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The 'hidden talent' that determines success

Imagine meeting someone for the first time who comes from a distant country but is fluent in your language. There may appear to be no immediate communication barrier, so would you adapt the tone and cadence of your voice, or the spacing of pauses in your speech?


How about altering your body language, mannerisms and facial expressions, depending on the background of the person in front of you? Would you sit or stand differently and pay attention to your hand gestures?


These are just a handful of the subtle shifts in behaviour that can contribute to what is known as your “cultural intelligence”, or CQ – and there is growing evidence that suggests they are well worth learning.


“The number one predictor of your success in today’s borderless world is not your IQ, not your resume (CV), and not even your expertise,” writes social scientist David Livermore in his book The Cultural Intelligence Difference. “It’s your CQ.”

"在当今这个无国界的世界里,判断你能否成功的第一预测因素不是智商,不是简历,甚至不是专业技能,"社会学家大卫·利弗莫尔(David Livermore)在他的《文化智商差异》(The Cultural Intelligence Difference)一书中写道,"而是CQ。"

According to the latest findings, a high CQ could be crucial in a wide range of careers, from bankers to soldiers and scientists and teachers – anyone, in fact, who regularly interacts with people from different backgrounds.


So what is CQ? Why do some people have a higher CQ than others? And how can we nurture these abilities?


Cultural differences


Much of the research on CQ has been done by Soon Ang, a professor of management at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In the late 1990s, her job was updating computer systems in Singapore to tackle the “Y2K bug” – a software glitch that was feared would bring down the world’s computer networks at the turn of the millennium. Ang put together an international team of programmers to solve the problem.

新加坡南洋理工大学管理学教授洪洵(Soon Ang)针对CQ进行了很多研究。在20世纪90年代末,她的工作是更新新加坡的电脑系统,以应对"千年虫"——人们当时担心这个软件漏洞会导致全世界的计算机网络在千禧年之交时瘫痪。洪洵组织了一个国际程序员团队来解决这个问题。

They were some of the brightest minds in the business, yet she soon found that they just couldn’t work together. The groups were ineffectual and failed to gel. Often, individual members would appear to agree on a solution, but then implement it in completely different ways.


Clearly, it wasn’t a question of expertise or motivation. Instead, she saw that these highly capable employees were stumbling over each other’s cultural differences, leading to a breakdown in communication and understanding.


These insights would lead Ang to collaborate with the organisational psychologist P. Christopher Earley, then at the London Business School but now dean of the school of business and economics at the University of Tasmania, Australia. Together they built a comprehensive theory of CQ, which they defined as “the capability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts”.

展开了这番分析后, 洪洵与组织心理学家克里斯多夫·厄利(P. Christopher Earley)展开了合作,厄利当时还在伦敦商学院,现在则在澳大利亚塔斯马尼亚大学(University of Tasmania)担任商业和经济学院院长。他们共同建立了一套全面的CQ理论,并将其定义为"在多样化的文化背景中有效发挥职能的能力。"

Typically CQ is measured through a series of questions that assess four distinct components. The first is “CQ Drive” – the motivation to learn about other cultures. Then there is “CQ Knowledge”, which is an understanding of some of the general cultural differences you may face. “CQ Strategy”, examines how you make sense of those difficult confrontations and learn from them while “CQ Action”, involves your behavioural flexibility – whether you are able to adapt your conduct like a cultural chameleon.


Someone with low CQ might have a tendency to view everyone else’s behaviour through his own cultural lens. If he comes from a more gregarious environment, for instance, and notices that his Japanese or Korean colleagues are very quiet in a meeting, he may assume that they are being hostile or bored. In aviation, such cultural differences have sometimes caused a breakdown in communication between pilots and air traffic controllers, leading to fatal crashes.


A person at the top of the scale, meanwhile, might realise that silence is a sign of respect and that feedback won’t be given unless it is explicitly invited. As a result, she’ll make sure to offer suitable opportunities within the meeting for others to provide their opinions.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, many studies have explored how expats adapt to life abroad, showing that those with the highest initial CQ will find it easier to adjust to their new life. But CQ can also predict more objective aspects of job performance, such as international sales performance, negotiation skills, and overall leadership ability.


Three forms of intelligence


One study from 2011 measured the IQ, emotional intelligence, or EQ, and CQ of 126 officers studying at the Swiss Military Academy as they engaged in various assignments supporting the United Nations in foreign territories and on international training exercises. Although all three forms of intelligence appeared to contribute to their overall performance, CQ turned out to be the best predictor – accounting for around 25% of the variation in the officers’ success on the international missions. IQ, by contrast, only predicted around 9.5% of the differences, while EQ predicted 3.5%.

2011年,瑞士陆军学院(Swiss Military Academy)的126名军官在海外执勤和国际训练科目中负责支援联合国。一项研究对他们的IQ、EQ和CQ进行了衡量。虽然这三种"智商"似乎都对他们的整体表现有影响,但CQ的预测效果最好——在预测这些军官在执行海外任务的效果时,大约能预测25%的差异。相比而言,IQ只能预测9.5%的差异,EQ只有3.5%。

While people with a high CQ might naturally gravitate to international jobs, these studies suggest differences in CQ can also predict their performance once they’re hired.


This evaluation is leading many companies to consider testing CQ and find out how they can boost their employees’ scores. Organisations such as Starbucks, Bloomberg and the University of Michigan have used the services of the Cultural Intelligence Center in Michigan, which offers intercultural assessments and a range of courses.


Crucially, Livermore, who is president of the Centre, says that CQ can be learned. There’s no replacement for direct, personal experience in another country, though it seems that people mostly benefit from having tasted a variety of different cultures if they want to learn those generalizable skills. “While understanding a specific culture can be useful, it may not predict at all your ability to engage effectively in a new place,” he says. “In fact, our research finds that individuals who have spent extended time in multiple locations are more likely to have higher CQ Knowledge than those who have lived multiple decades in one overseas setting.”


But explicitly teaching some of the key concepts seems to ease that process. Employees may take a CQ test and then work with a coach to identify potential challenges. Afterwards, they discuss those experiences and the ways they could adapt their behaviour in the future. Using this strategy, expat bankers moving to the Middle East and Asia appeared to have fully adjusted to their new life in just three months, while without the training, it normally took expat employees nine months to become fully functional.




But not everyone’s CQ grows with experience. Even after years of living abroad, some people’s understanding of other cultures appear to plateau, and they may also be resistant to training.


Now researchers are trying to discover the reasons for these differences. Melody Chao, a social psychologist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology believes one answer lies in an individual’s mindset.


She has been inspired by the work of the educational psychologist Carol Dweck, who has shown that people’s beliefs of their own capabilities often become self-fulfilling prophecies. On one hand, some people view their abilities as “fixed” and unchangeable. Others may have a “growth mindset”, meaning that they see their abilities as being more fluid, and so they are likely to persevere through hardship and embrace new challenges.

她受到了教育心理学家卡罗尔·德韦克(Carol Dweck)的启发。德韦克的研究成果表明,人们对自己能力的信念往往会成为自我实现的预言。一方面,有些人认为他们的能力是固定不变的。还有一些人或许秉承着"成长心态",他们认为自己的能力并不固定,所以很有可能坚持艰苦奋斗,迎接新的挑战。

These differences soon add up, meaning someone with the fixed mindset may start out with greater natural talent, only to quickly fall behind someone with a growth mindset.


Dweck’s work considered traditional concepts of intelligence, but Chao has shown that a similar process underlies changes in CQ too. If someone believes that cultural attributes are fixed, for instance, they may face greater anxiety during their interactions with local people, and may crumble after a confusing or difficult encounter without thinking of ways to adapt in the future. As a result, those cultural differences may come to feel like insurmountable boundaries.


“Individuals’ beliefs create a reality for themselves,” says Chao. She argues that businesses could measure these underlying beliefs in addition to their employees’ raw CQ scores, and adjust their training to address those anxious, fixed beliefs.

"个人信念为他们自己创造了一个现实。" 周文芝说。她认为,企业可以在员工的原始CQ分数的基础上,再来衡量这些潜在的信念,并调整他们的培训方案,以解决那些焦虑的、固定的信念。

Despite these new ways of thinking about CQ, research in this area is still in its infancy, warns Chao.


“As international and intercultural dynamics have been changing very rapidly, there is still much for us to learn about how to enhance cultural competence of individuals,” she says. In a world where our global connections grow ever tighter, that new understanding can’t come quickly enough.

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