Cultural intelligence: 5 simple tips to develop your CQ

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Cultural intelligence or cultural quotient (CQ) is the ability to adapt to new environments with confidence and grace. It requires placing the interests, feelings and cultures of other people into context. It is also recognizing that people coming from different cultures can have different socially acceptable responses, working styles, and lifestyles that can differ from you or the dominant culture.

Cultural intelligence encompasses many aspects of life including, but not limited to cultural identity related to class, ethnicity, language, traditions, religion, sense of place, and others.

Developing CQ is essential for newcomers to Canada. Understanding and appreciating different ways of life is a necessity where diversity is celebrated.

Cultural intelligence or cultural quotient (CQ) is the ability to adapt to new environments with confidence and grace. It requires placing the interests, feelings and cultures of other people into context.

Why is developing cultural intelligence important?

For us newcomers, CQ is crucial for a smooth transition and integration into a multicultural society.

Having cultural intelligence will help you

  • Appreciate new perspectives – By knowing about different cultures, you gain a broader view of the world, which can be a source of personal growth.
  • Prevent conflicts – Handling cultural differences can be challenging. Having cultural intelligence equips you to prevent misunderstandings, making you a better neighbor, co-worker, or boss.
  • Build relationships – When you understand and respect other cultures, you can network with confidence and build new relationships in your new home. It opens doors to exciting opportunities and friendships.
  • Adapt to situations – Having CQ allows you to navigate common situations you’ll encounter as a new immigrant more effectively. It helps you communicate, make decisions, and adapt with ease.
  • Enrich your life – By being able to deal with various situations involving different kinds of people, you become more empathetic, open-minded, and less judgmental.

What do you need to develop cultural intelligence?


Start by being aware of your own cultural biases. For example, some of us that came from countries that have a homogeneous culture can tend to stereotype people. Understand that there are different ways of thinking, behaving, and communicating. This self-awareness is the first step toward cultural intelligence.


Be open to new experiences and alternative viewpoints. Suspend your judgement. Your job is not to assess if one culture is superior to another. Instead, celebrate the differences that make each one of us unique and interesting. You’ll realize this the more you get exposed to cultures different from your own.


Humility is a vital component of cultural intelligence. It means acknowledging that you don’t know everything and that there’s always more to learn. It also involves showing respect for other cultures.

Continuous learning

We fear what we don’t know. That’s why when we learn more about other ways of life and perspectives, we begin to understand and become tolerant of others. Additionally, cultural intelligence is not something you develop overnight. It’s an ongoing process.

Ways to develop cultural intelligence:

Tip 1: Be curious not judgmental

Ask questions, engage in conversations, and seek to understand people’s motivations. Foster meaningful connections by being genuinely curious about how people from different countries live – their customs, traditions, festivals and celebrations. Listen without judgement. Engaging in such conversations fosters understanding and acceptance.

Assignment: Learn more about a fall celebration like Diwali or Hanukkah (read 10 multicultural holiday celebrations you may not know about). Have a conversation about the event with a co-worker or neighbour who celebrates the holiday.

Tip 2: Observe

Pay attention to how people greet each other, their body language, and communication styles. By observing, you can learn the unspoken rules of a culture, enabling you to navigate social situations more effectively. For example, notice how Canadians often say “sorry” as a form of politeness. By observing, you adapt your behavior, ensuring respectful interactions.

Assignment: Observe the gift-giving tradition in your workplace. Are you expected to give everyone a gift this Christmas? How do you celebrate birthdays in the workplace?

Tip 3: Share

Share your own culture with others. Participate in events where you showcase your traditional food, music, or dance. Sharing your culture fosters mutual respect and encourages others to share as well.

Assignment: Potlucks are common in the community or in workplaces. Join in and bring dishes from your home country. Introduce your dish. Explain the ingredients or share the recipe when asked. Telling others about the history of your native dish is a great conversation topic as well.

Tip 4: Welcome new experiences

Embrace unfamiliar experiences. Try Canadian cuisine, participate in local community events, or join a sports club. For example, if you’re athletic, join a local hockey club, or a curling or pickle ball team. Participate in free workshops that feature arts and crafts or traditions of various countries (check your nearest immigrant-serving organization for events). You’ll discover how multicultural your area is and enhance your sense of belonging. You may even find new hobby!

Assignment: Attend Folklorama. It is the largest and longest-running multicultural festival in the world. This festival is held in Manitoba in August each year. Make sure to visit pavilions that are not familiar to you. Enjoy the presentation and food. Ask the ambassadors any questions about their culture.

Tip 5: Be Confident

Believe in your ability to adapt and learn. Practice your language skills and engage in conversations with locals. Confidence not only helps you communicate effectively but also radiates positivity, making others more receptive to your cultural background.

Assignment: Determine the nationality of three of your co-workers. Learn three simple phrases or words in their language. It can be as simple as the translation of “hello” in their language. For example, hello is nǐ hǎo in Chinese, hola in Spanish, and kamusta in Tagalog. Doing this can be the sweet start of more enriching conversations later on.
Sources: Cultural intelligence, Mind Tools; and What Is Cultural Intelligence and Why Is It Important? Indeed Editorial Team. Accessed November 2, 2023.

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