Cultural Intelligence + Communications

Monday, April 3, 2017 10:26 am PDT



Amy White, Vice President of Marketing Communiations, Avery Dennison Label and Graphic Materials Worldwide

In September last year I did an online course, through, on cultural intelligence. So when we were planning content for our upcoming communications symposium I suggested that we included cultural intelligence on the agenda.

Communication Symposium 2017

Fast forward a few months and I found myself struggling to write the presentation. It suddenly felt slightly ironic to me that I would present to an audience of over ten different nationalities on how to be more culturally intelligent. Feeling uncomfortable I started to think about culture itself and how to define it.

My first automatic thought was to link culture to country - that culture is largely impacted by where you are born. But having enjoyed several insight sessions with the future laboratory ( recently I already knew enough about demographic changes that would suggest that this was no longer as relevant. I then read through the BBC Globe Scan report and learned that the majority of respondents now state that their culture is not defined by where they were born and that there are now a record number of people living outside of their country - 232 Million estimated, globally.

So the next thought for me - was that perhaps culture is largely defined by your age. But then what is age? Can you really group people that way? Are people now not saying that millennial is a mindset and not an age group? Whilst researching this I found the work of Martin Farrell - where he uses three videos to question what is identity - and challenges if demographics can really be used to determine who you are. His work demonstrates that you, with the very best intentions, can still make incorrect assumptions on people, based on how they appear.

The more I read into culture, particularly in relation to communications, the more it fascinated me. It has become clearer to me that perhaps you can no longer clearly define culture at all. That culture is really a mix of multiple inputs and therefore is pretty unique to individuals or very specific groups. That within an organization, as within a country, there are multiple cultures. It is pretty obvious really - but one that communicators still overlook today - preferring to speak of collective audiences - employees, shareholders, customers and so on.

So I changed the topic of the presentation from "Cultural Intelligence and the impact to communications" to "Cultural intelligence" and used the opportunity to engage our team of communicators in a discussion - not only on culture in general - but about their cultures - and the incorrect assumptions people make of them as individuals - and those that we make of our audiences. In a very short time we learned things about ourselves - that many meetings and nights in the bar had not revealed - and I like to think that we encouraged each other to keep listening and learning. I know I will.

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Cultural Intelligence