Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Cultural Intelligence: More Than Just Common Sense

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Sun, Jun 05, 2011 @ 07:40 AM

cultural intelligenceCultural intelligence is a person's ability to adjust their behavior to a new cultural environment. Is cultural intelligence common sense? Is it something that you can just "figure out" by living in a new culture? Some people think it is but then they realize that their business interactions aren't going smoothly with their new American colleagues in New York and they can't figure out why.  Cultural intelligence is not always common sense. It is knowledge and skills that many people don't realize that they need until they make a mistake. In today's post I have some suggestions about how you can improve your cultural intelligence by observing, speaking with local people and asking "why?"


A Common Challenge that Requires Cultural Intelligence:


In her article 10 Common Myths about Culture Shock, Nancy Longatan states:


Myth # 6 " Just be yourself and people will like/adjust to you"

"Unfortunately, many of the communication cues that seem natural within one culture can actually be offensive in another. This can be as simple as learning to avoid a gesture that may have a different meaning, to subtle and unconscious processes such as volume of speaking and eye contact"


Start by Being an Observer: 


Cultural intelligence is, in some ways, rooted in emotional intelligence and social skills.  If you are culturally intelligent, you are perceptive of your surroundings. You can easily observe what people are doing around you and how they react to what you do. By observing before acting, you can start to learn which of your own cultural norms or habits that are ok in your home country aren't acceptable in your new culture.


Learn From the Locals:


Observing the people around you in your new culture is great, but it is even better if you have friends who belong to the culture. If you are living in Boston, spend time with Bostonians, get to know them, interact with them. Through your conversations with your local friends, you might find out, for example, that it's important to make eye contact when you shake hands in the United States. If you need to improve your English this is also a great opportunity to get conversation practice.


Go Deeper:


So now you have observed your surroundings and you have spoken with your American friends and colleagues. You have learned that it is very important to make eye contact when you shake hands in the United States. That's useful knowledge but you should find out why it's so important to make eye contact when you shake hands. What does that say about American cultural values and how are those values different from your own cultural values? What's important to American people? To learn about this, you might want to work with a cross cultural coach who can explore these issues with you on a deeper level and help you use this knowledge to improve your interactions at work and in your everyday life in the United States.



get our free video 7 simple secrets to connection in English

Topics: Daily Life in the US, United States Culture, Cultural Competence, Cross Cultural Coaching

Speak with Confidence

practice English now with native English speakers

Monthly Newsletter


English Podcast


American English conversation listening podcast

Nominated Top 100

Top 100 Language Lovers 2012

1. Top Language Lovers   Top 100 Final

Business English


Subscribe to this Blog

Free Trial Lesson



"Every day I read the English and Culture blog and I love it."

-Student of English and Culture

Connect with Us

Free Practice Guide


Latest Posts

Resources for You


Student Testimonial

business English student Boston

"My classes with English and Culture have been awesome. I have been taking the classes for almost two months, twice a week and I am really happy about my improvement. Now I feel more comfortable and secure when speaking English and more fluent, too."

-Elkin, Colombia