Intercultural competence allows you to communicate effectively all around the globe.
With the help of intercultural competence, you might be able to avoid what British novelist and travel writer Rebecca West once wrote: “Intercultural relationships are preordained to be clumsy gestures based on imperfect knowledge.” But despite the awareness that intercultural competence is a useful tool to train for expatriate assignments, some statistics about the success of expats’ professional tasks are rather depressing:
- Up to 40% of all expatriates never finish their original assignments.
- As many as 20% of the prematurely returning managers were not able to cope with living and working in a foreign culture.
- Half of those who do decide to stay abroad may not deliver an adequate performance at their job.
Would intercultural competence have helped them to benefit more from their time as an expat? The proponents of intercultural competence and cross-cultural learning would answer this question with a resounding yes. Intercultural competence may indeed support you in becoming an interculturally effective person (IEP).
Intercultural Competence: Intercultural Effectiveness
Being an IEP doesn’t mean being a VIP: You don’t have to be special or unique to become an interculturally effective person. Intercultural competence is not magic. Ideally speaking, it is a multi-dimensional process with some very pragmatic goals. Intercultural competence should teach you to:
- Live and work in another culture without too much discomfort
- Communicate with other people in a way indicating respect and trust
- Adapt your individual behavior and job-related skills to local conditions
To reach these goals via intercultural competence, a potential IEP will have to address the following topics and exhibit certain soft skills.
Intercultural Competence: Before You Start
Without a basic willingness to question and improve yourself, any amount of theoretical intercultural competence or international management seminars will be in vain. Before you begin your intercultural competence training, ask yourself if you agree to examine and change the following areas:
- Personal and professional commitment to the task at hand
- Approach to networking and relationship-building
- Understanding of sensitivity and respect
- Leadership style
- Background knowledge of intercultural communication
- General commitment to learning about intercultural competence
If you are indeed prepared to fine-tune your respective skills, intercultural competence has already begun.
Intercultural Competence: Main Components
In general, intercultural competence training can be described as having two main aspects and three key stages. The essential dimensions of intercultural competence are cognitive content as well as emotions and affects. To use less fancy terms than the academic experts in intercultural learning, we could put it this way: Intercultural competence is about what you know and what you feel. Awareness – knowledge – skills are therefore the three basic steps in intercultural competence.
- Awareness: What is “culture” anyway? Is there more than one kind of culture? How do I personally react to such differences when I encounter them in everyday life?
- Knowledge: What can I find out about my host culture in comparison to my own culture? What sorts of emotions have been generated by my research? Am I fascinated, frightened, puzzled, amused…?
- Skills: Can I apply my theoretical knowledge about specific cultural differences to everyday life in another culture? Does this help to adjust my behavior abroad and to better understand the behavior of others? Can I thus minimize the impact of culture shock and feel more at ease?