Cultural intelligence: Why implementing this practice is important for PR pros

by | Aug 27, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

In today’s “intelligent” era, you have to be familiar with multiple relevant concepts, especially in the ever-dynamic field of public relations. While artificial intelligence is the most recent to impact public relations, other more “real“ intelligent forms are also gaining global popularity.

You might have already heard of intelligence quotient and emotional quotient, but it‘s cultural intelligence that is becoming the next big thing for organizations. Especially because globalization is continuously rendering the business environment to become more competitive, complex, and dynamic.

Businesses need to educate themselves to function effectively in various cultural contacts. Not only will this help themmarket their brand uniquely, but it can also bring a positive change in the inside aspects of business, such as work environment, staff morale, and so on.

What is cultural intelligence?

Cultural intelligence is more than cultural sensitivity and awareness. It refers to the ability of people, businesses, and organizations to relate to the diverse cultural situations as well as work effectively in them.

It’s a vital aspect within a corporation, allowing individuals with a high level of CQ to accomplish their goals more respectfully and effectively, irrespective of the cultural context.

Despite working in a culturally diverse workplace, employees can still forget about the existence of contrasting cultures, perceptions, experiences, and perspectives. This, in turn, can lead to issues in the flow of work and relationship management, both of which can cause friction in the workplace.

Only once you’re able to understand the differences and similarities between your and other people’s cultures and perspectives, will you be able to find a common ground that permits you to connect better. This is also a great tactic for creating and nurturing a mutual bond that develops business relationships based on trust and respect, along with eliminating communication barriers.

Your connection should be across cultures and leads if you want to understand an individual better. And you have to be willing to take risks if you want to succeed here.

CQ involves developing a more advanced knowledge of nationalities, traditions, corporate cultures in disciplines, and other aspects that have a direct impact on business. The idea behind harnessing CQ is to enable individuals to learn a better understanding of cultures that will not only make them more emphatic towards people from different cultures but also instill positivity in the organization.

Gaining CQ can also increase insight into how different cultures function within a business to create a more compassionate and professional workplace setting, allowing for better reputation management and problem-solving.

Why is cultural intelligence so relevant in today’s time?

The current political and social situation across the globe too has highlighted the importance of diversity like never before. A successful organization should be able to deal with differences in working methods and behavior when they include a mix of cultures within their workforce.

Unfortunately, companies and startups all over the world are well-behind when it comes to diversity. Over one third of all startups in the United States have not hired racial minorities at all. In Europe, only 20 percent of executive positions in FinTech startups are held by women. In southeastern Asia, the female participation rate in the workforce stands at just 42 percent. And through it all, it’s predicted that it will take up to ten more years before the racial and gender demographics of businesses come into alignment with the demographics of the world.

Despite this, inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their respective markets. Furthermore, over 90 percent of the leading executives from 68 countries consider cross-cultural skills as one of the most vital capabilities for a competitive business.

While this isn’t an easy feat, creating cultural intelligence can bring a number of benefits to your organizations. Imagine this: You have to handle a situation where you need to communicate with a community of people unfamiliar to you. Plus, you aren’t even well versed in the language they converse with each other.

So what do you do? You mobilize.

Your plan of action should include learning about your audience and observing the scene. Try to speak only when you have a valid reason to speak or can offer a solution that adds value, and all the while keeping it as relevant as possible.

Now, if you have a high CQ, you’ll automatically be well equipped to handle the situation without panicking. But teams that have lower CQ will always underperform when compared to teams with higher CQ levels due to restrictions on several key factors, such as engagement, innovation, and profitability.

Professional PR teams working for companies should therefore cultivate cultural intelligence and empathy that will enable them to leverage their skills for better communication while also remaining in complete control of their respective situations.

This will be a big challenge for many organizations, as public relations stands as one of the biggest challenges that businesses are facing with their digital transformation processes today, with the others being marketing, employee training, and budgetary limitations. The good news is that PR teams with high CQ will have better access to a broader range of resources and tools that ensure a better understanding of various cultural experiences and faster problem-solving, helping them shape a product or service more efficiently.

While cultural intelligence is vital for every individual, for PR professionals, the need is higher

One of the more crucial benefits of cultural intelligence is the creation of a healthy competitive edge by improving communication, cooperation, teamwork, and performance. This will then enable your employees to plan work more efficiently and build good habits that boost productivity.

The following are some of the best practices to raise cultural IQ:

  • Develop a curious mindset about other cultures

Observe other people’s behavior and think of asking specific questions in appropriate ways. After all, if you’re not interested or willing to view situations from the perspectives of others, attending diversity potlucks or visiting countries would be of no use.

  • Become more self-aware concerning others

Identify ways in which your cultural background and experiences influence your perspective. Doing this will help you understand how even other people’s cultures and experiences determine their behavior.

The idea here is to look for things that match and that don’t while being mindful of the fact that not every person will share the same opinion as yours. There are bound to be differences based on economics, generations, and so on.

  • Use an objective mindset

Make your mind a clean slate when you’re communicating with people from other cultures. If you find yourself judging them for their beliefs or attitudes, do a little “thought intervention“ to think objectively.

This thought process can only be developed when you’re a bit more conscious of your own biases towards people. Additionally, you need to learn and practice ways to break away from these biases.

Remember, awareness without implementation will not make you culturally conscious. You have to understand that everybody has the freedom to think however they see fit.

  • Avoid stereotyping people

Stereotyping is a practice that comes almost instinctively where you end up making a profile of another person, which is very unhealthy since it’s based mostly on unfounded assumptions that can make you think negatively of a person.

If you feel you’re still stereotyping somebody, try to remember that people from different cultures have their own beliefs and practices, and it’s completely okay if they are different from your own. You have to focus your energy on understanding and judging a person on his own worth instead of assessing him from a cultural viewpoint.

Summing up

Companies are indeed becoming increasingly aware of the importance of actual intelligence, but we still have a long way to go. Candidates who are looking to launch their PR career especially need to develop their CQ levels if they want to navigate nimbly across cultural boundaries, along with their organization.

Ultimately, developing cultural intelligence and empathy will not only help businesses and organizations communicate more effectively, but it will also keep them in the driver’s seat as they move forward to achieve their goals.

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Dan Fries
Dan Fries is Founding Partner at Lakeview Capital in Hong Kong.

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