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What is Cultural Intelligence?

Mudassir Azeemi

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Part 1: Understanding the cultural intelligence

When I landed in the USA back in 2002, I was shocked when I saw the word "Restroom" used for "Toilet." Guess what? I was culturally shocked, and I felt I was a kind of fool or something. I felt like I don' have a "cultural sense." Just like a user who is sometimes a bit perplexed with the interface of an app and starts blaming himself, I may be dumb enough who doesn't get the app at all.

Before I share a few more stories, let's unpack the word "Cultural Intelligence," what it is, and how it can help us while building digital products.

What is cultural intelligence?

Cultural intelligence, also known as Cultural Quotient (CQ), can understand different cultures and communicate appropriately with diverse backgrounds. It is often used as a broad term to effectively describe the skills someone needs to work with members of other cultures or ethnicities. Skills can include understanding formal and informal cultural rules, differences in communication styles, and navigating negotiation tactics. It is not a single set of skills but rather a set of competencies developed through training programs.

When I have to bring this aspect of understanding into UX, I will say about it. Cultural intelligence in UX can be defined as perceiving and understanding cultural differences, impacting how a person behaves in a particular situation. In UX, this intelligence is used to avoid designing culturally inappropriate interfaces. One famous example is preparing for users from different cultures with different literacy levels.

First introduced by P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang in the book "Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interaction Across Cultures. (2003)". And later, David Livermore developed it further in his book "Leading with Cultural Intelligence." The concept is related to cross-cultural competence. Today, we are witnessing more involvement from the cross-cultural perspective because of the internet-capable devices that can fit into our pockets. In the book "Research in Organization Behavior," Earley, Ang, and Van Dyne say cultural intelligence can be defined as "a person's capability to adapt as s/he interacts with others from different cultural regions."

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Mudassir Azeemi

Finding patterns in chaos. Pioneer of Urdu language on Apple devices! UX/UI Instructor | Speaker | Design Governance Head at Ring Central | Curious