The Role of CQ in Intercultural Communication (including 3 steps to grow your CQ)

Oct 04, 2022

Our resident anthropologist, Marcello Francioni, discusses the key role of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) to succeed abroad and provides 3 steps to grow your CQ. But first, here is a quick account from Marcello about starting a life in a new country over and over again and his experience with intercultural communication.

I am not going to lie. The idea of moving to a different country has always been a thrilling one to me. Sure, the preparation, the packing, and the visa process can be stressful, but for some reason, all that never stopped me. So far, I have moved back and forth between three countries - Italy, Japan and the UK - all very different in terms of their culture.

As much as I love change and challenges, I kept noticing one thing. The first weeks (often the first months) of my experiences abroad were always a whirlwind of emotions. I have written about the role that Culture Shock has on underprepared travelers, and one of the major contributors for me was communication. 

Adapting to different ways of interacting with people can be confusing, frustrating and - quite frankly - exhausting. It can leave you drained, with no energy to focus on the many amazing things you expected to do.

When I moved to Japan from my motherland, Italy, I enjoyed the fact that people were so polite and welcoming. It reminded me of the politeness and chivalry that Italians easily display for one another. However, I found most of my interactions to be a bit too formal, and I could not understand whether people did not like me or whether it was a sign of respect. Although now I know the latter was more true, in the beginning it made me feel insecure and shy around people.

Japanese people are welcoming and generally open to new experiences, something which resonates with the Italian motto “Tentar non nuoce” (trying won’t hurt you). Unfortunately, what I did not know is that sometimes people in Japan agree to do something even when they do not want to, because saying no is considered very rude. I had to learn how to tread that fine line, how to read people’s boundaries and not overstep.

Years later, as an Italian expat in the UK, I had to adapt once again to the UK way of communicating. I was brought up valuing honesty as a positive quality when you are expressing your opinions (without being mean of course). Whenever I applied that principle in the UK, people around me kept calling me “too direct”. Little did I know, that in the UK, people tend to sandwich their opinions between layers of positive reinforcement.

Similarly, if I added non-verbal cues to my interactions like facial expressions and hand gestures - which is extremely common in Italy - I was often misread as being aggressive or too much in people’s faces, even though this was not a reflection of my words or my intention. In the UK communication is more subtle and tones rarely get animated unless a fight is about to break out.

The Importance of Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Knowing how to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds is a key component to developing Cultural Intelligence (CQ). As P. Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski (2004) define it, Cultural Intelligence is the:

“seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures in just the way that person’s compatriots and colleagues would, even to mirror them.”

Cultural Intelligence applies to everyday social tasks like knowing how to make an invitation, how to refuse something and how to express your emotions and communicate your thoughts in a way that allows you to connect with others while still being appropriate in a specific cultural context.

By developing your Cultural Intelligence, you can avoid faux pas with the people around you and reduce misunderstandings along with the stress and anxiety that come with them. But more importantly, were these instances to happen, you would have the tools to overcome them smoothly and swiftly.

3 Steps to Grow Your CQ

In a word, your CQ is your Intercultural IQ. The only difference is, you can train it and grow it, like a muscle or a plant. How do you do that? It is quite simple, really.

  1. Listen. Find people who are from your country of destination and people who have lived there. Ask about their first-hand experiences and for their advice. Now take it all in.
  2. Try. Apply what you have learned in real life. The more you do something, the easier it gets, and the easier it will be to apply that knowledge to unexpected situations. (There are going to be many, I can assure you.)
  3. Fail. Muscles need to tear a little before they get stronger, and the same goes for CQ. In new cultural environments, we commonly make mistakes because of something we previously did not know. That is not a defeat, but a precious opportunity to learn.  

How do CulturaGo Courses support your CQ?

With CulturaGo’s cultural preparation courses learners can build a strong foundation by growing their Cultural Intelligence before arriving abroad. Our destination-specific courses are there to help anyone jumpstart their experience from the get-go.

Learn from the voice of locals and expats sharing their wisdom, and absorb information that is up-to-date, fact-checked, and expert-approved. Fewer misunderstandings, less distraction, faster adjustment and a fuller immersion in a new experience.

What are you waiting for?

Know more, dive deeper.






Early, P. Christopher, and Mosakowski, Elaine (2004), Cultural Intelligence. Harvard Business Review (October issue). Available at: Available at:


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