, in this context, culture is also an obstacle block that most of may not notice but is yet, an important aspect that we must take note of when communicating with people of a different culture. If the presence of such icebergs is neglected or ignored, it can be highly detrimental, resulting in the loss of friendships, respect, employment opportunities and even business deals. However, this can be avoided with intercultural knowledge and skills, otherwise known as cultural intelligence. What is Cultural Intelligence? Cultural Intelligence is the ability to engage in a set of behaviours that uses skills (i. e language or interpersonal skills and qualities (eg. tolerance for ambiguity, flexibility) that are tuned appropriately to the culture-based values and attitudes of the people whom one interacts with (Peterson, 2004) According to Earley and Ang (2003: 9), CQ is, “ A person’s capability for successful adaptation to new cultural settings, that is, for unfamiliar settings attributable to cultural context. ” and consists of cognitive, motivational and behavioural elements. In managerial contexts, this calls for the ability, among other things, to identify and solve problems sensitively and effectively in cross cultural situations. It has been estimated that 83 per cent of cross-cultural mergers and acquisitions in the world failed because the players involved lacked CQ, amongst other factors. (H, Hong & C. H Lee, p1, 2008) Thus, it is important to educate budding managers with the necessary skills for a smooth business transaction. Factors that Contribute to Cultural Intelligence Prior to 1980, the issue of cultural intelligence was not seen as a major and important issue and was instead, regarded as a specialized field within the social sciences that should be left for anthropologists to explore. However, this view started to change when Geert Hofstede published a groundbreaking book on cultural differences and how such difference impact human behaviour. Psychologists started to realise that culture was primarily not external, but internal. It was then that they realised that culture is a powerful force manifested within each person and each psychological process can be said to have a cultural undercurrent. Geert Hofstede’s philosophy was based on the following dimensions that varied within a range: i) Identity (Collectivism vs. individualism) ii) Hierarchy (Small power distance vs. large power distance) iii) Gender (Femininity: quality of life oriented vs. masculinity: achievement oriented) iv) Truth (Low uncertainty avoidance vs. high uncertainty avoidance) v) Virtue (Low long-term orientation vs. high long-term orientation) These dimensions aid in reflecting cultural differences the world over. This allows us to better understand cultures outside of own better, thus enhancing our cultural sensitivity and improving interactions with our counterparts. Hofstede’s intercultural research is backed up by the studies of an anthropologist, Edward T. Hall. His study brought up the concept of proxemics, defined by personal space, social space, consultative space and intrusion space. Each different space is in reference to the distance between people, not necessarily physical. i) Personal Space: closest distance accessible only for close friends and family. ii) Social & Consultative Space: for routine social interaction strangers. iii) Public Space: the area of space beyond which people will perceive interactions as impersonal and anonymous. iv) Intrusion Space: When someone is getting too close for comfort. Hall also noted that the former three spaces vary across cultures and between the same and opposite sex interactions. In America, these spaces are much larger than in the densely populated countries in Europe and Asia. However, Hall and Hofstede warn that their studies speak of cultures generally and should not be used to describe specific individuals. They state that inferences made with regards to their works are to observe cultures as a whole and that people should exercise caution that they do not stereotype others. The purpose of their research is to harvest optimum understanding in between cultures and contend against stereotyping. The importance of Cultural Intelligence in the Workforce In today’s globalised and polyglot world, intercultural communication skills have become vital for career success not just in Singapore but worldwide, and even more so when planning to work or study abroad. Research within multi-national corporations has shown that employees with good intercultural skills enjoy better career prospects and thus, the ability to operate effectively across social and cultural boundaries have become more important than ever. In fact, be in our daily everyday or working life, it has become unavoidable that we meet and work with people of different cultures. Therefore, understanding the culture of others is important as this minimises misunderstandings and effectively maximises our personal/business relationships with them. Additionally, as technology become more advanced and penetrative in the world, there is increasing reliance of the Internet for most people and it has become both a resource knowledge platform as well as a communication tool. This gave rise to the actualization of people meeting on flat screens halfway across the world with just a click of a button. The need to instil this soft skill better known as cultural intelligence is vital as we would not want one wrong gesture to be the cause of a failed business negotiation. Additionally, it is noted that regardless of the size or the establishment (reputation) and accolades of a business organisation, the lack of understanding on cultural differences can and have been posed as an issue both internally and externally when the members of an organisation cannot successfully overcome these cultural barriers. Hence, just like how we would make sure we dress appropriately and perform up to standards during a business meeting, we should ensure that “ these subtle, invisible, usually unconscious cultural elements” (Peterson, 2004) are tackled well for an effective communication. However, while cultural sensitivity is assumed to be important in international business, little empirical work has been done to explore how cultural sensitivity actually develops. Problems that contribute to the importance of Cultural Intelligence Problem 1: Lack of awareness about the importance of cultural intelligence One of the problems we face in today’s society regarding the cultural intelligence or the lack of it is mainly due to the lack of awareness that people have of such a concept. Many people do not consciously think about their actions and behaviour when facing someone from a different cultural background. They might not think it is important to learn about another’s culture. It has been estimated that 83% of cross-cultural mergers in the world fail because the players involved lack cultural intelligence (Hong. H & Lee. CH, 2008). This lack of awareness might lead to embarrassing situations such as or even losing business deals. Take for example, the case study on the Singapore investment in China called the Suzhou Industrial Park. Singapore had invested a majority of 60% stake in this project. However, what was not made aware to the Singapore leaders is that when the Suzhou Industrial Park was being built, another industrial park in the New District of Suzhou was already in operation, and a senior official in the Suzhou municipal government headed this. Singapore complained about unfair competition but the Chinese felt it was just free competition (Hong. H & Lee. CH, 2008). This strained the relationship between officials of the two countries. Problem 2: Under-estimating the importance of cultural intelligence among their local workforces Many organisations in Asia are vastly under-estimating the importance of cultural intelligence within their own company and department. One main problem that would arise from this is the lack of understanding among employees, and this may lead to possible compromising of their work performance (Stening, B. W., 2006) To bring it back to the Singaporean context, we are a multi-racial country and hence it is of paramount importance that we learn and acknowledge each other’s culture. For example, much like every other culture, when agreeing to a statement, an Indian nods his head. When disagreeing to a statement he will shake his head. However, when he wants to convey that he will do what someone says (e. g. I will get the documents ready for you), he will tilt his head from one side to another, much like a see-saw (Thomas. C & Inkson. K, 2004). This proves to be very confusing to people of other cultures as we might mistake this as the shake of the head signifying disagreement. Such an example is very likely to happen in the Singaporean context and work arena due to the racial diversity here. This might cause great confusion for people working together and it will lead to misunderstandings and communications breakdown, which will eventually strain relationships. Problem 3: Globalisation: Diversification of the business environment In today’s society, many companies have global operations and operate internationally. In lieu of this, many people are required to travel to other countries for business dealings and negotiations. As such, the business environment has become more diversified, giving one more opportunity to meet and interact with people of a different culture. Hence, cultural intelligence has become one of the integral factors in establishing good business relations as it helps to minimise miscommunications and possible conflicts that result due to a lack of cultural sensitivity. Thus, it is also important to note some of the values and taboos of a foreign culture whom you are working with. Take this real-life example for instance; an American Sunbeam Corporation once launched a new product – a curling iron, for the German market, which they named ‘Mist Stick’. However, what the advisers at this company did not realize was that ‘mist’ is actually a German slang for dung (Hong. H & Lee. CH, 2008). Needless to say, this product was not well received and caused the company great embarrassment. It is also very important to know how different cultures operate within the company and the methods of communication. Problem 4: Lack of understanding and respect for foreign cultures Another problem that a lack of cultural intelligence might cause is the lack of respect for other cultures. This might not be done intentionally, but because people are not aware of certain traditions and customs they have to follow for different cultures, their naïve actions might be interpreted as being rude. For example, just before an American oil executive was about to sign a contract and seal a deal with a government official from a Middle Eastern nation, the American had unconsciously propped his feet on the table, with his soles facing his Arab host during tea. To the American, this is a sign of relaxation. However, it is considered a very rude gesture to the Arabians (Hong. H & Lee. CH, 2008). Challenges in developing Cultural Intelligence in the Workforce Most organisations today face the challenge of recruiting and retaining a culturally diverse staff and making them work together as an effective team. This is because developing cultural intelligence in the workforce is not easy as there are many challenges that hinder the process. In fact, even organisations who celebrated for their enlightened strategies for globalisation, such as Honda or Philips, have difficulty implementing their global strategies because of the the lack of management talent with crossculturalskills. This is often because communication is fundamentally, not an easy skill to learn. Even when we are close to people, we still at least occasionally miscommunicate. Hence, it is even more likely to occur when communicating with someone culturally different from us as the likelihood of faulty decoding of verbal and non-verbal messages, ethnocentrism and stereotyping is increased. Also, apart from the lack of awareness on the importance of cultural intelligence, it is difficult to be able to effectively teach people about cultural sensitivity, and make them realise the importance of it as they may not be receptive to it. Appreciation of different cultures is thus, not easy to cultivate and very often, negative or incorrect assumptions about the members of the other culture would likely hamper communication. Hence, the challenge lies in eliminating the mindsets of cultural superiority or inferiority as they are likely to drive both staff and managers into „ win-lose“ and „ us-and-them“ types of thinking, resulting in a communication breakdown. Lastly, even though a person may feel highly empathetic and positive towards a different culture, he or she may still lack the efficacy to deal with the varying values and communication methods of that person or group of people. For instance, although one may be equipped with better comprehension and understanding of the cultural difference, it may still not be easy for him or her to change his or her culture/working habits. As a result, conflicts may arise as they may still not feel comfortable enough to work with someone of a different culture. Consequences of Not Addressing Problems The concept of cultural intelligence should never be taken for granted as there are many negative impacts brought about should the lack of cultural sensitivity remain unaddressed. Problem 1: The cultural divide between separate cultures will only widen when neglect is allowed to fester. Manifestation of this ignorance will see insensitivity dominate cross-cultural exchanges, thus leading to unnecessary mistakes and conflicts. It is not hard to agree that petty conflicts like that can be easily avoided by learning about those outside our own circle. Problem 2: There is no way to bridge the cultural gap when no effort has even been invested to raise cultural sensitivity among people working with each other practically every day, let alone build chemistry. This is illustrated with a certain football clubs namely Arsenal. The London club was headed for the coveted English League trophy when the team fell apart, with reports attributing their collapse to unrest in their dressing room, where the French players ostracised themselves. The team’s chemistry broke down and led to a massive meltdown. Their unfortunate example reiterates the impact that the lack of cultural importance has on work performances. Problem 3: Many people get lost in the misconception that globalisation should resemble the melting pot theory more so than the salad bowl model. The melting pot theory refers to the gathering of many parties to form one single identity, while the salad bowl model is used in reference to separate entities coming together, yet retaining their individual traits. In any case, globalisation has to be approached with great caution that cultures should not sell their identities. Problem 4: The saying “ One man’s meat is another man’s poison” may not be fully applicable here, but it certainly draws a close parallel relation. For example, Bulgarians shake and nod their heads to indicate agreement and disagreement respectively. While it is unusual, it is actually true. This serves to show that those caught lacking cultural intelligence are likely to subject themselves to misinterpretation and therefore be deemed as showing a great mark of disrespect for lack of sincerity. Ways to increase Cultural Intelligence in the Workforce As seen from the various examples given above, cultural intelligence among employees is of utmost importance in the workplace. Hence, the following are some suggestions and solutions that can help increase cultural intelligence in the workforce: 1. Devise training programmes for employees. This is especially important for people who travel overseas on a regular basis. Before traveling to another country on business or working with professionals from other countries, it is imperative to take the time to learn about that culture, especially with regard to business and social protocols. 2. Make it a compulsory subject in secondary schools so as to educate the public from young. This way, students will have a strong foundation in terms of building up their own cultural awareness and subsequently increase sensitivity when interacting with those from other cultures in the future when they enter the workforce. 3. Make it compulsory for the staff to pass CI test before they can go overseas. This is a very useful test as the staff being sent overseas will be the ambassadors of the company. By ensuring they have at least a grasp of the basic cultural differences, they will be able to avoid making unnecessary misinterpretations and mistakes. Conclusion Our Reflections As most of us do not have much knowledge about foreign culture and cultural intelligence as well as the role it plays in the globalised business environment, this report gave us the opportunity to find out what cultural intelligence constitutes of and investigate the various issues and the significance of it. As such, we have become more familarised with the concepts of the various cultures and how we can be more culturally intelligent by practising greater cultural sensitivity and being willing to be honest when we are dealing or communicating with people of a unfamiliar or foreign culture. Lastly, through our own reflections made over the course of our study in cultural intelligence, we have learnt that cultural intelligence is of utmost importance when taking our place in the workforce. It cannot be overstated how fundamental cultural sensitivity is to building chemistry that is ever so essential when working hand in hand with your colleagues whom you see practically every day. If there is no effort invested to bridge the cultural divide between colleagues, then the lack of sensitivity will lead to a widening gap thus leading to a high possibility of conflict. Eventually, this would likely result in the compromise of work performances when all is needed to remedy the situation is just the effort to understand those different from ourselves. It is silly and unnecessary to incite conflict and make enemies out of friends. Working together should be an enriching experience instead of a dreaded one, and everyone has a part to play in bringing greater diversity and “ colour” to the global culture.