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Happy 2014, Readers! I hope the year is off to a good start for you.

Here’s a New Years question to get your global minds going: What does it mean to have the highest level of cultural intelligence?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a way exists to scientifically measure your intercultural sensitivity. The IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) places you on a scale that looks like this…

IDI Scale


The IDI measures up to Adaptation (rather than Integration), but people who place on the far right side of the scale are rare. That observation leads me back to something that happened three days into the new year. The details of the story have been changed to protect confidentiality but the message remains the same.

I was coaching an expatriate (we’ll call him David) who had been in the United States for three months. He had lived abroad three times before and grown up in multicultural environments. David had a delightful but direct personality and was well suited for his job, which required him to make quick decisions about risk management. He had been struggling with a colleague (we’ll call him Randy) who seemed to be much more risk averse and indirect in his communication than my client. David’s frustration with Randy had reached its zenith when a fast, high-impact decision needed to be made before market conditions changed.

David said to me, “I know I’m from another culture and maybe I’m doing something wrong when talking to this guy, but I know I’m right about the market decision!” It turned out he was.

When I showed David the IDI scale he asked me, “What does it take to be on the far right side? What is Adaptation? Does that mean I need to adapt to this guy, even when I know I’m right?”

I have found this to be a common misconception. Many people believe that to be at the highest level of cultural intelligence you must always learn to adapt to other cultures. In reality, Adaptation is defined as the ability to not only recognize and appreciate cultural differences and similarities, but to shift your behavior where culturally appropriate without being inauthentic to yourself.

In my opinion, that last part is what makes people in Adaptation so rare. This balance is not easy to achieve. I told David the expat client that he may need to adjust how he was expressing his views to his colleague. If David gave serious consideration to all sides and still felt that strongly about his decision, he should stand by that choice. But to reach Randy, David needed to soften his tone, scale back his direct, debating style, and give Randy a chance to have his concerns heard. That’s Adaptation.

How do we move ourselves toward Adaptation? How do we ensure that hidden biases or knowledge gaps aren’t holding us back? I will be exploring these questions in future blogs, so stay tuned.

The first step I would suggest, however, is this: Study and reflect upon your own core values. Know what you hold near and dear to your heart. Consider writing them down. This will give you the starting point for understanding others and negotiating with them if needed for the best mutual outcome. And take the IDI!

Happy 2014 and rock on!

To learn more about taking the IDI, click here:

Vicki Flier Hudson

Vicki Flier Hudson

Vicki Flier Hudson, Chief Collaboration Officer for Highroad Global Services, Inc. inspires people to leverage the full power of differences. She has helped countless large-sized corporations establish successful operations across the globe and build bridges across cultures, distance, and time.

One Comment

  • I appreciate your clarification about the IDI scale. As a Peace Corps volunteer just at the beginning of my service, I am now starting to work closely with host-country colleagues, and it is important to me that there is mutual respect as relationships develop, but I don’t want to sacrifice the opportunity to initiate changes just because of cultural differences in how tasks are accomplished. I think it is a good suggestion (which I plan to implement in the near future) to develop a baseline for my core values, and then move forward from there. Thanks!

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