Knowing what makes groups tick is as important as understanding individuals. Successful managers learn to cope with different national, corporate, and vocational cultures.
by P Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski .
ou SEE THEM at international airports like Heathrow: posters advertising the global bank HSBC that show a grasshopper and the message "USA-Pest China-Pet. Northern Thailand-Appetizer." Taxonomists pinned down the scientific definition of the family Acrididae more than two centuries ago. But culture is so powerful it can affect how even a lowly insect is perceived. So it should come as no surprise that the human actions, gestures, and speech patterns a person encounters in a foreign business setting are subject to an even wider range of interpretations, including ones that can make misunderstandings iikely and cooperation impossible. But occasionally an outsider has a seemingly natural ability to interpret someone's unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures in just the way that person's compatriots and colleagues would.
even to mirror them. We call that cultural intelligence or CQ. In a world where crossing boundaries is routine, CQ becomes a vitally important aptitude and skill, and not just for international bankers and borrowers. Companies, too, have cultures, often very distinctive; anyone who joins a new company spends the first few weeks deciphering its cultural code. Within any large company there are sparring subcultures as well: The sales force can't talk to the engineers, and the PR people lose patience with the lawyers. Departments, divisions, professions, geographical regions-each has a constellation of manners, meanings, histories, and values that will confuse the interloper and cause him or her to stumble. Unless, that is, he or she has a high CQ. Cultural intelligence is related to emotional intelligence, but it picks up where emotional intelligence leaves off. 139
BEST P R A C T I C E • Cultural Intelligence
A person with high emotional intelligence grasps what makes us human and at the same time what makes each of us different from one another. A person with high cultural intelligence can somehow tease out of a person's or group's behavior those features that would be true of all people and all groups, those peculiar to this person or this group, and those that are neither universal nor idiosyncratic. The vast realm that lies between those two poles is culture. An American expatriate manager we know had his cultural intelligence tested while serving on a design team that included two German engineers. As other team members floated their ideas, the engineers condemned them repeatedly as stunted or immature or worse. The manager concluded that Germans in general are rude and aggressive. A modicum of cultural intelligence would have helped the American realize he was mistakenly equating the merit of an idea with the merit of the person presenting it and that the Germans were able to make a sharp distinction
reaction to the engineers' conduct, and proposed a new style of discussion that preserved candor but spared feelings, if indeed anyone's feelings had been hurt. But without being able to tell how much of the engineers' behavior was idiosyncratic and how much was culturally determined, he or she would not have known how to influence their actions or how easy it would be to do that. One critical element that cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence do share is, in psychologist Daniel Goleman's words, "a propensity to suspend judgment -to think before acting." For someone richly endowed with CQ, the suspension might take hours or days, while someone with low CQ might have to take weeks or months. In either case, it involves using your senses to register all the ways that the personalities interacting in front of you are different from those in your home culture yet similar to one another. Only when conduct you have...
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