Here’s a new abbreviation you need to know: CQ. It stands for cultural intelligence and it’s becoming more important in the workplace with each passing year.
With the entrance of millennials into the workforce, the dynamics in the workplace have changed. The U.S. Census reported in 2015 that millennials are more diverse than the generations that preceded them, with 44.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group.
"With the changes in demographics within the nation and with the customers we serve, it’s becoming more important to have that cultural intelligence or cultural dexterity, which allows you to adapt behavior in light of cultural differences," says Murray A. Mann, a leadership coach in Chicago who specializes in diversity and cultural intelligence.
Studies have shown that companies with a more diverse workforce have higher success rates than less diverse groups of high performing problem solvers. Experts say knowing how to engage with each other is key.
"With distinct positive outcomes being associated with culturally diverse teams, it’s very important to improve communication and sensitivity in the workplace," says Sharon Schweitzer, a cross-cultural etiquette expert in Austin, Texas.
The first step in developing your cultural intelligence starts with self-awareness.
"Before you can understand another culture, you must understand your own. Absorb as much as possible about U.S. customs, geography, history and lifestyle, so that when you are asked questions about your own culture you can respond intelligently." Schweitzer says.
In her training, she hands out a quiz with 10 common-knowledge questions, such as: How many U.S territories and possessions are there and can you name them? How many time zones does the U.S. have? Which system of measurement does the U.S. use?
Once you understand the culture that has defined your world, you see the value of culture. Then you can start learning about others and develop professional relationships with a variety of individuals, regardless of cultural differences.
Schweitzer offers the following tips for building cultural sensitivity.
1. Spend time with a variety of coworkers. Create a team atmosphere by avoiding office cliques and encouraging diverse connections. Frequent interactions and the building of a community will help you and your colleagues feel comfortable and accepted, regardless of background. If you have a large number of co-workers from a particular culture, strive to understand their belief systems.
2. Focus on the similarities, don’t get hung up on the differences. At the end of the day, regardless of culture, business is about people and relationships. Don’t get hung up on how different you are from your coworkers. Regardless of home country, human beings share a common desire to relate.
3. Understand the various forms of communication. Remember that communications involves verbal and nonverbal interactions. Nonverbal communication styles can vary by culture and include the definition of personal space. Identify nonverbal communication differences and respect them.
4. Elevate awareness to intelligence. Mann says that cultural intelligence combines cultural knowledge, emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to achieve improved business results in any cross-cultural situation.
Once you have established the drive to learn and to know about other cultures, you’re in a better position to know how to efficiently deal with cross-cultural situations.
"Cultural intelligence is not just about cultural awareness. It’s about applying strategies, in the moment, with co-workers and clients," he says.
You can strategize by planning for a cross-cultural encounter and also checking assumptions when meetings don’t progress as intended.
He says it’s important to be comfortable asking question and approaching people about cultural differences so that you can avoid miscues.
Keep in mind that cultural intelligence should lead to improved workplace practices and results.
"We’ve moved from flags, foods and fun to using cultural intelligence for business improvements," he adds.