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How Cultural Intelligence Makes You More Persuasive

One of the most important aspects in business these days is being able to speak to all clients, colleagues, superiors, and business acquaintances with a sense of both compassion and understanding. In 2020, there are many elements to developing this skill and being able to use it naturally, with one element being cultural intelligence.

We are living in a time where employees in any workplace around the world will more than likely have to communicate with people from a different cultural background to them on a regular basis. Understanding how to do this correctly is an incredibly important skill to learn, not just for your benefit, but for the benefit of your business, too.

When it comes down to it, cultural intelligence can make you a much more persuasive negotiator, so it’s certainly a skill worth developing.

What Is Cultural Intelligence?

According to the Harvard Business Review, cultural intelligence is the ability to ‘make sense of unfamiliar contexts and blend in’. This could mean adapting to a person’s cultural beliefs, customs and sensibilities, amongst other things. We should all be developing our cultural intelligence in our daily lives anyway, but what makes it so important in business?

According to Mark Davis, an attorney and founder of The Negotiation Initiative in Birmingham, England, cultural intelligence gives us another lens to look at our collaborators through giving us chance to understand when and when not to negotiate our terms.

“We must focus on when to adapt and when not to adapt our style or approach to our strategy – this is why cultural intelligence is so powerful.”

Cultural intelligence adds a further layer of consideration we must make when negotiating and attempting to be persuasive within our businesses. It gives us a chance to think ‘before reacting to this issue, is there a way I can use cultural intelligence to further understand it?’.

Mark went on to give an example where this may be the case.

“One big negotiation is the lever of time. What cultural intelligence brings to the table is a greater understanding of how, when and, importantly, why you might want to flex your perception of time sensitivity. That’s one of the big cultural negotiation traits.”

“If you have specific deadlines that you’re trying to meet and somebody on the other side seems to be dragging their feet or doesn’t appear to have a sense of urgency, you could look at the behavior and say ‘well, this is disrespectful, they aren’t valuing my time’,” explains Mark.

“But if you increase your cultural intelligence, you can understand where they’re coming from. You might find yourself thinking ‘oh, it’s not that doesn’t respect my time, they’re just operating on a different timeline’. This then becomes a new issue that can be negotiated or at least just acknowledged through the process.”

“Either way, it would be much better than just assuming that it’s disrespectful.”

Mark believes that cultural intelligence will become increasingly powerful in the post-COVID world and could pioneer the way that a lot of successful negotiations happen.

How Can I Use Cultural Intelligence To Be More Persuasive?

Cultural intelligence can make you appear far more persuasive when negotiating for a couple of different reasons.

First of all, it directly impacts the way that you approach issues or problems during negotiations, as demonstrated in the example given by Mark Davis. Too often, negotiations can be called off early or shift to have a more disjointed tone of communication because there is a misunderstanding between the two parties involved – and this may be down to some form of cultural differences.

By using cultural intelligence, you are able to shift your view and see if there is a cultural explanation for the misunderstanding, allowing us to remain open-minded and open to negotiation with our collaborators.

Cultural intelligence also outwardly demonstrates a willingness to adapt and learn from collaborators of different cultural backgrounds, which will be seen as a very attractive quality to a client, collaborator or investor. Increasing your cultural intelligence and utilizing that skill shows a certain level of care and attention that could help secure a partnership or negotiation far more quickly.

Overall, in today’s business landscape, we must all increase our cultural intelligence and utilize this to succeed in an ever-changing world, where we are dealing more and more with clients and collaborators from different backgrounds to our own.


  1. In a World Market context, I appreciate the value and importance of Cultural Intelligence. People prefer to deal with people like them, who are sincere in their understanding of what matters to them. I see the presence of a World Market even in my local community. Global Corporations are represented there. Where and how this works in my local “market place” is a source of curiosity to me. If everyone is trying to be “Culturally relevant” to each other, do we not continue to miss the target to achieving understanding. I embrace what I understand about you culturally while you are embracing what you understand about me (culturally). I interpret you through my culturally relevant filter and become confused about your behavior, language, etc… So my question: Is there room for a concept such a “primary cultural context”? My inclination is to think that the “culture” of my customer should be the “Primary” culture and I would expect the same when I am the customer.

    1. This is a great point and you’re absolutely right. Cultural intelligence becomes a fascinating context when applied to local markets.

      Let’s take Columbus for example. It’s completely appropriate to use the Midwestern cultural lens as the main filter. However, culture is deeper than just location.

      Think about within companies. In larger companies, there are people who are tasked with creating “company culture”. So there may be different cultures within companies that may be located in the same area code. Same with families.

      I think the way we make cultural intelligence relevant locally is by being mindful of the fact that even though we may still operate under the same macro culture, we may not have the same microculture.

      This realization may be overwhelming but here are the simple takeaways:
      1. We need to remain curious in order to learn about the other person and their culture.
      2. We need to be empathetic in order to understand how they see, think, and feel about the situation.

      Cultural intelligence gives us another lens that we can use to analyze behavior and deepen understanding.

      I had a whole episode on it on the Negotiate Anything Podcast. Here’s a link if you’re interested in how to use it to supercharge your relationships in the business world, locally and globally: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/using-cultural-intelligence-to-be-effective-negotiator/id1101679010?i=1000484588313

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