The effects of personality and cultural intelligence on international assignment effectiveness: a review.

Author:Kumar, Naresh


Globalization is quickly becoming a permanent fixture in today's business environment. Accordingly, the effectiveness of international assignment is becoming important source for competitive advantage for many organizations. Prior research has indicated that cross-cultural adjustment played significant roles for effectiveness in the international assignment among the expatriates. Despite growing interest in the expatriate management, many gaps hang about in understanding the diverse factors affecting expatriate cross-cultural adjustment and job performance. It is believed that cultural intelligence (CQ) represents an essential intercultural capacity that is crucial for expatriates working on international assignments within the contemporary organizations. Yet, awareness of the CQ's significance for international assignment effectiveness still remains at an early stage. Responding to this need, this article highlights the theoretical based predictions for relationships between personality traits, CQ and cross-cultural effectiveness, specifically adjustment and job performance.

Theoretical development and propositions: The concept of CQ represents an individuals capability for successful adaptation to new and unfamiliar cultural settings and ability to function easily and effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity (3), (22). CQ is composed of mental (meta-cognitive and cognitive), motivational and behavioral components. The mental component of CQ refers to the skills needed to conceptualize a new culture and develop patterns from cultural cues, meta-cognitive CQ relates to the processes used to acquire and understand cultural knowledge and cognitive CQ is general knowledge about culture and cultural differences. Motivational CQ goes beyond recognizing cultural differences and deals with the motivation behind cognitive processes and cognitive knowledge, it reflects the interest in engaging others and the desire to adapt to the other culture. Lastly, the behavioral aspect involves the capability to engage in adaptive behaviors in accordance with cognition and motivation.

Accordingly, because individuals higher in CQ can more easily navigate and understand unfamiliar cultures, theoretically, they are expected to be more effective during their international assignment. However, due perhaps to the relative newness of the CQ construct, even though it is sufficiently refined so that research is growing, theoretical development of the role CQ may play in expatriate adjustment and job performance has been limited. Moreover, it is still unclear whether or not different CQ dimensions are more important to the prediction of adjustment and job performance than others hence we examine the four dimensions separately in our proposed research framework. Since the four dimensions of CQ are qualitatively different facets of the overall capability to function and manage effectively in culturally diverse settings (22), we focus on CQ as an aggregate multidimensional construct (3) when developing the theoretical framework and make specific propositions.

Another related gap exists in our knowledge of CQ construct. Although it is important to understand outcomes of CQ, it is also important to examine antecedents of CQ. Unfortunately, given the novelty of the concept, it is not fully understood why some individuals might experience greater CQ than others. A diverse set of individual difference constructs could be related to CQ (1). This examination advances the study by exploring the effects of personality traits on CQ. However, being the only study that examines the effects of personality traits on CQ and the use of unrepresented sample, for example the MBA students has triggers for new research in this area. In considering why some people are more culturally intelligent than others, it is useful to examine whether individual differences in personality traits predispose individuals to possess varying levels of CQ. Moreover, the existing expatriate literature has shown that personality differences often account for variations in expatriate cross-cultural adjustment and job performance (12), (40), (43), (47), (53).


In this article, we attempt to provide a comprehensive understanding of personality and CQ's contributions on international assignment effectiveness. For this purpose, a thorough search of journal articles, research studies, doctoral dissertations, World Wide Web (WWW) and books were done. Drawing on evolutionary personality psychology, social learning, social support, management stress and work-role transition theories, we developed a comprehensive model that encompasses the interrelationships among expatriate personality, CQ, expatriate adjustment and expatriate job performance (Fig. 1). Finally, we discuss the uniqueness of the CQ construct in relation to other non-academic intelligence (e.g., emotional intelligence and social intelligence) in explaining variance in expatriate cross-cultural adjustment and job performance. More specifically, our discussion was divided into eight sections and each section encompasses relevant literature to support the development of the framework as well as the research propositions.



After reviewing core aspects of personality and CQ, the following propositions were formed in support of the simplified theoretical framework (Fig. 1).

  1. Personality has significant influence on expatriate cultural intelligence.

  2. Expatriate's personality has significant influence on expatriate cross-cultural adjustment.

  3. Expatriate personality has significant influence on job performance.

  4. Expatriate cultural intelligence has significant influence on cross-cultural adjustment.

  5. Expatriate cultural intelligence has significant influence on job performance.

  6. Expatriate adjustment has significant influence on job performance.

  7. The relationship between CQ, personality and expatriate job performance is mediated by expatriate cross-cultural adjustment.

  8. CQ is distinct from, but positively correlates with EQ and SQ.

The eight propositions projected in this article could significantly facilitate new directions for future research. Indeed, all the propositions could be easily transformed into research hypotheses rather than as statistical hypotheses. For a basic explanation, a research hypothesis predicts the nature of the relationship being examined in rather general, non-quantitative terms; a statistical hypothesis is a translation of the research hypothesis in terms of the statistical parameters of the population being studied.


The influence of personality on cultural intelligence: Prior research on individual differences has distinguished between trait-like constructs and state-like constructs (1). Trait-like individual differences are not task specific or situation and are stable over time (18), which is represent by personality traits in this study. In contrast, state-like individual differences are specific to certain tasks and situations and tend to be malleable over time (e.g., Bandura, 1977). According to (36), trait-like individual differences are more indirect and serve as predictors of proximal state-like individual differences (18), which in this study represent by CQ. Thus, it is proposed that personality characteristics (trait-like individual differences that describe broad and stable predispositions) serve as predictors of CQ (state-like individual differences that describe malleable capabilities to interact effectively with people from different cultures).

According to evolutionary personality psychology, personality traits are universal adaptive mechanisms that have developed and evolved in humans over time as mental solutions to preserve life and reproduction (11). These adaptive mechanisms include [personality characteristics such as] humans ability to learn hierarchies in society (extraversion) their willingness to cooperate (agreeableness) their capacity for reliable work and enduring commitment (conscientiousness) their ability to handle stress (neuroticism or emotional stability) and their propensity for innovation or astuteness in solving problems (openness or intellect) (11), (12). In a similar vein, it was expected that since CQ involves the ability to effectively adapt to culturally diverse contexts (meta-cognitively, cognitively, motivationally and behaviorally) certain personality traits should be related to specific factors of CQ and certain personality traits should be able to predict and explain variance in levels of CQ among individuals. Van Dyne and Ang, (1) has demonstrated that the four dimensions of CQ were distinct from and yet related to, more distal big five personality traits in conceptually meaningfully ways. In their study, openness to experience was the only big five personality that was...

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