How’s Your CI – Your Organization’s Cultural Intelligence?

By August 14, 2018Nonprofit

Have you heard of cultural intelligence? Like innate intelligence measured through an IQ test, emotional intelligence is a more recently coined term  to describe someone’s ability to understand  emotional nuances, respect, and work with other cultures.

Nonprofits serve a diverse constituency. Their outreach efforts might span countries, continents or the world. Dealing with such a widespread client and donor base means working with and among diverse cultures, languages, and people.

By improving your cultural intelligence, your nonprofit can ensure both a welcoming work environment as well as a positive face to the global community.

The Many Different Types of Intelligence

Most people are familiar with the term IQ, or intelligence quotient. This test was originally designed to measure innate intelligence through questions that included verbal, reasoning, and logic to assess one’s general intelligence level. Although originally developed for the United States Army, the same people who developed the IQ test eventually spun it out into college entrance tests, such as the SAT.

Although not without controversy, the IQ test remains a benchmark against which many things in life are decided. Originally IQ was thought to be fixed, but today we know that the brain is malleable and can grow, learn, and adapt, raising IQ a few points throughout time or conversely lowering them. IQ tests are not  an infallible measure of intelligence.

The next concept of intelligence, emotional intelligence, was coined by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer 1990 to describe an individual’s ability to “monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action”.  New York Times writer David Coleman popularized their work in a 1990’s book and the term emotional intelligence then became a common reference to an individual’s ability to understand and respond to emotional cues and nuances.

Cultural intelligence is the latest among the types of intelligence to be discussed among experts. It

refers to an individual’s ability to recognize, interact with, and respond appropriately to people of other cultures.

Why Is Cultural Intelligence Important?

Consider the interconnected world in which we live today. We interact daily online with a variety of people from within our own culture, as well as diverse cultures worldwide. Without emotional and cultural intelligence, we become like Mr. Spock on Star Trek or Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory: highly intelligent, logical, and extremely difficult to get along with in real life!

Cultural intelligence, like emotional intelligence, helps ‘grease the wheels’ of social discourse and improves all facets of communication. Consider this: if you understand other cultures, you do not make assumptions about other people’s attitudes or behaviors. Instead, you understand the context in which they act and react, and you can communicate and interact with them accordingly.

Three Examples Cultural Intelligence

Let’s examine three aspects of cultural intelligence and how it may benefit the nonprofit workplace, for example:

  • Rhonda arrives to work with a black smudge on her forehead. Because her supervisor knows it is Ash Wednesday and that Rhonda is Christian, she understands that Rhonda’s religious adherence is important to her. She demonstrates cultural intelligence by not questioning the black X or cross on Rhonda’s forehead.
  • A nonprofit environmental group sends a photographer to upstate New York to photograph farmlands for a brochure they are producing. He sees an Amish family walking along the road and takes a photograph from the back to ensure he respects their cultural requirement of not allowing photographs of their faces.
  • Dina prepares a donor- requested marketing piece for a Chinese audience. The graphic designer sends her a piece with a stark black background. Dina immediately requests red, because black is a bad luck color in Chinese culture and red represents good luck. Black would elicit a negative reaction from her audience. Because Dina has cultural intelligence, she understands how the brochure would be received by the target audience and makes a simple change.

These are very simplistic examples and barely touch the surface of how cultural intelligence plays out in the workplace and  an organization’s outreach. Understanding and demonstrating cultural intelligence develops bonds among people that bring people together; neglecting cultural nuances breaks bonds and makes it harder to communicate.

Those who possess cultural intelligence will be well equipped to handle themselves gracefully across cultures. Combine that with high IQ and strong EQ, and your nonprofit organization is poised for success worldwide.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.