Building Intercultural Competence

Anyone who has grown up with brothers and sisters, or knows someone who has, knows that family life has its ups and downs.  Yet the family bond means that despite differences, we learn to live together and treat each other pretty well.  It’s not always perfect, there are disagreements and resentments, but normally the family bond holds steady.  By staying in close contact with our family, we are more likely to express our feelings openly and offer and receive forgiveness in difficult situations.

Contrast that to how we treat others who are not our family or close friends.   For example, in the workplace, team members who are not of the same background, culture, race or religion.  What do you have to do to get along with them?  How do you establish that familial feel and closeness that siblings often have?  What might you do to create the honesty and openness that is a key element to most family relationships?

Alternative Description

For many, it just kind of happens over time.  A common interest or a similar sense of humour is something we can share.  But not everyone will have these qualities and you will need to gain and develop the necessary knowledge, skills and attitude for working with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Building Cultural Competence

Intercultural competence doesn’t just happen but must be developed.  This process can be life-long and even the most experienced of business travellers will tell you that there is no one point at which an individual becomes completely inter-culturally competent. 

Critical self-reflection becomes a powerful tool in this process so start by considering the question “what does it take to get along together?” Highlight three or four elements that you feel are necessary to be successful in your interactions with those from different cultures.

Consider situations that have required intercultural competence previously - what helped make you more appropriate or effective?  Reflect on how you can continue to develop your intercultural competence, especially in the areas you rated as lower or perhaps a weakness.

Now reflect on the following areas:

Your Attitudes: respect (valuing other cultures), openness (withholding judgement), curiosity and discovery (tolerating ambiguity).  Ask yourself:

Your Knowledge: cultural self-awareness (meaning the way your own culture has influenced you and your worldview).   Ask yourself:

Your Skills:  How developed are my language skills?  Ask yourself:

Once you have worked through these reflective questions, you are ready to create a development plan for yourself.  Like all action plans, this should be designed to help you bring about change, and in this case aimed specifically at improving your readiness and effectiveness to work internationally. Use the SMART framework.

Finally, think about your own work situation now and in the future and the type of international interactions you are likely to have. 

Free Resource? If you have a cross-cultural team and would like a free and simple tool to help identify how they feel about intercultural challenges and help them to identify potential areas for improvement, request a copy of the "Intercultural Competence: Self-Reflection Questionnaire"

Testimonials

‘Enlightening, inspiring and well-structured training.’

Personal Coaching

Subsea7

"I have been having regular lessons for a couple of weeks now and the lessons are going really well. I need to study some more on my own is the only thing! But the lessons are really good - fast paced and challenging (in a good way). The tutor is really supportive so it's good and I feel like I am learning a lot!"

Portuguese Skype Lessons

Amy - Private Client

View all testimonials

Subscribe to our free monthly Cultural eNewsletter

Be the first to read our monthly cultural newsletter, a snapshot of a country's business culture, an ideal quick read for those who work internationally. So far this year we have focused on Japan (our most recent), Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Luxembourg, ME, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Don't forget to enter our competition too!