On Cultural Intelligence

I’m a fan of David Livermore’s work on cultural intelligence. His book Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence would be at the top of my recommended reading for those who insist on engaging in STM. It is highly readable and equally insightful for those thinking for the first time about STM’s difficulties among US North American trip goers. The last of the book’s three sections introduces the theory of cultural intelligence, or CQ (like IQ and EQ), which Livermore has been developing as a full-blown program through the Cultural Intelligence Center.

CQ consists of four components. These are my own descriptions of them:

Knowledge CQ: how much you know about cultural dynamics in theory.

Interpretive CQ: how much you perceive cultural dynamics in real life.

Perseverance CQ: how much you care about dealing with cultural dynamics despite difficulty.

Behavioral CQ: how much you adapt to cultural dynamics in actual interactions.

As I’ve adapted CQ for university internships in Peru over the last few years, the focus of the learning experience has been on knowledge and interpretive CQ. The other two are not less important, but they are less conducive to the kind of learning that the internship entails. We provide some basic behavioral dos and don’ts in the internship orientation, but mimicking behaviors or following instructions is not what behavioral CQ is about, although that is often the full extent of training STM goers receive. Instead, behavioral CQ derives from the other three, consisting of behavioral adaptation based on insightful, perceptive, well-motivated cross-cultural interactions. Likewise, we discuss STM motivations among interns, but even though this is a vitally important conversation, the best way to increase perseverance CQ is to “align our motivation with what we are growing to understand about a culture—both through knowledge and interpretive CQ[1. David A. Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 146-47.] The focus in our internship, then, was cultural learning focused on the intersection of knowledge and interpretive CQ: “As we interpret the cues received through interpretive CQ, we continually adjust our knowledge CQ. These two elements of CQ are very dependent upon one another.”[2. Ibid., 130]

I developed this simple matrix to help us think about where we are and in what direction we need to grow:


Ideally, we’re moving toward the top left quadrant. Our motivation to move in that direction is perseverance CQ, and our skill at converting increased understanding and sensitivity into adaptive behavior is behavioral CQ. This is just my own little tool for helping students think about their cross-cultural learning experience. If you’re interested in learning about your own CQ, I highly recommend a look at the Cultural Intelligence Center’s resources.

This has been an unpaid public service announcement. =)


2 thoughts on “On Cultural Intelligence

  1. Greg, I really appreciated being enlightened about David Livermore’s work as it relates to STM. Having gone through a few of these types of trips, it would have been really helpful for me to understand the complexity of cultural intelligence which operates on the four dimensions. In light of that, thank you for teaching students – as this will certainly bring clarity to their experiences.


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