Why Emotional Intelligence Needs Cultural Intelligence When Working Across Borders

To succeed globally, we need both Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Intelligence.

We’ve all heard about how EQ—Emotional Intelligence—is vital for success as a leader. The ability to be aware of our emotional state and the emotional states of others and incorporate that awareness into our actions and decisions is what accounts for 90% of the difference between star leaders and average leaders. EQ is a key competency, now and even more so as automation takes hold in the workplace.

So when we work on or lead a global team, negotiate across cultures, go abroad on a business trip or get dispatched overseas on an expat assignment, EQ should continue to predict our success. But it doesn’t. EQ alone won’t guarantee success when working globally.

When EQ Isn’t Enough

Having a high EQ isn’t enough when working with a different culture or on a multicultural team. Look at the example of expat assignments. Over 40% of expat assignments are deemed to be failures, and one of the biggest contributors to those failures is cross-cultural challenges.

Think about that. Many expats are seen as top talent within their organizations. They are current or future leaders, and so by definition most of them will have high EQ. They have succeeded at home by excelling at leading through understanding social cues, using humor and saying the right things. While all these behaviors can work in the culture of the home country, they often don’t travel well.

Cross-cultural challenges can rarely be resolved by EQ alone because what works well in one culture will not work well in another. How to be an effective, gregarious, sociable leader in Seattle may not work in São Paulo or Shanghai. The context differs in each culture, as do views on leadership and communication styles.

The result? Projects can fail, negotiations can break down and teams can fall apart. We see international M&As such as DaimlerChrysler fail because of cross-cultural clashes. On a personal level, stress and frustration arise or overseas assignees retreat to the safety of the expat bubble and disconnect from their host country.

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