This site is designed to help you improve your understanding of culture and the impact it has on the way people think, behave, and interact. Cultural differences can lead to conflict, but they can also be fascinating and enlightening. When you expand your cultural intelligence, you become more aware of how culture impacts us all, which makes it easier to take a step back and empathize with people you disagree with. This increased sense of self-awareness and empathy can help you build stronger relationships and solve complex problems with all sorts of people—from colleagues on the other side of the world to neighbors just across the street.

When we think of practical examples of cultural intelligence, we often think of rigid rules we should learn so that we don’t offend people. For example, it can be useful to know whether you should shake hands, bow, hug, or kiss when greeting a stranger from a particular country, or if a gesture like pointing could be considered taboo in a place you’re planning to visit. But these types of cultural “dos and don’ts” are only a small part of cultural intelligence. 

Developing cultural intelligence is about more than sensitivity. It’s about learning to postpone judgment and make sense of things that are open to multiple interpretations. This is especially important for values and behaviors that we tend to feel strongly about. Collaborating with others isn’t just about tolerance or “helping” someone learn a better way of doing things. To truly become culturally intelligent, you need to learn how to identify situations where a difference in perspective is preventing people from understanding each other better. 

Definitions of Culture

Before we explore specific cultural dimensions, let’s take a quick look at some more general definitions of culture. In the following video, Eva Haug from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences explains the concept of culture.

“Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.” —Geert Hofstede (Hofstede, 1991)

“Culture is a learned set of shared interpretations about beliefs, values, norms and social practices which affect behaviors of a relatively large group of people.” (Lustig & Koester)