How to boost your cultural intelligence

Last updated on 19 July 2023

Cultural intelligence is seen as a leading trait alongside emotional intelligence for business leaders. [Source: Shutterstock]

We talk about cultural awareness and diversity quite a lot as leaders, but are you familiar with cultural intelligence? ‘Cultural intelligence’ is more than just a buzzword; it’s an emerging trait desired by most businesses, especially those dealing with a number of culturally diverse staff, clients and consumers. That makes it incredibly relevant to aged care. 

What is cultural intelligence?

On the surface, cultural intelligence is quite simple: it refers to the skills needed to effectively work in a culturally diverse environment. However, there’s certainly more to it than being a ‘good fit’ in such a diverse industry. Rather than just acknowledging diversity and cultural differences, someone with high cultural intelligence can adapt and integrate, while also helping others feel included. 

Additionally, cultural intelligence allows us to recognise cultural factors influencing things like behaviour, speech and even humour. Judgement is thrown out the door as critical, yet, empathetic thinking is used to better understand why another person’s conduct or mannerisms are a part of their identity.

For example, if you were to flip the switch and look at someone with high cultural intelligence visiting Australia, they would understand our sarcastic sense of humour is not always reflective of blunt or offensive personalities. Instead, the light-hearted banter is intended to build rapport among friends. Without an open mind and a deeper level of understanding it’s hard to recognise meaning off the bat. 

What are the key traits?

Cultural intelligence is particularly important for leaders, as experts view it as a top skill alongside emotional intelligence, and it truly is a necessary skill for aged care. A number of distinct traits also fall under the cultural intelligence umbrella, many of which are similar to emotional intelligence. 

To be highly culturally intelligent, you should demonstrate:

  • A collaborative approach to working
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Effective communication skills
  • Positive relationship-building abilities
  • Adaptability and flexibility with different groups of people
  • A sense of curiosity
  • Open-mindedness and a willingness to learn

These skills are primarily soft skills; interpersonal skills favoured in modern workplaces to promote teamwork, learning and inclusion. However, they do develop differently in everyone. You might find your own cultural intelligence is low based on limited life experience, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are practical steps you can take to strengthen your cultural intelligence. 

Improving your cultural intelligence 

Just like emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence is not quantifiable. There’s no metric for success — it’s up to you to continuously work on it and develop over time. Diverse industries like aged care are the perfect place to learn, too. You have a wide range of residents, staff and communities to work with so there’s always going to be a melting pot of cultures. 

With that in mind, how can your cultural intelligence be boosted?

Forget cultural preconceptions

There’s no room for biases, stereotyping or judgement when working with other cultures. You should never let your own worldview limit your interactions with others, otherwise, you won’t see them at an individual level.

Speak up

Learning is all about experience and the best way to experience new things is by doing so firsthand. So, if there is a miscommunication, don’t just ignore it or laugh along — speak up — ask them to clarify, or ask if they need clarification. While it might be a slightly awkward conversation to begin with, you’ll find it breaks down barriers rather than building bigger ones.

Be an active listener and allow others to talk 

By involving yourself in conversations, you can see and understand other perspectives, learn mannerisms and deepen your knowledge.

Strengthen your soft skills

Effective communication, empathy and understanding all sit at the heart of cultural intelligence. If that’s something you struggle with naturally, consider strengthening your soft skills through education or training to gain a better understanding of the world around you. 

Engage with people of other cultures and their culture itself

If you can truly immerse yourself in other cultures you’ll learn deeper meanings to beliefs while leaving your comfort zone behind. Sure, it can be challenging as an outsider yourself, but for some staff within aged care, they do feel like an outsider in a new environment. 

Therefore, by improving your cultural intelligence and awareness, you might open doors to boost the cultural intelligence of those around you as well. 

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