Trevor Buehler

What is Cultural Intelligence

Trevor Buehler
What is Cultural Intelligence

While general intelligence or ‘smarts’ may be measured by IQ, cultural intelligence (CQ) measures an individual’s capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations. Going beyond cultural sensitivity and awareness, CQ identifies the recurring capabilities of individuals who can effectively and respectfully work and relate with people and projects, whatever the cultural context.

How culturally sensitive or aware are you? How often are you confronted by a culture different from your own? At a point in time in Canada where discourse abounds on the state of our Canadian culture and the perceived threat some feel from the culture of newcomers to Canada, perhaps you have asked yourself some tough questions about your ability to interact with other cultures. If you have, you may have strong cultural intelligence.

The Cultural Intelligence Center ( has compiled research on cultural intelligence, which, to date, spans 98 countries and over 75,000 individuals. They have found that the culturally intelligent have developed skills in the following four capabilities:

CQ Drive

This capability reflects your ability to direct your energy and focus in cross-cultural situations toward learning and functioning. You have an instinctive drive toward these situations due to natural interest and confidence in your ability to be cross-culturally effective. Individuals with high CQ Drive have an interest and motivation in cross-cultural issues.

CQ Knowledge

This capability considers the cultural knowledge you have learned through experience and education, including knowledge of norms and customs. Individuals with high CQ Knowledge have a good grasp of cultural similarities and differences.


CQ Strategy

The third capability refers to your cultural awareness at a conscious level. It considers whether you are consciously questioning your own cultural assumptions during a cross-cultural interaction, taking time to reflect afterwards, and adapting your knowledge of the culture as you go. Individuals with high CQ Strategy have the ability to be aware and plan ahead in light of cross-cultural issues.

CQ Action

This last aspect reflects your capability to exhibit appropriate verbal and non-verbal actions when interacting with people from different cultures, requiring you to be flexible and adapt on-the-fly. This is a critical component of CQ, since verbal and non-verbal behaviours are the principle features of social interaction.


For those to whom these capabilities seem to come naturally, they likely have high CQ. For the rest of us, studies show that cultural intelligence can be developed and improved over time. But why is cultural intelligence important for Christians and to the mission of God? And, why should we care to develop and improve our CQ over time?

Jesus personified cultural intelligence in his interactions with people. For example, He was familiar with the relationship between Jews and Samaritans, and that it was culturally taboo for him to interact with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. He also would have known the historical significance of Jacob’s well and the concern that water he was offering was somehow better than the water from the well of their forefathers.

In the same way, we rely upon the leading of the Holy Spirit to give us inclination and insight about when and to whom we should share the gospel, studying scripture in preparation to have the right passage in mind at the right time. In a world that feels more culturally diverse every day, we need to consider how improving our cultural intelligence gives us favour with those willing to listen to the good news.

Trevor Buehler is the Manager of Global Operations of International Missions for PAOC. He recently completed his Master’s thesis research studying the impact of emotional and cultural intelligence on the work performance of global workers. He and his wife, Julie, have two daughters and are expecting a third.