Is CQ Rapidly Becoming The New EQ?

By now we are all familiar with the benefits of having high emotional intelligence in the workplace. We know that emotional intelligence is so critical to success that it accounts for up to 60% of performance in all types of jobs. The link to EQ and earnings is so direct that every point increase in EQ adds over $1000 to your annual salary.

But is EQ globally transferrable? For example, is a leader with high emotional intelligence in a North American organisation, considered to have high EQ in say, East Asia? It can be strongly argued that emotional intelligence is contextual and that what are considered high EQ skills in some countries may be frowned upon in others, unless people are able to adaptto the cultural context in which they work.

To get a clearer understanding, let’s firstly look at what we mean by emotional intelligence. Very briefly, emotional intelligence can be divided up into four quadrants:

Self-Awareness: Is your ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment as well as an understanding of one’s own strengths and limitations. Competencies include: emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment and self-confidence.

Self- Management: Is what happens when you act-or don’t act. Self-management is your ability to use your awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behaviour positively. Competencies include: emotional self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative and optimism.

Social Awareness: Is your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on with them. It often means perceiving what other people are thinking and feeling. Competencies include: empathy, organisational awareness, service.

Relationship Management: Is your ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully. Competencies include: inspirational leadership, influence, developing others, change catalyst, conflict management, building bonds, teamwork and collaboration.

For argument’s sake, let’s look at quadrant four, relationship management as an example. ‘Inspirational leadership’ and the ‘ability to influence others’ differs from culture to culture. In New Zealand where I am from, a democratic, inclusive style of leadership is highly respected; leaders are encouraged to ask for their team’s input and opinions. One reason for this is because in countries like New Zealand, the power-distance cultural dimension is very low, meaning the hierarchical gap between an employee and their boss is very narrow. The same cannot be said in China for example where power-distance is very high. Employees don’t necessarily want a democratic leadership style, they expect leaders to issue instructions and to stay distant. A democratic leadership style may be considered weak and uninspiring in cultures with high power-distance. Therefore, the impact of leadership is culturally significant.

The same can be said for many ways we behave and interact in the workplace; for example, the way we express emotions, the use of humour, the ability to negotiate and the concept of teamwork are all culturally contextual. In one culture happiness and enthusiasm maybe expressed by laughing out loud and patting a colleague on the back, whereas in many east asian countries for example, there are strict guidelines as to how emotions should be expressed, but this is not to say that people in these countries are not enthusiastic about their work!

So, it appears that a person who displays a high level of emotional intelligence in one cultural context may in fact be considered to have low emotional intelligence when communicating outside of a culture like their own and this can have a negative impact in business negotiations.

Leaders in today’s globally connected business world therefore must lead with cultural intelligence (CQ). Like EQ, CQ consists of four distinct but connected quadrants:

CQ Drive: The motivational dimension of cultural intelligence, measuring the level of interest, drive and energy needed to adapt cross-culturally.

CQ Knowledge: Is a good grasp of cultural similarities and differences. It is about having an overall understanding of how cultures vary.

CQ Strategy: An ability to be aware and plan in light of cross cultural issues. Employees who possess strong CQ Strategy can draw on cultural understanding to solve complex problems.

CQ Action: Is the ability to act appropriately in a range of intercultural situations and effectively accomplish goals. It is about knowing when to adapt and when not to adapt to cross-cultural situations.

CQ doesn’t happen through osmosis. Cultural intelligence training is therefore imperative if businesses have a multi-cultural workforce or are involved in business dealings with organisations from different cultural backgrounds. The research is clear, that a lack of CQ can be the difference between those companies that succeed in a cross-cultural business environment and those who fail.

Steve Morris is Director of Morris Consulting Group ( and Cross Cultural TransitioNZ ( and is an expert in the field of human potential. He believes that the key to human performance is creating positive environments where people are engaged and motivated.

He is also a licensed Cross-Cultural Consultant through the Inter Change Institute, Boston USA and is a member of the New Zealand Association of Positive Psychology.

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