Cultural Intelligence – A new life skill

Intercultural interaction picnic | Photo courtesy of MOSAIC

Progressive organizations across Canada engage employees through diversity and inclusion programs.

The business community is motivated to develop intercultural competency (IC),” says Taslim Damji, an intercultural practitioner and core developer and facilitator for MOSAIC, Multi-lingual Orientation Service Association for Immigrant Communities.

Understanding cultural diversity and learning to empathize and embrace different behaviours is key to building strong relationships in a community. Progressive organizations are taking a leadership role in building cultural intelligence that has the capacity to filter into every aspect of that employee’s life.

“Some people live in very hierarchical societies, while others live in very egalitarian societies. These types of societies can make a difference in how a person participates at work,” says Damji.

Catherine Gordon, director of human resources at David Suzuki Foundation, recently organized IC training for 30 employees through MOSAIC. She thought the course effectively taught staff how to respect cultural differences, even in situations when it’s difficult to align both viewpoints.

“I think employees are now more willing to approach cultural difference with more curiosity, rather than presume their own perspective is true,” says Gordon. “Now they are more curious why that conversation happened…And, employees are able to learn from one another rather than getting defensive or jumping to conclusions that may not be correct.”

Cultural intelligence, similar to emotional intelligence, is about gaining self-awareness to successfully negotiate interactions with other people. Specifically, cultural intelligence is a desire to learn about different cultures, creating an awareness of cultural differences and similarities, and having the ability to build empathy around cultural interactions with other people.

“When people do things differently, we don’t need to react strongly…,” says Damji. “[Cultural intelligence] is about wanting to learn more rather than differences being an inconvenience… It’s a desire to work effectively across cultures.”

Intercultural competency training at MOSAIC

Since 2013 around 1000 people have participated in MOSAIC’s Intercultural Competency (IC) Training.

“The course creates a space to explore and address cultural differences through a variety of activities, says Damji. “ Participants are encouraged to use their IC skills to process intercultural challenges in a safe space.”

MOSAIC’s upcoming IC training is geared to both newcomers and Canadians who are interested in building strong and healthy communities.

“People who participate in our IC training have a desire to invite other people to be part of their community,” says Damji.

Damji explains that the training appeals to newcomers, which includes both immigrants and refugees, who are curious about their new environment.

“I believe that newcomers are very aware of the cultural differences when they move to Canada. They are keen to learn how to function successfully in their new community,” says Damji.

For many Canadians, the program offers an opportunity to learn about diverse cultures. Sometimes this means coming to terms with their own position of power and privilege.

“It can be difficult for people in a place of power and privilege to acknowledge and share their power,” says Damji. “They often want things to remain the same because they are comfortable with how they are positioned in society.”

Building a healthy economy and society

Gordon explains that IC training is part of David Suzuki Foundation’s overall commitment to diversity and inclusion. As a non-profit organization, the staff work with volunteers and donors in communities across Canada. The ability of their staff to respect and appreciate cultural differences is key to identifying not just one solution, but many unique ways to be innovative, resourceful and forward-thinking.

“The benefits of diversity and inclusion is that it allow us to learn about different perspectives; a fresh way of thinking; a way to approach a community in a different way,” says Gordon.

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