Cultural intelligence and the UN Rio World Urban Forum

Michael Hager, Washburn University, 'Inclusion/Exclusion' woodcut monoprint, 2004

Michael Hager, Washburn University, 'Inclusion/Exclusion' woodcut monoprint, 2004

What’s your CQ?  You may be familiar with IQ, social intelligence and emotional intelligence but the new kid on the block is cultural intelligence.

I’m in Rio de Janiero, Brazil at the United Nations World Urban Forum.  I’ve just finished doing a workshop on cultural intelligence, which is a combination of meta-cognition, skills and knowledge, that allows us to move with and through various cultures, including our own, with confidence and flair even.

Fill in the blanks:  ________ are good dancers, _______ are good at math, ________ are bad drivers. Bidden or not, welcome or not, were you able to fill in the spaces?  In all likelihood you were.  That’s because our brains are wired to fill in the gaps.

The Heath brothers, in Made to Stick, call it the curiousity gap.  It’s the same gap that makes us stay up too late watching a TV show we don’t like simply because we want to find out what happens.  Who killed who in the whodunnit. This filling in of the gaps is helpful in some areas of life but not intercultural work.

Too often we fill in the gaps wrong while thinking we are right.  We tend to assume we know up to 90% more about another culture than we actually do. What can help?

  1. Have a broad working definition of culture – most of us default to defining culture only by ethnicity.  By including gender, faith, material possessions, time, physical space, personal space and many other cultural elements we are more likely to get a richer picture of the people we are working and playing with.
  2. Check assumptions – look for the boxes that we unwittingly put around our thinking that squeeze our brain into road block thinking.
  3. Understand your views on conflict – often times working interculturally includes bumping up against conflict.  If you understand your own particular view of conflict you’ll have a more effective starting point.  For example, do you see conflict as a chance to vent, a way to clear the air, or something that is scary, something to be avoided at all costs?
  4. Hold a worldview that includes complexity – if you always expect 2 to follow 1, and b to follow a, that is you prefer a linear view of the world you’re likely in for a bumpy ride.  On the other hand if, while working interculturally, you expect a complex ride, with ups, downs and hidden corners, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress.

Cultural intelligence is the new kid on the block and a very much welcome one.  What will you do to welcome him/her?

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3 Responses to “Cultural intelligence and the UN Rio World Urban Forum”

  1. Bill Ursel Says:
    March 29th, 2010 at 7:57 am

    I would add the very important practice of cultural competency.
    That is crucial with anyone working with Aboriginal and First Nation communities. A good source for cultural competency is
    Simon Brascoupe, Carlteton University.

    “Cultural competency is the delivery of respectful and responsive services that meet needs of (people) as a strategy to reduce disparities, provide quality care and improve outcomes”- Brascoupem 2009.

  2. Rock.Paper.Scissors.Blog » Blog Archive » You just never know, surprises Brazilian style Says:
    March 29th, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    […] I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been at the UN World Urban Forum (WUF) in Rio de Janiero, Brazil where I gave a […]

  3. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    March 29th, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Hmm. Is cultural competence different than cultural intelligence? Makes me think. Is the former more skills based? At any rate, will definitely check out your reference. Sounds great. Thanks Bill for sharing, really appreciate it. Have just just returned from Brazil and am adjusting to back home culture.

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