A person at the top of the scale, meanwhile, might realise that silence is a sign of respect and that feedback won’t be given unless it is explicitly invited. As a result, she’ll make sure to offer suitable opportunities within the meeting for others to provide their opinions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many studies have explored how expats adapt to life abroad, showing that those with the highest initial CQ will find it easier to adjust to their new life. But CQ can also predict more objective aspects of job performance, such as international sales performance, negotiation skills, and overall leadership ability.
Three forms of intelligence
One study from 2011 measured the IQ, emotional intelligence, or EQ, and CQ of 126 officers studying at the Swiss Military Academy as they engaged in various assignments supporting the United Nations in foreign territories and on international training exercises. Although all three forms of intelligence appeared to contribute to their overall performance, CQ turned out to be the best predictor – accounting for around 25% of the variation in the officers’ success on the international missions. IQ, by contrast, only predicted around 9.5% of the differences, while EQ predicted 3.5%.
While people with a high CQ might naturally gravitate to international jobs, these studies suggest differences in CQ can also predict their performance once they’re hired.
This evaluation is leading many companies to consider testing CQ and find out how they can boost their employees’ scores. Organisations such as Starbucks, Bloomberg and the University of Michigan have used the services of the Cultural Intelligence Center in Michigan, which offers intercultural assessments and a range of courses.
Crucially, Livermore, who is president of the Centre, says that CQ can be learned. There’s no replacement for direct, personal experience in another country, though it seems that people mostly benefit from having tasted a variety of different cultures if they want to learn those generalizable skills. “While understanding a specific culture can be useful, it may not predict at all your ability to engage effectively in a new place,” he says. “In fact, our research finds that individuals who have spent extended time in multiple locations are more likely to have higher CQ Knowledge than those who have lived multiple decades in one overseas setting.”
But explicitly teaching some of the key concepts seems to ease that process. Employees may take a CQ test and then work with a coach to identify potential challenges. Afterwards, they discuss those experiences and the ways they could adapt their behaviour in the future. Using this strategy, expat bankers moving to the Middle East and Asia appeared to have fully adjusted to their new life in just three months, while without the training, it normally took expat employees nine months to become fully functional.
But not everyone’s CQ grows with experience. Even after years of living abroad, some people’s understanding of other cultures appear to plateau, and they may also be resistant to training.
Now researchers are trying to discover the reasons for these differences. Melody Chao, a social psychologist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology believes one answer lies in an individual’s mindset.
She has been inspired by the work of the educational psychologist Carol Dweck, who has shown that people’s beliefs of their own capabilities often become self-fulfilling prophecies. On one hand, some people view their abilities as “fixed” and unchangeable. Others may have a “growth mindset”, meaning that they see their abilities as being more fluid, and so they are likely to persevere through hardship and embrace new challenges.