The “Q” in Cultural Competence – Do You Have It?


The “Q” In Cultural Competence – Do you Have It?

A 10 minute read on how to master your cross-cultural competence, a good book recommendation, a short video and 6 empowering questions that guarantee collaboration!

I was asked, just this week, what I do. I told them. Someone then said: What exactly is that?

In a nutshell? Culture is the way things get done around “here” and the way things get done around there, and over there and also over there. My job is to support people in bringing their various ways of doing things, together. In biz talk? Two words: team alignment.

Culture – is known as folklore, habit, knowledge, lifestyle, way of life and development. It is taken from “cultura”(Latin) which comes from the verb “colo” or “colere” which means to tend, care for, look after and cultivate. It also means to till the soil, farm, grow and plant.

What do I do? I tend, look after and cultivate cross-cultural connections and collaboration through clarity in conversation.

Why? To facilitate a change for the better people need to change their thinking and to change collective thinking demands a change in the conversations they are having which then leads to a “rewiring” of the brain (mindsets) and which ultimately leads to aligning new (and better) behaviors because…

But first we need to understand that modern day cultures can be described as the outcome of many different external influences and circumstances as experienced by those who set up home up in various parts of the world l-o-o-o-n-g before you and I came along.

The lessons in survival that were endured by one clan in the Saharan sun and heat, and another tribe wading their way through steamy mangrove swamps, had to be completely different to those of a group freezing their way through the Siberian cold and dark winter, don’t you agree? And, the  frequency of their repeated “lessons” became genetically imprinted values and norms over time. “Solutions” became and continue to become a part of our everyday lives – we adopt, adapt, integrate and  embody new sets of skills so often that basic assumptions become an unconscious and unquestioned reality which we, mostly, take for granted.

Repeated behavior, healthy or not, becomes a collective programming and an unquestioned group think. It’s this group think that defines a culture and creates differences. #groupbias #whywestereotype

Cultural differences are very real and they are key influencers in our attitudes and behavior, which, in turn, reflect and project our beliefs about others and human nature in general.

It is not a good idea to hold onto the idea that everyone is the same with the same needs and wants. We’re not the same. I am proudly South African! And South Africans are proud of their culture – strange as some things may seem. It also isn’t fair to assume that cultural differences are only skin deep and that once you get down to serious business, any imagined differences will disappear. They will not. Thinking that being nice and showing respect is going to work for you every time no matter where you are is self-deception. It won’t. #onemansmeatisanothermanspoison 

Lastly, if you think that the way things get done around here, is the only way things get done you’re in for a big surprise. Basta! #likeitorleaveit #thisiscultureshock

You might, as an occasional traveler be “let off the hook” if you put your proverbial foot in it, but if you are about to become a regular business partner you stand to lose out on a whole lot of good business if you haven’t done some prep work – on your self  and your host culture. Not understanding or being insensitive to your own and other cultural norms and differences, might just have you standing in a monsoon deluge or feeling a cold-shoulder chill.

Norms; the unofficial acceptance and practice of to do’s and taboos that dictate the behavior of a particular group of people – vary from culture to culture. Norms include the (seemingly) unimportant daily activities, such as greetings, making eye contact or not, showing of emotion, what we wear (or don’t wear) etc, that become so routine within our daily lives we become oblivious to how they may affect or be perceived by others. That is, until we violate a taboo.  Which is the last thing you want to do. Norms are also the basis on which members of a clan, group, department or society start judging one another. Taken to its extreme, this judging of another culture based on the idiotic idiosyncrasies and “standards” of your own culture, dangerously borders on ethnocentrism.


And what does the “Q” in cross-cultural competence demand?

Cross-Cultural intelligence or competence is you knowing how you got here, how you got like this, what you want and being clear on where you’re going. It’s what you do after you’ve mastered your EI or EQ – emotional intelligence. The HBR (Harvard Business Review) guide to building trust, influence and resilient relationships.

From HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence:

“In a 1996 study of a global food and beverage company, McClelland found that when senior managers had a critical mass of emotional intelligence capabilities, their divisions outperformed yearly earnings goals by 20%. Meanwhile, division leaders without that critical mass under performed by almost the same amount. McClelland’s findings, interestingly, held as true in the company’s U.S. divisions as in its divisions in Asia and Europe.”

What’s most interesting about EQ and CQ is that as you move up the corporate ladder the more critical it becomes that you have it!

Cross-cultural competence demands a rethink and self-examination of your own assumptions, cultural norms and values before assessing those of others.

The “Q” in cross-cultural competence (CQ) is your knowing that everyone goes about solving problems and fulfilling their basic needs in different ways, no matter how different, strange, “unsafe” (watch this) or illogical.

CQ demands your acceptance. CQ demands a mental switch about your own culture and accepting that your culture is just one of many and maybe not the best one around after all! #notthebeallandendall

You like the illustration? Click on the pic!

CQ is when you start feeling less threatened and more comfortable with uncertainty. The “Q” in CQ makes you move in and out of differing cultural worldviews gracefully. You become more and more flexible and open to understanding other things. You know that acceptance does not mean you have to agree with everything but that you have a deeper set of skills and knowledge of how people interact with one another. CQ believes in the wealth of human resources and therefore wants to incorporate others’ ideas and way of doing things into those of your own. #mywayANDtheirway

CQ requires that you relearn how to approach everyday tasks and problems and that you think beyond your “default” filters.

CQ is you ready to investigate and co-create innovative solutions and alternatives. The “Q” focuses on building empowered and sustainable intercultural relationships guided by the following 6 questions:

  • what’s the desired outcome of the joint cross-cultural project? 
  • what’s their way of doing things?
  • why are they doing it the way they are?
  • what’s your way of doing things?
  • why are you doing it the way you do it, and
  • can you merge the “ways” to generate the desired outcome?

You start defining an “our way” and practicing the principles of “your way adds value to ours” and “our way adds value to yours”. #bestofbothworlds

The “Q” is a new mind-set that thinks in terms of I’m OK, you’re OK we’re all OK!


Would you like to know more? Book me to tell you more at your next conference! Or get an idea of what I offer.

Wishing you a fabulous February and remember – getting support for your team is not a weakness; getting support means you want to achieve greater harmony and synergy – for everyone!

41097290 – businesspeople with drawing symbolizing power of a team – open source

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