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April 10, 2022 in Blog


Anthropologist Edward T. Hall developed the ‘Iceberg Model of Culture’ in 1976 as an analogy for the cultural codes that prevail in any society. The term was inspired by the icebergs found in the polar seas, where an iceberg has visible parts above water and often up to 90% of its surface remains hidden underwater.

Similarly, culture and behaviors have both visible and invisible components. The visible part of culture is the way we live and interact with each other – our traditions, food, and clothing. The invisible part is our preferences, opinions, values, beliefs, and value systems. Just as much of an iceberg remains hidden underwater, much of the culture and behavior remains hidden, but it cannot be ignored because it determines the actions that are visible above the surface.

Focusing on the visible features of culture alone will not prevent misunderstandings and conflict. Tangible cultural features, such as differences in language or dress, might present hurdles, but it’s the less obvious characteristics of culture that often cause the most problems. For an effective resolution, it is necessary to dive beneath the surface.

When working in multicultural environments, understanding how cultures are similar or different is critical because it gives you insights into why people think and behave the way they do. It helps you figure out when a behavior is a reflection of one’s culture, and when it’s more likely a reflection of one’s personality or circumstance. This is defined as CQ Knowledge or Cognitive CQ.

The Importance of CQ Knowledge

People with strong CQ Knowledge understand norms, practices and conventions in different cultures that have been acquired over their lifetime from educational and personal experiences.

They include business, economic, and legal systems, knowledge about social interactions, norms, and religious beliefs across cultures, as well as socio-linguistic and value orientations, communication, and leadership styles.

Culture significantly shapes the way we think and behave. Without understanding how it affects your own and others’ behavior, you interpret the world through your own cultural lens, and it can lead to misunderstandings. Developing CQ Knowledge helps you overcome cultural blind spots and suspend judgment.

Consequently, those with high CQ Knowledge are better able to interact with people from a culturally different group.

How Can You Improve Your CQ Knowledge

  • Read books and articles about the cultures you are interested in or interacting with. Learn about their geography, history, family systems, the way business is done, etc.
  • List idioms you use regularly and think about alternative ways you could express yourself to people of different cultures.
  • Follow people on social media from different cultures you are interested in.
  • Watch movies or documentaries about countries you are interested in or not familiar with and want to learn more about.
  • Setup a CQ Assessment program for your organization.

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