How to Assess Intercultural Sensitivity / ICQ

Anne de Landsheer is a specialist in Intercultural Intelligence – a vitally important aptitude for executives and scientists working across borders and cultures.  Her previous post is Are You Measuring Intercultural Intelligence? .  Here, she speaks with writer Joan Miller.


MILLER:    Anne, how do you assess the ICQ of an executive level candidate? Are there specific tools or instruments you use?

DE LANDSHEER:        This question is about the way that each recruiter manages candidate interviews, considering the position and the core competencies it requires.

First, how could we assess that if we do not know our own “intercultural level” or ICQ? That is why at Peak Lifecycles HR,  (Cornerstone’s member in France) we decided to be trained and certified to know exactly what “cultural competency” means for each of us, in order to well understand what it means for others

As recruiters, we need to be sensitive to the mindsets people have, and we must be able to give fair and “compliant” feedback – that is, feedback that is delivered in an ethical way.

We use a specific Intercultural Quotient Assessment that is powerful and internationally recognized for improving intercultural effectiveness: it provides one of the largest datasets on intercultural competences worldwide.

The assessment helps to better understand how a person currently approaches intercultural interactions, what she does well and what she may find difficult. It identifies the intercultural competences she can develop and train, with four main dimensions and 24 cross items, including:

  • Intercultural Sensitivity: How aware are we of different perspectives and signals?
  • Intercultural Communication: How well do we adapt how we communicate across cultures?
  • Building Commitment: How capable are we of bringing people together around shared goals?
  • Managing Uncertainty: How well do we deal with the uncertainty of intercultural interactions?

Measuring the cultural quotient has become such a crucial prerequisite for recruitment success that we have taken this extra step and also developed a gamified assessment for the recruitment of corporate leaders with diverse teams.

That is what we assess in the general context. But in case a candidate (M/F) needs to know his “cultural profile” enabling him to discover which culture he is the most at ease with, and compare it to another specific one, we also can use a survey that will help people avoid cultural pitfalls that may arise when dealing with people born and raised in other cultures. This tool is used particularly in an ex-pat project


MILLER:  Is an assessment of ICQ important even for roles that don’t require working across international borders?

DE LANDSHEER:      Even if you are not working in an intercultural context, you will find that the competencies described here are essential for executives and teams to turn the challenges of their complex and changing business context into opportunities for innovation.

Intercultural competency is part of a global interview that we assess as soon as a candidate will have to deal with otherness, which is not only interesting but also a potential barrier. Another competency example is Leadership (representing the majority of the first requests for the jobs we recruit in Executive Search). That means that we have to assess the way a candidate actively influences the social environment, integrating different people and personalities, which requires cultural awareness

This also means that we need to understand the degree to which a candidate takes an active interest in others, their needs and perspectives (the candidate’s cultural sensitivity), how he or she relates it in his/her communication (culturally aware communications), and so on.

So: Intercultural Intelligence goes beyond purely geographical criteria. Companies have cultures which are often very distinctive; a person joining a new company spends the first few weeks deciphering its cultural code. Within any large company, there are sparring subcultures as well; for “trivial” and well-known examples: the sales force versus the engineers or researchers, and the marketing managers versus regulatory people.

We clearly see that intercultural assessment should systematically be part of any recruitment interviews for corporate leaders.

Considering a true, complete recruitment interview, the facts are that we don’t have to assess only two or three competencies but how people will be able to “cross manage” several ones. An assessment of ICQ is too often forgotten, done poorly, or misinterpreted.


MILLER:    At what point in the recruiting process do you like to perform an ICQ assessment? Is it part of the initial screening or is it part of the final candidate evaluation?

DE LANDSHEER:   I enjoy this quote from Peter Drucker: “WHAT managers do is the same the world over. HOW they do it is embedded in their tradition and culture.”

Persons with a low degree of behavioral flexibility always act in the same way, even in situations when they meet persons from other cultures. They are unable to consider different alternatives of action in a situation.

They will not deviate from a previously determined behavioral procedure. An inflexible person will not notice the negative effects of their own behavior on others. Thus, they cannot adapt their own behavior to specific situations or take on types of behavior from others.

In interaction with people of other mindset, ideas, way of working, etc., it is not possible to achieve goals effectively without taking into consideration the behavior considered ‘normal’ in the immediate environment, and the expectations one’s partner has of what ‘good’ behavior is.

It is therefore necessary to be flexible and to a certain degree able to adapt to the immediate environment to achieve cooperation and understanding: that is also intercultural “intelligence.”

That is the reason why we recommend an ICQ assessment as soon as a profile will have high-stakes interaction with any interlocutor. Because each of us is unique, there will always remain differences.

We use it once we have validated the hard skills background, that is to say for the second step of our assessment about “soft skills”.


MILLER:  Can ICQ be nurtured and developed through coaching?

DE LANDSHEER:    Specifically in this situation: persons with a low degree of tolerance for ambiguity experience unstructured and ambiguous situations as unpleasant and threatening. They either try to avoid such situations or to get out of them as soon as possible. If this is impossible, they feel visibly uncomfortable, misinterpret unclear situations, and simplify ambiguities

When trying to solve such problems, they often neglect a part of the problem and search for simple solutions. When confronted with contradictory and ambiguous opinions, they search for a compromise and prefer a very clear and definite way of proceeding.

This is the main “lack” that we want to develop and, yes, it can be improved through Intercultural coaching.

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