Intercultural competence

Intercultural competence

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Intercultural competence is the ability of successful communication with people of other cultures.

A person who is interculturally competent captures and understands, in interaction with people from foreign cultures, their specific concepts in perception, thinking, feeling and acting. Earlier experiences are considered, free from prejudices; there is an interest and motivation to continue learning.



[edit] Cross-cultural competence

Cross-cultural competence (3C), another term for inter-cultural competence, has generated its own share of contradictory and confusing definitions, due to the wide variety of academic approaches and professional fields attempting to achieve it for their own ends. One author identified no fewer than eleven different terms with some equivalence to 3C: cultural savvy, astuteness, appreciation, literacy or fluency, adaptability, terrain, expertise, competency, awareness, intelligence, and understanding[1]. Organizations from fields as diverse as business, health care, government security and developmental aid agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations have all sought to leverage 3C in one guise or another, often with poor results due to a lack of rigorous study of the phenomenon and reliance on “common sense” approaches based on the culture developing the 3C models in the first place [1]. The U.S. Army Research Institute, which is currently engaged in a study of the phenomenon, defines 3C as: “A set of cognitive, behavioral, and affective/motivational components that enable individuals to adapt effectively in intercultural environments” [2]. Cross-cultural competence does not operate in a vacuum, however. One theoretical construct posits that 3C, language proficiency, and regional knowledge are distinct skills that are inextricably linked, but to varying degrees depending on the context in which they are employed. In educational settings, Bloom’s affective and cognitive taxonomies [3][4] serve as an effective framework to describe the overlap area between the three disciplines: at the receiving and knowledge levels 3C can operate with near independence from language proficiency or regional knowledge, but as one approaches the internalizing and evaluation levels the required overlap area approaches totality.


[edit] Basics

Cultures can be different not only between continents or nations, but also within the same company or even family. (geographical, ethnical, moral, ethical, religious, political, historical) resp. cultural affiliation or cultural identity.

[edit] Typical examples of cultural differences

The perception is different and often selective [1]:

  • Behavior and gestures are interpreted differently:
  • Showing the thumb held upwards in certain parts of the world means "everything's ok", while it is understood in some Islamic countries (as well as Sardinia) as a rude sexual sign. Additionally, the thumb is held up to signify "one" in France and certain other European countries, where the index finger is used to signify "one" in other cultures. In India and Indonesia, it is often regarded as wishing "all the best". .[5][6]
  • In the Americas as well as in Arabic countries the pauses between words are usually not too long, while in India and Japan pauses can give a contradictory sense to the spoken words. Enduring silence is perceived as perfectly comfortable in India, Indonesia and Japan, to the point where being unnecessarily talkative is considered rude and a sign of poor self-control. To some in Europe, North America and Australia, however, it may feel as if a faux pas has been committed and thus cause insecurity and embarrassment. Scandinavians, by the standards of other Western cultures, are more tolerant of silent breaks during conversations.
  • In many cultures all over the world, avoiding eye contact or looking at the ground when talking to one's parents, an elder, or one of higher social status is a sign of respect. In contrast, such body language can be construed as deception, boredom, disinterest or shame (on the part of the doer) in others. For example, an Anglo European teacher may expect direct eye contact as a sign of paying attention, while an Asian or Navajo student will deliberately avoid it so as not to appear rude or confrontational. Unbroken eye contact is a common sign of aggression or dominance posturing among the animal kingdom, for example guard dogs.
  • In Persian and Pakistani culture, if a person offers an item (i.e. a drink), it is customary to not instantly accept it. A sort of role play forms with the person offering being refused several times out of politeness before their offering is accepted. This tradition is known as 'tarof' (or taarof) or 'takaluf' which in Persian literally means 'offer'. A similar exchange happens in many countries, such as India and Indonesia, where especially if visiting poorer people, it shows a form of empathy to deliberately not impose upon them.[7]. In many other cultures, it would be considered polite for the person offering to only ask once, so as to respect the other person's wish when the offer is declined.
  • In African, South American and Mediterranean cultures, talking and laughing loudly in the streets and public places is widely accepted, whereas in some Asian cultures it is considered rude and may be seen as a mark of self-centeredness or attention-seeking.
  • In India showing somebody the palm of your hand is regarded as a gesture of blessing the person, mostly done by elders. Most Hindu and Buddhist deities are depicted as showing the palm of their right hand, while in some east European countries it is considered a rude gesture. Similar is the use of the hand as a sign for someone to come. Bending the index finger with the palm facing up should be avoided in some cultures and replaced with a grasping hand motion with a downward or outward facing palm.
  • People from the west are shocked by the squat toilet prevalent in Asia most especially, China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and the Indian sub continent, even found in Singapore's spotlessly clean, ultra-modern Changi Airport toilets. However, it is common for Asian public toilets have both type of toilet designs. However, these may not be connected directly to mains water supply and not have toilet tissue. Instead in these cultures, cleansing after defecating is done with a through water (and preferably soap) douche, and the user is expected to flush their resultant mess on the toilet or floor manually via the ladle or bucket provided. As such, many Asians are revolted by Western toilets not providing the post-defecation toilet hose. Humorously, even among themselves many resourceful Asians will bring bottled water into toilets or fill them from the sinks as a makeshift post-defecation rinser.
  • Additionally, a wet toilet seat and surrounding floor is considered clean, or newly rinsed, in many parts of Asia, while a dry toilet and bathroom are considered possibly dirty. A Westerner would find a dry toilet cleaner.
  • Arranged marriage is very common in the Middle East, India and Africa, while in some Asian and most Western cultures, the romantic marriage is idealized and one has a right to choose their marriage partner and thus an arranged marriages is perceived as an infringement on this right and viewed unfavorably.
  • It is very common for heterosexual men in the Indian subcontinent and most parts of the Arab world to hug each other, sit with arms over the shoulder or walk while holding hands but it is regarded as homosexual behavior in the West and some Asian cultures such as China, Indonesia and Japan.
  • In Indonesia, and many Asian nations, girls and adult females will often hold hands and be quite "touchy-feely" with one another, even slapping one another on the bottom. This is considered locally as harmless sister-like platonic affection, but some outsiders may inaccurately perceive it as widespread lesbianism.
  • In some nations, heterosexual unmarried couples holding hands in public are uncommon or frowned upon, and hugging is considered unacceptable. In many Western and Westernized nations, especially urban centers, this is common and considered harmless.
  • It is common to see couples kissing, even quite passionately, in public in the Western countries but such an action may cause consternation, alarm or even legal action in African and a few Asian countries.
  • In Christian and most Muslim weddings the bride wears white to symbolize her virginal purity, while in Hindu culture white clothes are a symbol of sorrow and should be worn by a widow.

[edit] Requirements

Basic needs are sensitivity and self-consciousness: the understanding of other behaviors and ways of thinking as well as the ability to express one’s own point of view in a transparent way with the aim to be understood and respected by staying flexible where this is possible, and being clear where this is necessary.

It is a balance, situatively adapted, between three parts:

  1. knowledge (about other cultures, people, nations, behaviors…),
  2. empathy (understanding feelings and needs of other people), and
  3. self-confidence (knowing what I want, my strengths and weaknesses, emotional stability).

[edit] Cultural differences

Cultural characteristics can be differentiated between several dimensions and aspects; the ability to perceive them and to cope with them is one of the bases of intercultural competence.

[edit] Assessment

For assessment of intercultural competence as an existing ability and / or the potential to develop it (with conditions and timeframe), the following characteristics are tested and observed: ambiguity tolerance, openness to contacts, flexibility in behavior, emotional stability, motivation to perform, empathy, metacommunicative competence, polycentrism.

[edit] Assessment instruments

Assessment of cross-cultural competence (3C) is another field rife with controversy. One survey identified eighty-six assessment instruments for 3C [9]. The Army Research Institute study narrowed the list down to ten quantitative instruments for further exploration into their reliability and validity [2]. Three examples of quantitative instruments include the Inter-cultural Development Inventory, the Cultural Intelligence Scale, and the Multi-cultural Personality Questionnaire [2]. Qualitative assessment instruments such as scenario-based assessments are also useful tools to gain insight into inter-cultural competence. These have proven valuable in poorly defined areas such as 3C [10][11][12][13]. Research in the area of 3C assessment, while thin, also underscores the value of qualitative instruments in concert with quantitative ones [14][15][16].

[edit] Criticisms

It is important that intercultural competence training and skills not break down into application of stereotypes of a group of individuals. Although the goal is to promote understanding between groups of individuals that, as a whole, think somewhat differently, it may fail to recognize the specific differences between individuals of any given group. These differences can often be larger than the differences between groups, especially with heterogeneous populations and value systems.[17]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Selmeski, B. R. (2007). Military cross-cultural competence: Core concepts and individual development. Kingston: Royal Military College of Canada Centre for Security, Armed Forces, & Society.
  2. ^ a b c Abbe, A., Gulick, L.M.V., & Herman, J.L. (2007). Cross-cultural competence in Army leaders: A conceptual and empirical foundation. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Research Institute.
  3. ^ Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.
  4. ^ Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1973). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook II: Affective Domain. New York: McKay Co., Inc.
  5. ^ Desmond Morris, Peter Collett, Peter Marsh and Marie O'Shaughnessy, 1979 Gestures: Their Origin and Meanings - The Thumb Up Webified by Bernd Wechner
  6. ^ Un, deux, trois - Gestes français - French Gestures
  7. ^ The Game of Tarof: An extensive look into the custom from an Iranian's perspective
  8. ^ a b c d e "Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions". 
  9. ^ Fantini, A.E. (2006). 87 Assessment tools of intercultural competence [Electronic version]. Brattleboro, VT: School for International Training. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from
  10. ^ Davis, B. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  11. ^ Doll, W. (1993). A post-modern perspective on curriculum. New York: Teacher’s College Press.
  12. ^ English, F. & Larson, R. (1996). Curriculum management for educational and social service organizations. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publishers.
  13. ^ Palomba, A. & Banta, T. (1999). Assessment essentials. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  14. ^ Kitsantas, A. (2004). Studying abroad: the role of college students’ goals on the development of cross-cultural skills and global understanding. College Student Journal, 38(3). Retrieved July 9, 2007 from ERIC database.
  15. ^ Lessard-Clouston, M. (1997). Towards an understanding of culture in L2/FL education. Ronko: K.G. studies in English, 25, 131-150.
  16. ^ Lievens, F., Harris, M., Van Keer, E. & Bisqueret, C. (2003). Predicting cross-cultural training performance: The validity of personality, cognitive ability, and dimensions measured by an assessment center and a behavior description interview. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(3), 476-489.
  17. ^ Rathje, S. (2007). Intercultural Competence: The Status and Future of a Controversial Concept. In: LAIC (Journal for Language and Intercultural Communication) Vol.7, Nr. 4, 2007, S. 254-266

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