Cultural competency has long been cited as one of the essential business leadership skills of this century– but some are still asking the question, “What exactly is cultural competence? What does it look like?” Cultural competence is simply the ability to communicate- both effectively and appropriately- with those of various cultural backgrounds. This ability, often referred to as CQ or cultural intelligence, is what allows some to walk into situations with people of dramatically different cultural tendencies and views and to navigate successfully, while others struggle to adapt.
Now to the question of what it looks like. Cultural competence is demonstrated in multiple ways- usually a combination of attitude, knowledge and behavior. To begin, it is often necessary to examine personal attitudes, beliefs and values regarding diverse cultures and cultural practices. And without the necessary knowledge of the individual cultures with which we are interacting, it is practically impossible to communicate in an appropriate way. Both of these feed into the act, or behavior, of communication. The behavior can be demonstrated both in what words are used, but also is communicated nonverbally through body language, gestures, and various other indicators.
There has long been a debate about whether intelligence is fixed, or if it is changeable. Cultural intelligence is unique among the various forms of known intelligence in that it is firmly believed that it is possible to increase one’s level of cultural intelligence. The question that remains for many is- how? Luckily, a host of research has been done to answer this very question. A combination of examining attitudes, increasing cultural knowledge, and strategizing and planning appropriate behaviors seem to be the key to increasing CQ, and therefore, participating in more successful communication with people of diverse cultural backgrounds. Cross-cultural trainings are an effective way to examine these and build up knowledge and skills.
Some may still wonder whether the effort to improve cultural competency and intelligence is worth it. The worldwide trend toward globalization of goods, services, people and data seems to be all but halting. With the world continuing to grow smaller and smaller, it will only become more important to be able to cross cultural barriers that prevent successful communication. Building up your aptitude for culture and the many ways it affects communication and relationships will help set you apart in the next generation of business leadership.
-Casey Buchanan, Marketing Coordinator