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Being culturally smart is the next big thing.

By Tasha Broomhall

How growing your cultural intelligence can increase mental health

by guest writer Tanya Finnie

According to Ang & van Dyne Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic and organisational cultures. This can include how we interact with different genders or across different generations.  Sounds like common sense? You may not be as culturally intelligent as you think! Are you well-travelled? Do you speak more than one language? Do you have heaps of technical expertise or book knowledge? Do you have high Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?  It is a myth that ANY of these would make you more culturally intelligent. (Livermore, 2014)

High EQ enables you to read and react appropriately to different emotions, but EQ is culturally bound. You could have a great understanding of appropriate behaviour in a particular cultural setting, but this may be exactly the opposite in another cultural setting.
Higher CQ will decrease burnout in the workplace, increase your cross-cultural adaptability and increase your bottom line in the long run (Livermore, 2014). It will also increase your situational awareness and ultimately enable you to build better, stronger relations. By being able to form stronger relations you’ll not only be able to improve your own mental health, but those around you will feel more included and less isolated.

Tanya’s 5 top tips for increasing your Cultural Intelligence

1. Know yourself

Understand your own value system. Only by having an understanding of who you are, where you come from and more importantly why you make decisions in a certain way, can you begin to adapt and understand others better.

2. Grow your cultural awareness.

 Be aware of other cultures around you. Pay attention to the behaviour of others and what it is that drives their behaviour. Awareness grows understanding and understanding will give you an edge to negotiate.

3. Be proactive rather than reactive.

Many organisations contact me when things start falling apart. Let’s adopt the Chinese approach where you only pay the doctor when you are healthy, for only then has he done his job properly. By anticipating how you can adapt your behaviour and react earlier, or not react to certain scenarios, you can be more productive in the long run. It is much more exhausting to be constantly reactive.

4. Build rapport by adapting your style.

Adapt your style when you speak to someone to mirror (not copy) their body language when you speak to them. People like people who are similar to them – so be open to adapting your style. (Don’t change your personality, but sometimes little gestures can make a difference.)

5. Read cultural signs.

Observe people in their natural state when they talk about something they are passionate about. Look at what they do with their body language – their hands, their expressions, and note their tone of voice and pitch. Be aware of when this changes and draw the conversation back to their natural state.


There will be awkward moments, but no one should completely change who they are and how they do things in order to fit in. Frankly those who over emphasise a bow or a handshake, which would not be their normal greeting, can make things worse.  Remember: We are all different. Others are not wrong or right, just different.

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