Cultural Intelligence and Covid-19
The world has come closer and the workforces have become distributed globally. There has never been a more pertinent and business-ready time for Diversity & Inclusion as is now in the Covid & Post-Covid times. The competency needed for leaders of today and tomorrow rests heavily on emotional and cultural intelligence. These competencies will equip them with the ability to handle people and business needs as they evolve. Hence, it is essential that as leaders and as teams we get comfortable with understanding how to mindfully and skilfully work with people different than us.
The different elements that make up Cultural Intelligence are listed below. Accompanying that are also given some manifestations of these in our daily work life which we can be mindful of to build our skill set rather than be limited by our inability to traverse through cultures.
Cultural Knowledge: This is the pre-requisite to developing cultural competence. Understanding what drives people, what is acceptable and what is valued in a culture are some broad stepping stones to initiate in a relationship or in a business contract. Knowing these equips one in handling people with both caution and care.
Red Flag: Be aware of half baked knowledge which would make you more ignorant than aware. Also be mindful of not stereotyping people as per expected cultural conformities.
Cross-Cultural Skills: Just knowing how one culture or society is different than mine isn’t enough. Whats important is to understand how to collaborate and resolve conflicts based on the knowledge and sensitivity you gain through understanding the other.
Red Flag: Avoid moving through relationships and contracts with bookish knowledge which keeps your instinct and common judgement aside.
Cultural Mindedness: Heavily rooted in respect for the other and allowing one to respond to situations with three Cs of care, compassion and curiosity would be important. There is no harm in wanting to know more or anticipating how your conduct would be perceived. But the mannerism towards this learning should stem from respect and curiosity rather than a piqued interest in needling with something unique.
Red Flag: Check if social situations with someone from another culture amuse you or intrigue you. Your inherent attitude will come to display in minute manners and escape you.
Now it’s important to understand that what can you as an independent learner or as a developing organization do with the concept of Cultural Intelligence?
- Build it as your core competency: The world will only come more closer and the ones who are adept at dealing with people related obstacles in business will be able to shine. These competencies need further training & development when they come face to face virtually. There was a client who came to us asking to train its intake callers in being culturally sensitive. On conducting diagnostics, we saw that most conversations felt automated without taking into consideration how the caller wanted to be ‘heard’. The company had invested in accent training for its executives but not being able to ‘respond’ to the callers in a manner that felt received was a major drawback significantly impacting levels of customer satisfaction.
- Weave it in your organizational culture: There are many explicit policies for D&I when it comes to gender or harassment. However, finer nuances like how to build a culture of inclusion often gets sidelined in the spirit of protecting the vulnerable. This unfortunately creates a sense of fear or hesitation in the minds of people who then stay away from the diverse rather than look beyond some defining characteristics and absorb everyone in the organizational culture. Holding some common values and engaging with each other based on organizational practices neutralizes individual differences and promotes inclusion.
- Ask before assuming: Whether it is about making adjustment for one person on one given day or its about setting up a strategy – the pitfall can be when we assume that our point of view is correct and we are in a position to make the best judgement. Asking for clarification and checking with the beneficiary on what matters the most can sometimes take us straight to the outcome we are chasing.
- Avoid danger of a single story and be curious to learn: Unconscious biases develop through material we consciously consume. Often our experience, exposure and learning is limited to what we see from our perspective. Cognitively, we move to assimilate similar information together, thereby building more of a judgement. Opening up oneself to traveling, making friends from different cities, exposing oneself to literature and art or building common platforms for exchange at an organizational level helps in understanding how incomplete one’s own story can be.
- Be ok with embarrassment and move ahead with humility: This is last but not the least! Rigidity in dealing with diversity comes from the fear of being judged oneself before even judging the other. We can stay comfortable in our own zones as long as we aren’t challenged by another reality or another thought process. We often bind ourselves to one reality and defend it as that seems like the only way to save face. But cultural intelligence lies in being open to being corrected, asking for more information and being humbled by so much more that is out there than our own understandings.
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Director of Leadership & Learning, Senior Consultant
PhD (Clinical Psychology), MA(Psychology)