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  • Sarah Black

Lessons from my own CQ journey

A light bulb, giving out a yellow glow is standing on top of some books.
Photo credit: Beth Jnr on Unsplash

Since the start of this year, I’ve been on a mission to improve my CQ or cultural intelligence.

For me, this has meant learning more about CQ and how to build it. It is a bit like a muscle—put the right work and time in, and it gets stronger.

In case you don’t know, CQ is a data-based capability that is the single best predictor of our ability to work well across differences.

My mission has also included reflecting on my own CQ levels, including working through the Cultural Intelligence Centre’s CQ Assessment and their 360 tool, which allowed others to give their feedback on my CQ.

Here are my four reflections from that experience:

CQ Drive: this is the level of an individual’s interest, persistence and confidence during interactions across differences. I am learning that my curiosity about others tends to show up quietly in research, reading and observing. I need to work on asking questions appropriately and sensitively to deepen my understanding of other individual’s experiences.

CQ Knowledge: this is understanding differences and similarities. I’ve always been tough on myself in terms of my failure to speak anything more than English, a tiny bit of Norwegian and a bit of American! I’m learning that while I’m not multilingual, there is value in knowing how to make communication in English more accessible to and inclusive of those for whom English is not their first or most fluent language. This is an area where I want to continue growing my existing knowledge. The same is true of other types of knowledge. I will never know every single legal and business system in the world, but I better understand their importance when working with a team or individual from a specific regional context.

CQ Strategy: this is all about metacognition or thinking about our thinking. It is the awareness and planning we do for interactions across differences.  My big takeaway from this is the importance and value of reflection, planning and consciously working at factoring our differences and similarities into every interaction. It sounds exhausting, but my experience is that it is energizing because the outcomes of those interactions are so much better. One area that I’ve highlighted for growth is around ‘checking in’ with others before, during and after interactions.

CQ Action: this focuses on the ability to adapt when working or building relationships across differences. This isn’t about ‘being someone else’ to fit in. It is about being effective so that you can build trust, learn from others and work together effectively. It might be as simple as not waving my hands around so much when I present if that’s not something that’s appropriate to the cultural context I’m presenting in. For me, this flows from being more intentional and thoughtful about the communication preferences or needs of whoever I’m with. It is a shift in focus from ‘what I want to tell you and how I’m telling you’ to ‘how can I best help you understand and engage with whatever the topic is’.

Finally, the big shift for me has been from ‘OMG, there’s so much I don’t know’ with fear and overwhelm to ‘OMG, there’s so much to learn’ with excitement and exhilaration. I think that’s a shift from curiosity driven by fear of ‘getting it wrong’ to embracing a true spirit of cultural exploration and learning.

If you’d like to know more about CQ and how it might help you, drop me a note for a virtual cuppa and a chat –


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