CQ is becoming increasingly recognised as crucial for success as businesses and their teams become more global, says Thom Dennis

CQ (cultural quotient, or more colloquially, cultural intelligence) is continuing to grow as a globally recognised and valued measurement of a person’s ability to perform effectively in a culturally diverse environment. It encompasses a range of skills, including cross-cultural communication, empathy, and the ability to adapt to unfamiliar cultural norms. So is CQ becoming more important than IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional intelligence) at work?

There may be an argument to say no single quotient is better than the other, as they measure different aspects of a person’s abilities. IQ is a measure of a person’s cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning. It is often used as an indicator of a person’s intellectual potential and is commonly measured through standardised tests. EQ is a person’s ability to understand, manage, and express their emotions effectively – including abilities such as self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills – which enables individuals to interact positively with others and navigate complex social situations.

IQ, EQ, and CQ are recognised as valuable in different contexts. IQ has been around for the longest and so has been seen as of more use in academic or technical settings, while EQ, made famous by Daniel Goleman, attracted early interest in the caring professions. CQ built on EQ, and now corporations that have exposure to individuals from different cultures around the world are adopting this versatile tool.

CQ is becoming increasingly recognised as crucial for success because of technological and communication advances, as well as the increased flexibility to work from home, as businesses and their teams become more global. CQ is also growing in importance in both personal and professional settings, as it plays a significant role in building strong relationships, good communication, and innovative leadership. Organisations with high CQ tend to have better trust, tolerance, and diversity and a better understanding of the impact of cultural background at both an individual and organisational level. These businesses are then likely to enjoy better productivity, creativity, recruitment, and performance, as well as reduced talent loss, bias, and conflict.

What Are Some of the Key Attributes Which Suggest an Employee Has a High CQ?

Culturally aware

Employees with high CQ are aware of cultural differences and understand how these differences affect communication and behaviour. They are sensitive to cultural norms and customs and are able to recognize and respect diversity. They are also able to work effectively with people from a wide range of backgrounds; they are unlikely to be judgemental.


Being welcoming and hospitable implies social and cultural awareness so look for employees who are consistently and actively welcoming newcomers and accommodating the needs and boundaries of their colleagues.

Good communication skills

High CQ employees have strong and effective communication skills, including clear expression of ideas, and an open ability to ask questions to clarify understanding.

Emotional intelligence

Employees with high CQ also have high emotional intelligence. They are aware of their own emotions and are able to manage them effectively in multicultural situations. They are also able to read and respond to the emotions of others.

Curious and open-minded

High CQ employees are curious about other cultures and are eager to learn more about them. They seek out new experiences and opportunities to interact with people from different backgrounds and are open-minded.


If an individual shows an ability to read the room well and to observe and wants to understand differences with a team, it is likely that they have a degree of CQ.


High CQ employees can adapt their behaviour and communication style to fit different cultural situations. One of the key aspects of CQ is being open to learning and not being afraid of getting it wrong. 


Employees with high CQ are empathetic and able to understand the perspective of others. They are able to put themselves in other people’s shoes and see the world from another point of view.


High CQ employees are able to navigate ambiguous and uncertain situations by adjusting their behaviour and expectations in response to changing cultural contexts. They can find creative solutions to problems that arise in multicultural environments.

How You Can Improve Your CQ

Recognising our similarities is as important as recognising our differences

Establish common ground. This leads to a greater understanding of who you both are and is a great way to form mutual bonds, as it fosters trust and respect and can lift communication barriers.

Remember that no culture, politics, religion, opinion, or belief is superior to another.

Check yourself for biases

Biases may influence your opinions, perception, and behaviour. Have lots of interesting conversations with people who have different experiences and beliefs than your own. Ask questions, but check that you are not being too intrusive or personal.

Seek to work with diverse teams

Engage in cross-cultural collaborations to gain hands-on experience with different cultures.

Try to be a deep listener

Understand people’s beliefs, values, and opinions.  

Be mindful of nonverbal cues

Think about body language and tone of voice to observe intercultural differences.

Show empathy

Always try and look at something from someone else’s point of view and, where possible, reflect that they may have other things going on in their life that you simply don’t know about.

Read articles or watch TV/ films that demonstrate different viewpoints

Try to understand what matters to others with a different view to your own. Read news stories or books or watch films from around the world. Attend cultural events and learn about the history, traditions, and customs of different communities.

Immerse yourself in different perspectives and try new cultural experiences

Visit a restaurant with a cuisine you have never tried. Learn a new language. Go to a religious service that isn’t your own religion. If you visit a new country, soak up the culture in addition to going to tourist spots. Take a walk through the markets, ride public transport, and visit places off the beaten track.

Have meaningful conversations

Build relationships with people from different cultures and show that you respect, appreciate, and are interested in their cultural values and beliefs.


Organisations that want to improve their CQ may need engaging profiling strategies, workshops, courses, coaching, and digital tools which both measure and develop the necessary skills.

Thom Dennis is the CEO of Serenity in Leadership. With an MSc in Change Agent Skills & Strategies, skills as an NLP Master Practitioner, 17 years’ experience as an officer in the Royal Marines and having extensively travelled around the world, Thom ... (Read More)

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