Using the 5Hs to Be Culturally Intelligent in International Business

by Fernando Sanchez-Arias and Catherine Knotts (*)

ATD2016-RosettaStone-Guest-Blogging-Series-web - CopyIn an increasingly multicultural world, we are exposed to situations in which we interact with people from cultures different from our own. No matter if it is the new neighbor coming from another country, your manager or colleague whose faith is different to yours, or the Asian or Middle Eastern customer with whom you are conducting a project, most of us are increasingly surrounded by people with different cultures and languages and these differences can create clashes and dilemmas which, if not managed wisely, can lead to social and professional failure.

How does one avoid these cultural and linguistic challenges in order to achieve success when interacting with people from other cultures? Experts such as Harry Triandis, David C. Thomas, Christopher Early, Ann Soon, Linn Van Dyne and David Livermore, say the answer is to develop Cultural Intelligence (CQ), defined as the malleable ability of a person to effectively behave in situations and interactions of cultural diversity.

According to these experts, the IQ (cognitive intelligence) and EQ (emotional intelligence) are not enough to be successful in cross-border and cross-cultural business. Cultural barriers, like different languages, values and customs, often create situations where the experience and skills which make you successful within one culture might jeopardize your success in another. To work around and through these cultural pit falls, one must develop a strategic awareness and astuteness that goes beyond IQ and EQ.

After learning experiences and business trips in more than 70 countries, we have found you can be more effective in intercultural business relationships when you master five domains we call the “5H”.

  • (1) Head: This represents the intellectual domain, how we learn and think, how we acquire knowledge of our culture and the other cultures with which we interact in order to know how we, and the people we work with, negotiate, work and live, using our logic and creativity to design a strategy.
  • (2) Heart: This domain is about emotions and moods, requires the ability to identify our emotions and those of others in order to regulate reactions and work towards achieving harmony in interactions with those from other cultures.
  • (3) Hands: The physical domain invites us to identify the body language, space and vital distance between people, the type of clothing accepted and the appropriate speed and rhythm of physical movement that is established and suggested in our culture and in other cultures.
  • (4) Holiness: The spiritual domain is all about how differences between religions, faith and spiritual beliefs can affect intercultural interaction, particularly when dogmas or religious practices are embedded in social and labor behavior, demanding us to show respect, acceptance and tolerance for beliefs different from our own.
  • (5) Habitat: this contextual domain is where the previous four domains are combined into a strategy of action, allowing us to demonstrate in an observable and concrete way the knowledge (head), emotions (heart), behaviors (body) and spiritual connection (holiness) in order to ensure the effectiveness of the working cultural interactions.

Mastering these five domains allows us to reduce cultural clashes and resolve dilemmas naturally generated in situations of cultural diversity.

Another important factor in working towards cross-cultural intelligence is learning to speak the language of other cultures. Language, and the learning of it, inherently embodies the 5H: we learn vocabulary, grammar and structure with cognitive processes (head); modulate and energize the verbal expression with our emotions (heart); express the messages verbally and physically with the body (hands); it is inspired and linked to the spirituality of faith (connection); and it is implemented in the contexts in which we interact with others (habitat). In our experience, one understands deeper and more extensively a different culture when they achieve a working knowledge of the native language.

Mastering the 5Hs in conjunction with language allows us to cultivate a type of intelligence that is increasingly strategic in a world of international volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

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(*) About the Authors

Fernando Sanchez-Arias - HeadshotFernando Sanchez-Arias is an PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program student.

He has served multinational companies and organizations in more than 70 countries.

He is the Corporate Director and Chief Learning Officer (CLO) of an oil & gas manufacturing business group and founder of MEJORAR, a cross-cultural leadership and intelligence center.


Catherine Knotts - HeadshotCatherine Knotts is graduate in English from The University of Colorado and has a solid experience in quality management and document control for manufacturing companies.

She is a Certified Learning Facilitator and the academic editor of the US-Mexico LEAP, the Leaders & Executives Accelerated Program of the United States – Mexico Chamber of Commerce.


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