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The Three Elements of Cultural Intelligence

It goes without saying that the modern world is developing at an impressive rate. New styles of technology, ideas, and business schemes are blooming all over the globe. International communication is the factor that deserves the most credit here since it has effectively shaped everyone’s current thought processes. However, that too would be impossible without cultural intelligence.

Cultural Intelligence: Meaning

Cultural intelligence, in its most basic meaning, refers to the adaptability that an individual shows when under the influence of a non-native culture. This can simply mean being able to work with different cultural backgrounds, or adopting the perspectives of those in foreign countries. In the end, cultural intelligence denotes an individual’s overall performance when situated in a new work environment, especially abroad. The three elements which constitute what cultural intelligence stands for are explained below.

Cultural Intelligence Element #1: Motivation

In order to survive a situation one has never experienced before, first and foremost, motivation is required. Without motivation, there will be no willingness to even try to adapt to the new culture and the individual will never be able to create harmony between his or her mother culture and the target culture. Gaining motivation demands getting out of the comfort zone and commence with a positive behavior. The element of motivation is considered the most important requirement to open up to new cultural mindsets.

No culture is exactly the same as the other, thus, an individual needs to embrace the differences, no matter how drastic they may be. Motivation will allow the individual to not be discouraged by the petty dissimilarities and aspire to create a common ground for everyone to stand on. Racial discrimination and judgment of ethnicity should be non-existent on this common ground. The uniqueness of experience and talent that makes each person special should be put to good use so that everyone can benefit from them. Equality must be maintained. No one must feel they are superior or inferior to each other. Through this process, it will be possible to look aside the stale system of right and wrong, and view the world in more colors than just black and white.

Cultural Intelligence Element #2: Knowledge

After improving motivation, an individual must apply their inner assessment skills to gain as much knowledge regarding the target culture as possible. To do this, there is a dire need for acquiring the necessary information on the target culture before being exposed to it, as unfamiliarity will breed uncertainty, which in turn, will lead to lack of success in any kind of work. This knowledge is needed to understand both parties in the process of cultural intelligence and comprehending the basic lifestyles of the people in the target culture.

In hindsight, this might just be the easiest element because all it requires is some conscious effort. Reading up books, looking over local blogs, researching the native diet, fashion, transportation and politics is a good way of understanding the mindsets of people from different cultural backgrounds. Even those without any prior idea regarding a culture, can make friends with someone from the target culture and learn the necessities from there. Once again, the value of presenting oneself amiably becomes a very important factor.

Proper usage of knowledge is highly dependent on the other two elements- motivation and strategy. Motivation opens up the possibilities in which an individual gets the chance to apply the knowledge, and using a well formed strategy, the knowledge can be put to the best use possible. There must be a fine tune between these differing elements, because together they create the essence of cultural intelligence.

Cultural Intelligence Element #3: Strategy

Without an effective plan, establishing the elements of motivation and knowledge will not be possible. To manage deadlines and minimize conflicts between colleagues from different cultural backgrounds working in the same environment, both sides need to assess the cultural gap and think of matters from the other person’s point of view. To do this, one must be sufficiently encouraged as well as know enough of the target culture to not take any wrong steps.

This strategy can begin to form only when the planner learns to respect the other side. A bond of mutual respect can go a long way, especially in a common work environment. One must plan ahead to keep the usage of language to a mutually understandable degree. English to work wonders here as it is the most popular language worldwide. When conversing, it is a good idea to be polite to ensure a smooth exchange of ideas. Sometimes a non-native speaker will fail to get references or speech pattern, so it is wise to avoid them. There must be no confusion in communication, with emphasis on maintaining accuracy at all times.


Conclusively, it can only be said that the factors of motivation, knowledge and strategy are irreplaceable in the foundation of productive cultural intelligence. Anyone spending a significant portion of their lives in their motherland with little exposure to a foreign culture will be the true victim of the differences faced in such situations. Most importantly, cultural intelligence helps to build a bridge between different cultures, and eventually, different perspectives.