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Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures
By Brooks Peterson

Reviewed by Judy West, Principal
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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