One of the most important skills in the modern business world is the ability to speak to an increasingly diverse set of clients, colleagues, and professionals with a sense of both compassion and understanding. One of the most powerful, and often overlooked, tools in accomplishing this is cultural intelligence.
Diversity in the workplace can lead to communication challenges.
According to Mark Davis, an attorney and founder of The Negotiation Initiative in Birmingham, England, cultural intelligence gives us a new way to understand, empathize, connect, and persuade.
“We must focus on when to adapt and when not to adapt our style, approach, or strategy – this is why cultural intelligence is so powerful.”
According to the Harvard Business Review, cultural intelligence is the ability to ‘make sense of unfamiliar contexts and blend in’. This could mean adapting to a person’s cultural beliefs, customs and sensibilities, amongst other things. We should all be developing our cultural intelligence in our daily lives anyway, but what makes it so important in business?
We are living in a time where employees in any workplace around the world will more than likely have to communicate with people from a different cultural background to them on a regular basis. Understanding how to do this correctly is an incredibly important skill to learn, not just for your benefit, but for the benefit of your business, too.
Cultural intelligence makes you a more persuasive negotiator. It’s good for your relationships and your bottom line.
Mark went on to give an example where cultural intelligence helps you to see the situation differently.
“One major issue in negotiation is time. What cultural intelligence brings to the table is a greater understanding of how, when and, importantly, why you might want to flex your perception of time sensitivity. That’s one of the big cultural negotiation traits.”
“If you have specific deadlines that you’re trying to meet and somebody on the other side seems to be dragging their feet or doesn’t appear to have a sense of urgency, you could look at the behavior and say ‘well, this is disrespectful, they aren’t valuing my time’,” explains Mark.
“But if you increase your cultural intelligence, you can understand where they’re coming from. You might find yourself thinking ‘oh, it’s not that they don’t respect my time, they’re just operating on a different timeline’. This then becomes a new issue that can be negotiated or at least just acknowledged through the process.”
“Either way, it would be much better than just assuming that it’s disrespectful and writing off the person and the negotiation.”
Cultural intelligence allows you to shift your perspective and see if there is a cultural explanation for the misunderstanding, allowing us to remain open-minded and open to negotiation with our collaborators. Makes you more resilient to challenges because you know that there are other tools you can use to bridge the gap of understanding. This helps you to maintain your problem solving mindset for a longer period of time.
Cultural intelligence also outwardly demonstrates a willingness to adapt and learn from collaborators of different cultural backgrounds, which will be seen as a very attractive quality to a client, collaborator or investor. Increasing your cultural intelligence and putting it into action shows a certain level of care and attention that will improve relationships and negotiation outcomes.
Mark believes that cultural intelligence will become increasingly powerful in the post-covid world. Leaders and negotiators with higher levels of cultural intelligence will have a significant competitive edge, which will lead to better results and better relationships.
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