Raise Your Cultural Intelligence


Back home, coming late is tolerable. It doesn’t matter who comes first. Since the relationship is valued more than time, none of us make coming late a big deal. We smile and hug each other affectionately and continue our business.

In the US, coming late for work is considered a sign of unprofessionalism and has severe consequences. Outside of work, arriving late damages relationships since being late is perceived as disrespectful.

Interestingly, many of my friends from Ethiopia and Africa compartmentalize their time here in the US. They arrive on time for their job and formal business affairs but treat time casually in social gatherings. You may get an invitation stating at what time the meeting starts. Unless you have lots of spare time to spend, you don’t come on time as stated on the letter or flyer. The event may start two hours late.

While doing my doctoral degree, I had a Nigerian classmate (2009 – 2013). Whenever we wanted to meet, we used to ask one another, is this African time or American? If it’s African time, we don’t fix the time. One of us may be in the library or coffee shop working on schoolwork, and the other person just stops by within the time range we agreed. If it’s American time, we fix the start and end times. We come and leave on time.


In Ethiopia, we use non-verbal communication heavily. On the other hand, people dominantly use explicit verbal communication in the US (and other individual cultures). If you explicitly talk about yourself, your accomplishments, qualifications, experiences, and needs in communal cultures, you may be labeled as egotistical and selfish. On the contrary, if you don’t communicate verbally, explicitly, and express your needs, aspirations, and experiences in an individual culture, you may be regarded as shy and lacking confidence.


I used to share a bed, clothes, and shoes with my relatives and friends. It is common to find yourself going to one of your friend’s homes, and if it rains by the time you leave, you pick up the umbrella of your friend on your way out without asking permission. If you ask, it offends your host. They may feel that you distanced yourself. It doesn’t show intimacy and brotherhood/sisterhood. In the US, people

are mindful of their spaces. You’re expected to respect other people’s boundaries. You cannot just grab and take someone’s stuff without risking being viewed as rude or, worst, a thief.

Nonetheless, understanding the difference between the two primary cultural divides is the beginning of a long journey. We need to increase our cultural intelligence. With increased cultural intelligence comes understanding of where people come from and refraining from judging others based on how they treat time, communicate, and handle space…”

Taken from: Soft Skills That Make or Break Your Success, p. 212 – 214. https://www.successpws.com/soft-skills-that-make-or-break-your-success