It used to be that cultural competence – now often shorthanded as CQ – was something that only a few “high level” employees and leaders needed to have: international sales reps, CEOs, diplomats, politicians.

That’s so last century.

Employees and leaders at every level in every sector now need this skill, thanks to cheap and easy-to-use international communications technologies such as Skype, GoToMeeting, and customer service online chat.

But even if we never interact with international counterparts, we need CQ right here at home.

Today, just over 30% of the U.S. population is nonwhite; by 2050, it will be 50%. This effect will be amplified by the fact that Millennials will be the most multiethnic/multiracial generation we have ever seen: “A 2006 Gallup Poll showed that 95% of young people (ages 18-29) approved of interracial dating – compared with only 45% of respondents over the age of 64.”

Because of this “a high CQ could be crucial in a wide range of careers, from bankers to soldiers and scientist and teachers – anyone, in fact, who regularly interacts with people from different backgrounds.”

I would add to that list police officers, social workers, nursing home and assisted living employees, anyone in the medical professions, staff issuing drivers’ licenses, and those overseeing voting processes.

THE GOOD NEWS: you don’t have to spend years studying a second language or living outside the U.S. to develop cultural competence.

While those are invaluable skills and experiences, cultural competence is something different, something we can learn and practice. A lot depends on our willingness to stretch.

It doesn’t mean we have to know every culture at a deep level. It means learning to “see” culture and ethnicity. In short: CQ is the ability to spot cultural and ethnic differences and potential breakdowns in communication, and adapt to them.

An interesting and useful model of multicultural intelligence is available at Soulbus-e-Coach. Soulbus-e-Coach is a free online learning platform developed by an international consortium, designed for teachers and mentors in the fields of education, rehabilitation, health care and social care.

Many professional organizations now offer training in CQ and implicit bias. Another great resource is David Livermore, a leading author and researcher in this area, who offers a lot of material (free and paid) at his Cultural Intelligence Center website.

I believe CQ is possibly the most important skill we can all develop to build a strong and stable country in the 21st century. It’s the surest way for us to learn to truly communicate with each other, and to live together in peace.