We are blessed to live in a multicultural world. We must be grateful for its marvellous array of languages, art and lifestyle. At ESCP Business School, we are lucky to welcome 121 nationalities each year to our campuses across Europe.

We can all enjoy and benefit from the fruits of our differences. However, the upshot of diversity can be challenges in communication and collaboration.

Cultural norms around communication are as varied as they can be confusing. And this can make professional collaboration a considerable challenge. So, depending on the situation, that head nod might not mean what you think it does!

At ESCP, we see the development of cultural intelligence as key to excelling in an international career. And the MBA in International Management is pivotal in helping students develop the skills and experience needed to do just that!

Cultural intelligence – a key to international relations

Cultural intelligence is the ability to interpret behaviour, words and gestures as they were meant to be perceived. It means understanding the cultural context of the person before interpreting their actions and reacting accordingly.

That American property developer you met in London. How did you find him? And did he behave that way because he is American, a property developer or perhaps an American property developer? Or is it because he is a millennial?  

Very simply, cultural intelligence allows us to distinguish between personality and cultural traits and adapt accordingly.

3 keys to cultural intelligence

An influential Harvard Business Review article identified three key components of cultural intelligence:

1) Head

Intellectually, it comes down to working out how to recognise another culture’s precepts and social norms. And this is where learning strategies come in. These strategies offer a framework to understand what cannot be left to intuition alone.  

2) Body

We can pick up a treasure trove of information with a mere glance. But what should we do with this information? Now it’s time to get your hands dirty! From gestures to body language, your actions show that you really have understood the lay of the land.

3) Heart

The very nature of crossing cultures means that there will be some hairy moments! It takes courage, commitment and confidence to persevere. And mistakes are normal. They are all part of our learning curve.  

And how might we best do this?

Developing cultural intelligence with the ESCP MBA

The international manager cannot leave anything to chance. The ESCP MBA is the ideal experience to launch the international manager into a higher plane of cultural intelligence. And how?

1) Theory & Action

Our core courses are designed to challenge students on their preconceived ideas. Resolutely multicultural, the curriculum naturally integrates case studies and company projects from diverse cultures. In addition, workshops bolster students’ experiences by working through real-life examples where cultural intelligence is critical. Students are encouraged to form a solid understanding of the relevant theory. The influential book “Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures” is a great first step.

But knowledge is not enough. Cultural intelligence, as we have seen, is something that can best be seen in practice. With over 20 nationalities, the ESCP MBA student body is the ideal testing ground to develop cultural intelligence at record speed!

2) Observation & Adaptation

Nothing is black and white. The subtlety of human interaction requires observation and adaption. And this takes experience.

Daily exposure to a whole host of cultures and project interaction offers the opportunity for a wonderful cultural challenge. So yes, this is where you can hone your observation skills. Because the multicultural student body is a feast for the observational senses! 

These rich experiences are the chance to get to know the world’s major cultures by engaging with real people. Your marketing project team has you working with people from three different cultures? Oh, and there is a tight deadline? Well, if the team is to deliver on time, you better get observing and adapting!

In high stakes situations, the last thing we need is added cultural uncertainty.  Cultural intelligence is the key to clearing things up and getting on with business. ESCP’s European multiculturalism offers the ideal setting and experiences to develop this critical skill. Because to the culturally intelligent go the spoils!