Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other
Reviewed by Judy West, Principal
By Brooks Peterson
English That Works, Inc.
What is cultural intelligence?
Cultural intelligence reflects one’s self- awareness, knowledge
of other cultures, and use of specific language and interpersonal skills.
A culturally intelligent person is open-minded, sensitive, tolerant of
ambiguity, flexible, and empathic: traits often crucial for business success.
Are business interactions really affected by cultural style?
Imagine what can happen when a “team-player” boss gives minimal
instructions or directions and assumes that an employee from a hierarchically
defined culture will solve a problem or make an important decision. The
employee who may be accustomed to a “stronger boss” may think,
“It’s not my job to make decisions or figure out how things
should be done; it’s just my job to do what the boss tells me to
do.” This miscommunication doesn’t get the desired results.
On the other hand, a “team player’ employee with a decision
dictating boss can feel micro-managed when not allowed to make decisions
or determine a course of action.
In this practical, immediately useful book, Brooks Peterson improves our
awareness of how cultural styles affect workplace issues. In addition
to the role of the boss, other management concerns he addresses and specific
examples he gives us deal with decision- making, prioritizing, and conflict
style. He examines strategy, planning, reasoning (how one arrives at conclusions,)
protocol, and more within their possible cultural contexts.
How can we determine our cultural styles and those of our multicultural
employees and colleagues?
Peterson has established five scales/continuums to help readers understand
cultural differences relevant to business settings. We can rate ourselves
and others regarding:
- Equality and hierarchy
- Individual and group importance
- Tasks and relationships
- Risk taking and caution
- Directness and indirectness
Peterson also provides tools for 360 feedback that examine some of the
personal dimensions of cultural intelligence mentioned in the first paragraph
above. He reminds us that “What we say and how we say it depend
on who we are, both individually and culturally…Obviously, knowing
that someone is from a particular country doesn’t mean that we can
predict his or her communication style.” Personality and company
culture play a role too.
How can we use the information presented in the book?
As we explore the concepts in this book, we come to understand that the
questions we ask, the topics we consider appropriate, the way we approach
these topics, and how we initiate contact, converse, and respond to others
are all part of our cultural style. And our style may conflict with that
of someone whose way of viewing the world, forming relationships, processing
information, and taking action differs radically from our own. By learning
about others’ cultural styles, we can make informed decisions about
our interactions and adjust our behavior where appropriate.
Why is Cultural Intelligence a valuable resource for employers,
human resource managers, and supervisors?
Peterson provides a wealth of information on how cultural and communication
styles affect important workplace issues. The many scales and self- rating
tools enable us to examine our interactions with others and place those
interactions in a context that may not have been apparent to us before
reading this book. Most important, however, we learn or are reminded that
there are many ways of interacting and interpreting behavior. By helping
us understand and reflect upon the reasons behind behaviors, Peterson
increases our chances of successful interactions and business effectiveness.
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