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Cultural Intelligence in Thai Society

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4987 words Published: 31st Jul 2018

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The purpose of this article was to explain and discuss cultural intelligence in Thai society where Buddhism plays a very important role to daily life of Thai people. Cultural intelligence is important can be helpful for individuals who interact with people from different cultural backgrounds and help for manage effectively culture differences. According to the model Thomas and Inkson (2004), the development of cultural intelligence occurs in five stages are reactivity, recognition, accommodation, assimilation, and proactive. There are three characteristics to increase cultural intelligence including integrity, openness, and hardiness. These characteristics look similarly in Thai culture factors. As Buddhism plays a very important role in the daily life of the Thai people. Since about 95% of the people in the kingdom of Thailand are Buddhist Therefore, Thai society or Thai people have basic from Buddha core teaching which helps people in everywhere to become more to develop cultural intelligence.

Keywords: cultural intelligence (CQ), development cultural intelligence, Thai society


In the recent year cultural intelligence (CQ) has been introduced into the global business literature (Earley, 2002; Earley & Ang, 2003). This concept is meant to reflect the capability to deal effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. The ability interacts effectively with people who are culturally different. Globalization has been accelerated by a host of factors in the international business environment, including the following: New international trade agreement the growth of international trade the growth of multinational corporations the restructuring and downsizing of organizations the privatization of state enterprise the ability to locate business, particularly manufacturing, wherever cost it lowest the ability to execute financial transactions instantaneously on a global basis the transition of command economies to free markets the expansion of international migration the ability of information and communication technology to transcend time and distance (Thomas & Inkson, 2004).

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Although international commerce may have existed for many years ago, it is only in the past few years that globalization has such a broad effect on business. Until recently only a few very large multinational companies were concerned with foreign operations. For most firms business was largely local, tried closely to the city or region in which they were located, and certainly limited to the confines of the country. Now, business extends across all manner of porous boundaries—some of which have become so porous they have almost ceased to exist—across the entire globe. Even very small firms now have the capability to be global. With a computer, a modem, and telephone connection it is possible to be a global business almost instantaneously. Because of globalization, the environment of business is now more complex, more dynamic, more uncertain, and more competitive than ever before. And there is no evidence that these trends will reverse or decrease (Thomas & Inkson, 2004).

Globalization of people is the result of dramatic shifts that have taken place in economics, politics, and technology. However, the day-to-day reality of global business involves interactions and relationships with people who are culturally different. In business today, we travel overseas among people from other cultures, we speak with them on international telephone calls, and we correspond with them be e-mail. Even in our home cities, we notice that more and more of our colleagues, our clients, and even the people we pass in the street are observable from cultures different from our own. The trend is inexorable. The range of different cultural backgrounds in huge; colleagues, business associates, and contacts probable represent countries or ethnic groups from all over the world. Johansen and McLean (2006) said that:

Globalization, communications technology, immigration, an increased focus on religion and spirituality, and the ease of both domestic and international travel offer an opportunity to work, learn, and interact with people whose backgrounds differ from our own. To be effective, HRD practitioners must recognize how cultural background, assumptions, and view of the world influence an understanding. (P. 1)

Culture can be seen as shaping the nature of social structures as they grow and adapt (Hofstede, 1991). Earley, Ang, and Tan (2006) suggested that “cultural intelligence as operating within a diversity context consisting of at least three layers – individual, team, and organization” (p. 168). As mention above, Earley (2002) concluded that it is a challenge to create suitable behavior in a new cultural setting that makes cultural intelligence unique.

What is exactly cultural intelligence look like? How to improve cultural intelligence? Thomas and Inkson (2004) suggested three characteristics to increase cultural intelligence including integrity, openness, and hardiness. They also describe that culturally intelligent people see the connections between a culture and its context, history, and value orientations. People realize that knowledge of the culture of a country or region is only valuable in the context of understanding its religious, philosophical, and historical issues.

All of these inspire the author to think about what does the relationship between cultural intelligence in my home county, Thailand. Thai culture has been greatly influenced by Buddhism. Thai culture is often known as “Thai-Buddhist culture” (Dhirvegin, 1998, p. 13). Buddhism plays a very important role in the daily life of the Thai people. Since about 95% of the people in the kingdom of Thailand are Buddhist (Chadchaidee, 2005). Do any Thai people really need to develop cultural intelligence? If yes, what kinds of cultural intelligence that Thai people needed?

Purpose of the article

This article is aims to explain and discus about cultural intelligence issue especially in Thai society. In order to clearly understanding, the author will present the concept of cultural intelligence, Thai culture and society, Buddhist core teaching will be discussed.

Cultural Intelligence Issue

There are many scholars define cultural intelligence (Earley, 2002; Early & Ang, 2003; Earley, Ang & Tan, 2006; Erley & Mosakowski, 2004; Earley & Peterson, 2004; Tomas, 2006; Thomas & Inkson, 2004). In this section, the author will present an overview of cultural intelligence that including definition of cultural intelligence, components of cultural intelligence, characteristics supportive of cultural intelligence, and developmental stages of cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence, one component of cultural competence, is defined as “a person’s capability to adapt effectively to new cultural contexts” (Earley & Ang, 2003, p. 59). More specifically, cultural intelligence is “a seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would and colleagues would, even to mirror them” (Earley & Mosakowaski, 2004, p. 140). Cultural intelligence captures a person’s capability to adapt effectively to new cultural contexts and it has both process and content features (Earley & Ang, 2003; Thomas & Inkson, 2004).

Similar to earlier definitions, Thomas and Inkson (2004) present the three component of cultural intelligence. 

According to the Figure 1, Thomas and Inkson (2004) described at first, the culturally intelligent manger requires knowledge of culture and of the fundamental principles of cross-cultural interactions. This means knowing what culture is how cultures vary, and how culture affects behavior. Second, the culturally intelligent manager needs to practice mindfulness, the ability to pay attention in a reflective and creative way to cues in the cross-cultural situations encountered. The last, based on knowledge and mindfulness, the culturally intelligent manager develops behavioral skills, and becomes competent across a wide range of situations. These skills involve choosing the appropriate behavior from a well-developed repertoire of behaviors that are correct for different intercultural situations.

All of three elements are interrelated with the other. This knowledge is only the beginning to becoming culturally intelligent. Cultural intelligence involves understanding the fundamentals of intercultural interaction, developing a mindfulness approach to intercultural interactions and finally building adaptive skills and a repertoire of behaviors so that one is effective in different intercultural situations.

If we accept the notion that cultural intelligence is learned over time through intercultural interactions we can also envision that individuals pass through various stages of development in their level of cultural intelligence. Thomas and Inkson (2004 pp. 66-68) presented five stages to develop cultural intelligence including: Stage 1: Reactivity to external stimuli. A starting point is mindlessly following one's own cultural rules and norms. This stage is typical of individuals with very little exposure to, or interest in, other cultures. Parochial individuals do not even recognize that cultural differences exist. If they do, they consider them inconsequential. People at this stage of development can be heard to say things like “I don't see differences..., and I treat everyone the same.”. Stage 2: Recognition of other cultural norms and motivation to learn more about them. Experience and mindfulness produce a newfound awareness of the multicultural mosaic that surrounds us. A heightened sense of mindfulness presents a sometimes-overwhelming amount of new information Curiosity is aroused, and the individual wants to lean more. People at this stage often struggle to sort through the complexity of the cultural environment. They search for simple rules of thumb to guide their behavior. Stage 3: Accommodation of other culture norms and rules in one's own mind. Reliance on absolutes disappears. A deeper understanding of cultural variation begins to develop. The cultural norms and rules of various societies begin to seem comprehensible and even reasonable in their context. The recognition of appropriate behavioral responses to different cultural situations develops; however, only fairly obvious cues are attended to, and adaptive behavior takes a lot of effort and is often awkward. People at this stage know what to say and do in a variety of cultural situations. However, they have to think about it, and adaptive behavior does not feel natural. Stage 4: Assimilation of diverse cultural norms into alternative behaviors. At this stage adjusting to different situations no longer requires much effort. Individuals develop a repertoire of behaviors from which they can choose depending on the specific cultural situation. They actively experiment with new behavior. They function in a number of different cultures almost effortlessly and with no more stress than if they were in their home culture- Members of other cultures accept them as culturally knowledgeable and feel comfortable interacting with them. They feel at home, almost anywhere, Stage 5: Proactivity in cultural behavior based on recognition of changing cues that others do not perceive. People who are highly culturally intelligent have the ability, through continuous sampling of internal states and external cues, to sense changes in cultural context, sometimes even before members of the other culture. They are so attuned to the nuances of intercultural interactions that they almost automatically adjust their behavior to anticipate these changes and facilitate better intercultural interactions among others. They seem to intuitively know what behaviors are required and how to execute them effectively. Individuals at this stage of development may be quite rare; however, it is a level of cultural intelligence to which we all might aspire.

Griffer and Perlis (2007) stated that the development of cultural intelligence begins with a study of self and the awareness that everyone has a multi-perspective identity. Many people look into a mirror and describe themselves on the basis of what they see and subsequently describe others in the same way. Looking into that mirror, we see characteristics that can be easily described as race. Multi-perspective identity is defined as “characteristics of our identity that enable each individual to view reality through specific perspectives based upon ability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class” (Perlis, 2001 p. 11). This concept can certainly incorporate other forms of difference that comprise one’s identity; however, the definition for our work addressing the development of cultural intelligence will focus on these basic cultural characteristics. As pre-service we begin to see themselves as multi-perspective individuals and understand the interrelationships between these forms of their identity, they will develop cultural intelligence.

Thomas & Inkson (2004) suggested the possession or development of these underlying characteristics – integrity, openness, and hardiness – can support acquisition of a cultural intelligence easier. Integrity is “having a well-developed sense of self and understanding how one’s own belief system motivates behavior” (Thomas & Inkson, 2004 p. 65). People differ in the ways they describe our inner self cannot be directly known by other people. It is important for us to have an honest understanding of ourselves. Openness is “showing deferential respect and a willingness to learn from others” (Thomas & Inkson, 2004 p. 65). It is mean inquisitiveness particularly about people from different cultures. Hardiness is “robustness, courage, intrepidness, and capability of surviving unfavorable conditions. If we are hardy we can cope with stress, recover from shocks, and perceive stressful events as interesting and meaningful and as an opportunity for growth and learning. ” (Thomas & Inkson, 2004 p. 65).

In summary, Cultural intelligence is a person’s aptitude to task successfully with people from different culture background and understanding. Cultural intelligence has three component of cultural intelligence include with knowledge, mindfulness, and behavior. The development of cultural intelligence occurs in five stages are reactivity, recognition, accommodation, assimilation, and proactive. Finally, the author present three characteristics to increase cultural intelligence including integrity, openness, and hardiness can support acquisition of a cultural intelligence. The next section the author will present about Thai culture and society.

Thai Culture and Society

Thailand is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia with Bangkok as the capital city. Thailand spreads out over 513,115 square kilometers of land and stretches some 1,620 kilometers from north to south and 775 kilometers from east to west. Thailand is divided into four natural regions: the north, northeast, the central plain, and the south. The Kingdom, a society that is also free, cohesive, and open, remains one of the most attractive places in the world to visit and conduct business. Buddhism is the faith of approximately 95 percent of the population (About Thailand, 2007).

Today, Thai people share a rich ethnic diversity, Mon, Khmer, Tai, Chinese, Malay, Laotian, and Indian stock, with the result that there is no typically Thai. About 80% of all Thais are connected in some way with agriculture, which influences and is influenced by the religious ceremonies and festivals that help make Thailand such a distinctive country (UNDP: Thailand Human Development Report, 2007).

It should be noted that the concepts of Thai culture are mostly similar to Buddhist principle. Buddhist principles are pragmatic (Payutto, 2003) as we can see from one of the teachings about pairs that though little he recites the Sacred Texts, but put the precepts into practice, forsaking lust, hatred and delusion, with right knowledge, with mind well freed, cling to nothing here or hereafter, he has a share in religious life (Wannapok, 1988).

There are the main ideas of Buddhism are contained in the statements known as The Noble Eightfold Path and the Middle Way. Truth defines the Buddhist way of life and contains ail the ethical teaching and practices of Buddhism. It provides the way and means to attain the goal as set forth in the third Truth. This way is called the Noble Eightfold Path as it consists of eight factors as show in Table 1.

Table 1: The Noble Eightfold Path as it corresponds to the Threefold Training

The Threefold Training

The Noble Eightfold Path

‘Panna’ or Wisdom

Right View

Right Thought

‘Sila’ or Morality

Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood

‘Samadhi’ or Meditation

Right Effort

Right Mindfulness

Right Concentration.

Knietim (2009) suggested that Right View is means to see and to understand things as they really. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. Right Thought is the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. It can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Right Speech is importance of speech can save lives or break, make friends or enemies. Right Action is expression and involves bodily actions. Right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Right Livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. Right effort is mental energy, it is the force behind right effort. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right mindfulness is the ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualization in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Right Concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations

The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles that have to be seen in relationship with each other. The eight factors of the Path are therefore organized into a system called the Threefold Training of morality (comprising the Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood factors), concentration or thought development (comprising the Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration factors), and wisdom (consisting of the Right View, and Right Thought factors) (Chanchamnong, 2003).

One of the most complex values in Thai culture is “The concept of Kreng Jai”. It is very difficult for foreigners to understand. This concept is the concept of being “considerate”. Komin asserts that this concept underlies a significant portion of everyday interpersonal behavioral patterns of the Thais (Komin, 1990). She further explained that:

Its closest meaning is to be considerate, to feel reluctant to impose upon another person, to take another person's feelings (and 'ego') into account, or to take every measure not to cause discomfort or inconvenience for another person. Kreng jai refers to such attitude predisposing to one's resulting behavior towards someone else. Kreng jai behavior is to be observed by all, superiors, equals, and inferiors, including intimate relationships like husband-wife, and close friends, with differences in degree. (pp. 161-162)

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In general, Thai people helps others people without expecting any return or any compensation. At the same time the person who receives help will feel indebted to the helper and he will remember that and try to repay or return the favor at a later date. This is one of culture factor called “The concept of helping each other” (Joungtrakul, 2008). One of the most important in Thai society is the concept of ‘Bunkhun’. Thai people deeply and will be quite difficult to change. There are limitations in applying this concept as it may go beyond proper practice. However, to ignore or to delete it from a model would be difficult and may cause some problems in practice. Its removal could do more harm than good.

There is no doubt Buddhism has a conscious significant role in the everyday Thai life. With regard to religious activities, likewise, the Thai are constantly engaged in merit-makings, and numerous other religious ceremonies. These activities are religious rituals. And as a Buddhist country, there are such activities to perform all year round, at home, at work, and in the community. Komin (1990) described that Thai people are sympathetic to others and it becomes the nature of the Thais in general. The application of this concept will create cooperative attitudes and collective efforts by the two parties to achieve common goals. Thai people also practice this concept in their daily lives and the phase of ‘meet half way’ is understandable by the Thais. This concept calls “The concept of compromising”.

As the Thai culture is a “Thai-Buddhism culture” (Dhiravegin, 1998, p.l3), the middle path is a way of life for a Thai. Thais are compromising in nature and try to avoid any explicit confrontation. Thais follow the Buddhist principles of helping all people. This is usually done by joining in constructively creating social harmony and unity according to the four principles of helpful integration (Sangaha-Vatthu), which are: (1) Dana: giving, sharing (helping through money material goods); (2) Piyavaca: amicable speech (helping through words); (3) Atthacariy: helpful action (helping through physical effort); (4) Samarattata: participation (helping through problem solving) (Payutto, 2000 p.7).

Buddhism Role’s and Cultural Intelligence in Thai Society

According to three characteristic of Thomas and Inkson concept, there are integrity, openness, and hardiness which can support acquisition of a cultural intelligence. They explain that ‘Integrity’ is having a well-developed sense of self and understanding how one’s own belief system motivates behavior. ‘Openness’ is showing deferential respect and a willingness to learn from others. ‘Hardiness’ is robustness, courage, intrepidness, and capability of surviving unfavorable conditions. In the view point of the author, these three characteristic of develop cultural intelligence relate to some part of Buddha’s core teaching that show in Table 2.

Characteristics to improve cultural intelligence relate to Buddha’s core teachings


Buddha’s core teachings


Chanda: the will or aspiration. This is compatible with the faith that leads to achieving wisdom (Chanchamnong, 2003, Payutto, 2003).


Citta: Thoughtfulness, i.e. making a conscious effort to think analytically in order to achieve the right views (Chanchamnong, 2003, Payutto, 2003).


Viriya: the effort, the energy which one exerts in the right way to accomplish the right view (Chanchamnong, 2003, Payutto, 2003).

According to Table 2 shown the relationship between the three characteristics to improve cultural intelligence relate to Buddha’s core teachings is very closely. For the stages of cultural intelligence development, from literature review and compare between cultural intelligence concept of Thomas and Inkson (2004) with Buddhist principle concept especially as shown Table 2. The author beliefs that in Thai society, Thai people will be getting into develop stage of cultural intelligence with not too different. In fact the Buddha core teaching trains the people go to be the good person like other religion, help each other’s sympathy and support the society. Indeed, the Buddha core teaching focus in human resource development specially begins from self development, physical and mentor. That is mean the people who develop their own self will gain more cultural intelligence.


Cultural intelligence is important for individuals who interact with people from different countries, religious background – those with different cultural backgrounds. Cultural intelligence is a person’s aptitude to task successfully with people from different culture background and understanding. According to three characteristic of Thomas and Inkson concept, there are integrity, openness, and hardiness which can support acquisition of a cultural intelligence. They explain that ‘Integrity’ is having a well-developed sense of self and understanding how one’s own belief system motivates behavior. ‘Openness’ is showing deferential respect and a willingness to learn from others. ‘Hardiness’ is robustness, courage, intrepidness, and capability of surviving unfavorable conditions. Three characteristic of develop cultural intelligence have relate to Buddhist core teaching.

Indeed, the Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to right happiness. Buddhism in Thailand is strongly influenced by traditional beliefs regarding ancestral and natural spirits. Therefore, Buddha ways can help Thai people to develop a repertoire of behavioral skills appropriate to different intercultural situations and will be able to choose the right ones for a given interaction. The Thai word say “Khao mueng tar-lew, tong lew-tar tarm”, the meaning in English is “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” as a great cultural intelligence.


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