How to Cultivate Cultural Intelligence


The term cultural intelligence was introduced in 2003 in Christopher Earley and Soon Ang’s book of the same name. Basically, these authors define cultural intelligence as an individual’s capability to acclimate to different cultural situations. When an individual’s cultural intelligence level is highly tuned, he or she will be able to associate with the various beliefs, attitudes, values or body language from people of varying cultures. In order to succeed in business while working in an international environment, it is vital to cultivate your cultural intelligence level.

Benefits of Cultivating Cultural Intelligence

During this process of developing and cultivating your cultural intelligence level, it is important to set aside all preconceived notions and judgments and allow understanding to be a key factor. Being open to thinking outside the box and completely understanding your international colleagues and business partners will bring you the professional relational success that you are seeking.

Four Steps Toward Cultivating Cultural Intelligence

According to Dr. David Livermore, there are four basic steps that an individual can take in order to cultivate and hone cultural intelligence skills. Dr. Livermore wrote the book, The Cultural Intelligence Difference. His four basic steps are discussed below.

1. Motivation to Learn

The first step is to cultivate your motivation to learn about people and their different cultures. If you begin the process with absolutely no interest in learning about other cultures, you will quickly lose the motivation to continue with this journey. Being motivated to learn about other cultures enlarges your mind to see that those barriers can truly be overcome with an open mindset. Some ways, which Dr. Livermore suggested on how you can get motivated to learn, are listed below.

  • Begin with starting to learn a new language.
  • Enlarge your network and communicate with professionals in other social groups.
  • Offer your time as a volunteer to various cultural groups and organizations.
  • Remember to maintain an open mindset with speaking to those from other cultures.

2. Knowledge to Think Outside the Box

This step involves thinking outside the box and being open to changing your perspective on how to learn about various cultures. To be successful in this journey, you do not have to become a Jeopardy star and know every fact and figure about the culture. However, you need to change your mindset and dig deeper to learn about the culture’s specific values and belief system and how individuals from that culture behave socially.

  • Learn about the local history to gain a deeper understanding of what affected their cultural values, as well as past and current social behaviors.
  • Do your research and read books on understanding cultures such as Do I Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway.

3. Instinct on How to Strategize

According to Dr. Livermore, when you begin to cultivate cultural intelligence, you become more instinctive in how you strategize your international business and networking plans. Basically, as you learn how to become more culturally aware of the various differences with those in your international environment, you begin to make more strategic plans which yield great results.

  • As you learn how to ask the right questions, you will find more success in receiving the answers from your international colleagues and clients that you are looking for.
  • In order to stay informed of the current state of cultural affairs in the country you’re working in, be sure to follow trusted local social media sites, watch current movies and read current newspaper articles or magazines.
  • Additionally, Dr. Livermore advised that you should keep a daily record of the observations you make so that you have a constant reference guide.

4. Action in the Moment

Learning as much as you can and cultivating your cultural intelligence level is important. However, your actual actions in the moment are just as important as the learning aspect. For example, if you are not able to think on your feet and wing it in particularly difficult circumstances, your efforts will fall flat.

  • Be prepared for the fact that all the studying you do will not prevent certain circumstances where the interaction still won’t go off without a hitch.
  • Gauge your current ability to think on your feet and ascertain what you need to do to improve on how you should respond rather than react during those situations.
  • Do your research and gain knowledge on the specific business etiquette for the culture that you are working within.

It is important you understand that cultural intelligence is not an innate ability. It must be continually cultivated in order for you to have true success within your international working environment.