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Cultural Intelligence in International Business

Kirjoittanut: Ilias Anezary Abbad - tiimistä Sointu.

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Essay by Sanaa Jellouf & Ilias Anezary



In today’s globalized world, companies from diverse backgrounds collaborate, often hiring individuals from various countries and cultures. Cultural intelligence, also known as CQ, serves as a valuable tool for navigating these diverse cultures. It involves understanding, adapting to, and effectively engaging with different cultural contexts. More than just recognizing cultural differences, it entails appreciating and respecting these variations. Cultural Intelligence is crucial because culture significantly influences how people and businesses operate. By developing cultural intelligence, individuals within a company can better connect, make informed decisions, and cultivate effective international collaboration. 


Definition of CQ and its components 

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) refers to the ability to interact effectively with people from diverse cultures. It involves knowing how to adapt and communicate well in diverse cultural situations. CQ requires having the right knowledge, skills, and attitude. It is about navigating and thriving in multicultural environments. 

Becoming culturally intelligent is something you learn through experience. It involves understanding the beliefs, customs, and norms of different countries. This understanding helps improve communication, you know what to expect and how to interact respectfully. It also prevents misunderstandings and cultivates respect and appreciation within the members of the same multicultural company. Learning about other cultures helps you communicate better, avoid confusion, and show respect to everyone. 

Cultural skills are practical abilities that help effective interaction with people from diverse cultures. These skills include proficiency in different languages, effective communication with diverse backgrounds, peaceful problem-solving, and building trust with people from different cultures. Developing these skills boosts confidence in dealing with cultural differences and solving problems. 

Being culturally mindful means being aware of your own cultural views and those of others. It involves understanding that people may have separate ways of thinking and approaching situations. It means being open-minded when interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. Cultural mindfulness helps avoid making assumptions or judgmental comments based on personal cultural perspectives. It encourages respectful interactions, mindful connections, and boosts empathy and understanding for others. 

Cultural adaptability means being able to change behavior, communication, and way of working depending on the culture you are in. It requires resilience and a willingness to learn from others. By adapting to different cultural customs and behaviors, it will be easier to build relationships, understand social rules, and work effectively with people from all over the world. 

These components of Cultural Intelligence are essential for effectively engaging with a multicultural environment, particularly in a multicultural business environment. 


Role of CQ and its impact in a multicultural team (positive and negative outcomes) 

The role of cultural intelligence have a significant impact on the performance of multicultural teams, both positively and negatively .  This crucial role of (CQ) enhances the team effectiveness and outcomes, based on how the team cooperates when it has people from different cultures. 

The positive impact of (CQ) in a multicultural team can be defined when teams are good at understanding diverse cultures, tends to work better together. Multicultural teams with higher cultural intelligence are more likely to stick together, get more work done, and come up with new ideas. It means that people with high cultural intelligence tend to understand different cultures well and can help the individuals in a company to communicate better and solve problems faster when it comes to multicultural situations. It affects in a positive way since the team builds a safe environment for every team member for their creativity and productivity. 

 Moreover, being good at understanding different cultures helps to reduce arguments and make teams work together better. Teams with higher cultural intelligence are good at handling cultural differences and solving problems without fighting. This makes the team feel more inclusive and helpful, and it solves problems successfully. 

The Negative side is when in a multicultural team the team members have low level of Cultural intelligence it could affect negatively. Without knowing how to handle cultural differences, team members might not communicate properly, and this could lead to misunderstanding. It also would make it harder for the team to make important decisions, since they might not agree on things, which could cause bigger chances of having argument and problems. This could make the team members feel unhappy and less motivated, which would make it harder for them to work together and get things done. When multicultural teams do not understand different cultures well, they might have less creativity and innovative ideas. Without knowing how to mix different ways of thinking, the team might find it hard to come up with new solutions to solve problems. When cultural differences are not handled properly because of low (CQ), team members might just agree with each other instead of coming up with something new and innovative. This stops the team from being creative and adapting to new situations. 

In conclusion, cultural intelligence is crucial for multicultural teams. When team members understand well the diversity within the team, it helps them work better together. They can communicate better, work together better, and solve problems better.  


Cultural Intelligence in Business Theories  

There are some theories that explain how cultural intelligence can affect a team: 

  1. Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions: A researcher named Hofstede studied how cultures can be different. He found a few keyways that cultures vary. For example, in some cultures, people expect a clear difference between bosses and workers, while in others, people prefer everyone to be more equal. Some cultures focus on working together as a group, while others value individual work more. Knowing these differences can help us figure out the best way to talk and plan with people from other cultures.
  2. Hall’s High Context vs. Low Context Cultures: Hall, another expert, said cultures can be “high context” or “low context.” In high-context cultures, people often leave things unsaid and expect others to understand what they mean without many words. In low-context cultures, people like to be very clear and direct in their communication. If we know which type of culture we are dealing with, we can choose our words more carefully to avoid misunderstandings.
  3. The Lewis Model: Lewis suggested that cultures can be grouped into three types based on how they act and communicate. Some cultures are very organized and like to follow plans closely. Others enjoy talking a lot, showing their emotions, and might change plans more often. A third type prefers to listen more and say less, being very polite and careful not to upset others. This idea helps us understand how to approach discussions and meetings with people from different backgrounds.

In our team, we work with people from many places. These theories are like tools that help us understand why sometimes we might have misunderstandings or why some things work well. For example, if we’re starting a new project and some team members don’t talk much, they might come from a culture that values listening. Or, if we notice that some people really want clear instructions, they might prefer a more organized way of working. 


Challenges and Solutions in Applying Cultural Intelligence  

When working with people from different countries, we often face challenges. These can be misunderstandings or times when we don’t agree because we see things differently. But there are ways to solve these problems using cultural intelligence. 

Sometimes, we might not understand what someone means because they come from a different culture. For example, in some cultures, saying “yes” might not always mean agreement, it could just mean they heard you. To avoid confusion, it’s good to ask clear questions and give everyone a chance to speak up. This way, we make sure we understand each other correctly.  

In our team we have different ways of doing things. Some people might want to plan everything in detail, while others feel better with a flexible plan. It’s important to respect these differences. When planning a project, I believe we can find a middle ground. This means making a plan that has enough detail but also allows for changes when needed. 

Another thing we realized is that sometimes, without meaning to, we might have a fixed idea about how people from a certain place behave. But every person is unique. To overcome this, we should get to know our team members as individuals. This helps us see beyond stereotypes and work together based on each person’s strengths. 

Additionally, we understood that we all have our way of talking and sharing ideas. In some cultures, people are very direct when they say what they think. In others, people might hint at what they mean instead of saying it straight out. To handle this, we can be more aware of how we say things. We can also encourage open discussions where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts. 

The conclusion we came to is that trust is key in any team. With people from different backgrounds, building trust takes some time. Sharing small but positive experiences together definitely helps. This could be a successful paja/meeting or a project part that went well. Celebrating these moments helps build trust and shows that we can achieve great things together. 



In conclusion, while learning and investigating about cultural intelligence we learnt practical tools that can be used in our team to avoid future misunderstandings and being cultural aware when interacting with our teammates, since we all come from different backgrounds. Building a safe environment for everyone in the team to work well together and achieve shared goals. 



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