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  • Sarah Black

Three ways CQ benefits comms professionals

The more I learn about cultural intelligence (CQ), the more I believe that it's an essential capability for communications professionals.


If you don’t know what CQ is, here’s a very quick definition from The Cultural Intelligence Centre:


Cultural intelligence is the capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations.

Increasingly, I also believe that CQ can improve our ability to communicate and engage more effectively across differences of any kind. And to be honest, that applies to most situations unless you’re talking to yourself!


I’ll write more about this soon but in the meantime, I wanted to share some reflections on recent research into CQ and their implications for communications professionals (and others). This is based on the findings shared by David Livermore, social scientist and author of several books on cultural intelligence.


1.      Less stress, more impact: survey results from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the Public Relations & Communications Association and other organizations have consistently highlighted the high level of stress experienced by individuals working in communications and marketing roles.


The good news is that improving your CQ seems to reduce anxiety. This seems to be linked to minimizing the stress we often feel when we’re working with people who are different from us, who don’t hold the same values and who don't see the world the way we do.


My personal theory, backed up purely by my own experience and conversations with my peers, is that this is often the day-to-day experience of comms professionals. We’re often working with other departments, other professions, journalists and clients who don’t see the comms priorities, news stories, audiences, and so much more the way that we do.


CQ may have the potential to help us make the adjustments we need to navigate those complexities and differences with a bit less stress. It might also allow us to make a greater impact.


2.      It isn’t just what you know: theoretically, we can all learn more about other cultures and other people’s differences, but research seems to indicate that knowledge is not enough to work effectively across differences. CQ is based on four interconnected elements: knowledge, drive/motivation, metacognition/strategy and action.


What does this mean for communications? I’d say we’ve all worked with people who knew their subject but weren’t able to adapt to the audience to make it accessible or relevant to them.


This research is a further demonstration that we need all four elements of the CQ capability to communicate effectively with people who aren’t like us. This has implications for media training, hiring, and skills development.


We need a desire to learn more, curiosity, open-mindedness and the all-important ability to see and seek to understand other perspectives and experiences. And building your CQ makes you better at all that.


3. CQ leads EQ on inclusive leadership: while EQ is a good predictor of leadership effectiveness in monocultural settings, CQ is a much better predictor of leadership effectiveness in multicultural settings.


There’s a lot going on there, so let’s unpack it. Firstly, it’s not either CQ or EQ but both/and. They intersect.


Secondly, most settings are multicultural. I can’t even begin to think about the last time I was in a situation that I would use the word ‘monocultural’ about, whether it has been swimming with my mates in Aberdeenshire or hosting a virtual workshop with participants from around the world.


Thirdly, there’s a lot to think about here for communications professionals. As a profession, we have long argued that we should work at a leadership, Board or C-suite level. So, developing our CQ should help us build trust and relationships with those who hold different values, experiences and perspectives. It should also make us better advisors to those who want to build trust, inspire and gain credibility with very diverse audiences.


David Livermore covers more of the latest research in his blog and I’ll invite you to explore that further over another cuppa in the future.


In the meantime, if you’d like to talk about developing your own CQ or running a workshop to help your team start their CQ journey, please drop me a note. The first virtual cuppa is on me.





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