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Why We Use the Term 'Inter-Cultural Intelligence'

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

The long journey to a new field, with new language.

Over the last 10 years we have thought a lot about what to call what we do. In the end, 'Inter-Cultural Intelligence' is the best combination of words we could find to server as shorthand for what we contribute to the world.

Why "Inter-Cultural" instead of "Diversity", "Inclusiveness", or "Cross-Cultural"?

The first thing we decided to do is not to use existing language. Our work has a lot to do with “Diversity,” which already has a large body of thinking around it–and there is already emotion attached to it. Our work also has a lot to do with “Inclusiveness," - but that term also has a certain body of knowledge, much of it coming out of the USA, which also has its own emotions attached.

Our work has a lot to do with, "Cross-Cultural," but just staying at “Cross-Cultural” would give the impression that though we may be crossing cultural lines, we are not necessarily creating something new. “Cross-Cultural” doesn't give the full essence of going back and forth to work something out together. Hence the term "Inter-Cultural."

Why do we use the word “intelligence”?

The services we provide are not about a few tips and tricks or do's and don'ts. It is not about how to present your business card appropriately, or how you are not supposed to show the sole of your foot, or how to be respectful in a certain cultural context. All of those things are important, but what is more important is to equip your staff with the skills and attitudes that will allow them to succeed no matter what the cultural context is.

It is more than just “Emotional Intelligence.” You need to look for different things, and evaluate situations in a way that goes beyond emotional intelligence. Self awareness, self-motivation, self-regulation are wonderful starting points, but there is more to it.

If you are Inter-Culturally Intelligent, you might still make some mistakes in the “do's and don'ts,” since you can't memorize all of them. But when you do make a mistake, you will have the competency to very quickly figure out why that wasn't appropriate, and adjust your behavior accordingly.

We want to emphasize the “Inter" part of "Cultural"

Why don’t we call it “Intercultural Intelligence” then? Why do we hyphenate it?! We want people to pause and think about it, instead of just learning it as another piece of jargon. You could have a PhD. in Korean Language and Culture and still not be inter-culturally intelligent when dropped into a fully Korean environment. Knowing a lot about a culture does not necessarily give you the attitude and skills needed to succeed within a cultural setting. It’s not just cultural, it’s inter-cultural.

How the whole thing comes together

Inter-Cultural Intelligence consists of the attitude and skills that enable you to succeed in the global workspace. These skills include the ability to create a new cultural space for you and your colleagues to work in, the ability to create win-win solutions when you interact interculturally, and the ability to anticipate, correctly interpret, and adjust to the culturally defined behavioral habits of people around you.

To begin your culture learning journey, Contact us or get our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.



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