Cultural Intelligence by Brooks Petersen

Published by MNA on

By Grant Steves

Cover of Cultural Intelligence, featuring cartoon of man drawing on a chalkboard.

In the many books I have reviewed in the Newsletter the focus has been on religion and atheism.  They were excellent books that challenged our thinking about how we confronted our religion and became atheists.

At the base of this is the problem of communication and understanding others.  The others we come to know represent diverse cultures. Geert Hofstede, an international authority on cross cultural social psychology, has done significant research in the field of culture and communication.  In his research, he has been able to establish the need for educating people on the differences in culture and the difference it makes in communication.

Brooks Peterson has addressed the concern for educating people about culture in his book, Cultural Intelligence.  The book is divided into six parts and each deals with a basic question of culture and communication.  Part 1 answers the question, ‘what is culture?,’ Part 2 asks us why an awareness of culture is important in daily life, Part 3 addresses the question, ‘what is cultural intelligence?’, Part 4 focuses on how you apply cultural intelligence in everyday life, Part 5 explores what your cultural style is, and Part 6 suggests how we can increase our cultural intelligence.

Peterson defines culture as, “the relatively stable set of inner values and beliefs generally held by groups of people in countries or regions and the noticeable impact those values and beliefs have on the peoples’ outward behaviors and environment.”  However, he encourages us to define culture in our own terms.  For the atheists, we daily encounter a culture of believers in a god or gods.  Some of us have left that cultural system behind; it is not easy to shed your culture for a new one.  The understanding of the ‘tip-of-the-iceberg culture is relatively easy.  We observe every day the practical consequences of that information upon us.

Our senses perceive the cultural elements of language, food, population, gestures, eye contact, and music in our environment.  However, our filters alter the basic meaning of anything we perceive.  It is obvious, but too often we fail to consider what is before us.  Peterson goes on to identify the bottom-of-the-iceberg values.  These are not the physical that can be observed, but are those that are expressed in how we treat time, relate importance of work, present our communication, etc… 

The bottom of this iceberg is the foundation for what we perceive at the top.  For example, as an atheist we place a greater value on science and that in turn affects how our five senses evaluate the information we receive.  A theologically based value system might view population in terms of souls saved and not as mouths fed.  The book does not address issues of religion and atheism; however, his presentation on communication and cultural analysis applies to those perspectives.  The reader needs to draw his or her own conclusions in this application of the book.  However, if “cultural values are principles or qualities that a group of people will tend to see as good or right or worthwhile,” we are directly involved with religion as value. The Purpose Driven Life is an example of a Christian value system at work.  It represents a cultural point of view.

The CQ (cultural intelligence) you have reflects your “ability to engage in a set of behaviors that uses skills (i.e., language or interpersonal skills) and qualities (e.g., tolerance for ambiguity, flexibility) that are tuned appropriately to the culture-based values and attitudes of the people with whom one interacts.”

As upsetting as may be for people of different cultures to interact, it is fundamental for change and growth that we come to understand the other person and their culture.

We start with our own cultural style.  Brooks Peterson addresses the means of assessment and offers a test online to accomplish that (  Having assessed your cultural style, the book will give you suggestions on how to increase your cultural intelligence.  One of the first places to start is assessing equality versus hierarchy relationships.  When you are able to understand the balance between these two, you began to realize how to create equal relationships or interact within hierarchical cultures.  Next, we need to develop sensitivity toward communication that is direct or indirect.  Third, we need to recognize that some cultural groups are individually based (atheists), while others value groups (e.g., Catholics). The fourth dimension to improve on is the task versus the relationships.  Some of us work best within a group that is concerned with interpersonal relations.  Some of us are more task oriented and are less concerned with developing relationships.  The last concern is how we interact with the risk-takers versus the cautious.  Their approach must be equally valued and understood.  The need in each case is to expand sensitivity and respect for other’s culture.  

It is always to our advantage to understand culture and communication, and how we might improve on our understanding of both.

Categories: Book Reviews