The Internet and faster modes of travel have made the world a global village. Now it is possible to communicate beyond boundaries at the click of a button.
Video-conferencing, short messaging services and e-mail have created an environment where information is transferred almost immediately.
We are now in a new realm of human endeavour and existence. From the comfort of your office or home, you have the ability to talk to someone in the far-reaching corners of the world.
Many companies and organisations are now welcoming foreign talent to join them and contribute towards the achievement of their goals.
When you work in such a culturally diverse environment, it is sometimes easy to forget that the people you are communicating with have different perspectives and perceptions from yours.
Therefore, it is important that you develop a level of cultural intelligence to learn how you can engage positively with people from different cultures.
When educational pioneer Howard Gardner wrote his defining book Multiple Intelligence in the 1970s, he identified seven basic intelligences that humans have.
However, he did not discount the fact that there may be other forms of intelligence as well which are yet to be discovered. In this context, cultural intelligence is an apt addition to the list.
Developing and enhancing your cultural intelligence will make you more sensitive and empathetic to people of different cultures whom you may have to work with.
As deaf and blind American author, activist and lecturer Helen Keller puts it: "The highest result of education is tolerance."
Developing your cultural intelligence will also exponentially improve your level of tolerance to differences through higher understanding.
You can boost your cultural intelligence by developing the following qualities:
It is a natural human process to stereotype people into different categories.
Although stereotyping sometimes allows you to have a general profile of a person, it can lead to assumptions that are unjustified and damaging.
People from different cultures have their own set of beliefs and practices that might conflict with your own.
The best thing to do is try to find out more about such beliefs and practices to understand why some people think or act the way they do. Learn to judge a person on his merits rather than from a cultural perspective.
Develop a sense of awareness and acceptance of the habits and practices of people from other cultures.
Remember that your attitude towards a person from a different culture will also determine how that person perceives you.
You learn new skills related to your job, and cultivate soft skills like communication and emotional intelligence.
You should make some attempt to learn about different cultures as well. This is easier than ever today, as a wealth of information is available at a click of the mouse.
The Internet is an amazing knowledge database. Use it to learn about some of the cultural behaviours of the different kinds of people that you work with. You will pick up some interesting points that might be very useful to you as you grow in cultural intelligence and sensitivity.
Find common ground
Although there are some cultures that may seem very diverse and totally different from your own, remember that as humans, we share some basic needs and aspirations.
Finding such common ground helps you to have a better understanding of the other person as well as to break down barriers in communication.
Talk to your colleagues from other cultures to get to know them better, and encourage them to talk to you.
Refrain from being judgmental in your assessment of some of their practices and values, as this will create psychological barriers to effective integration.
Food is at the core of a culture and is therefore a great way of finding out more about someone from another country. Every culture has its unique dishes and delicacies.
Since you are living in a cultural melting pot like Singapore, try a dish that is foreign to you. You might enjoy the experience and make new friends in the process.
Ultimately, developing cultural intelligence is all about attitude. It is an opportunity to leave your narrow-mindedness behind and engage positively with others who are not like you.
What a dull world it would be if everyone were the same. If you can do this successfully, both you and the other person will be enriched by the experience.
As English cleric and author Robert South said: "Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together."