- Appropriately. Valued rules, norms, and expectations of the relationship are not violated significantly.
- Effectively. Values goals or rewards (relative to costs and alternatives) are accomplished.
Intercultural competence is also called "cross-cultural competence" (3C).
Cultures can be different not only between continents or nations but also within the same company and even within the same family. The differences may be ethical, ethnic, geographical, historical, moral, political, or religious.
The basic requirements for intercultural competence are empathy, an understanding of other people's behaviors and ways of thinking, and the ability to express one's own way of thinking. It is a balance, situatively adapted, among four parts:
- Knowledge (about other cultures and other people's behaviors)
- Empathy (understanding the feelings and needs of other people)
- Self-confidence (knowledge of one's own desires, strengths, weaknesses, and emotional stability)
- Cultural identity (knowledge of one's own culture)
Cross-cultural competence (3C) has generated confusing and contradictory definitions because it has been studied by a wide variety of academic approaches and professional fields. One author identified eleven different terms that have some equivalence to 3C: cultural savvy, astuteness, appreciation, literacy or fluency, adaptability, terrain, expertise, competency, awareness, intelligence, and understanding. The United States Army Research Institute, which is currently engaged in a study of 3C has defined it as "A set of cognitive, behavioral, and affective/motivational components that enable individuals to adapt effectively in intercultural environments."
Organizations in academia, business, health care, government security, and developmental aid agencies have all sought to use 3C in one way or another. Poor results have often been obtained due to a lack of rigorous study of 3C and a reliance on "common sense" approaches.
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 serve as an effective framework for describing the overlapping areas among these three disciplines: at the receiving and knowledge levels, 3C can operate with near-independence from language proficiency and regional knowledge. But, as one approaches the internalizing and evaluation levels, the overlapping areas approach totality.
The development of intercultural competence is mostly based on the individual's experiences while he or she is communicating with different cultures. When interacting with people from other cultures, the individual experiences certain obstacles that are caused by differences in cultural understanding between two people from different cultures. Such experiences may motivate the individual to acquire skills that can help him to communicate his point of view to an audience belonging to a different cultural ethnicity and background.
Immigrants and international students
A salient issue, especially for people living in countries other than their native country, is the issue of which culture they should follow. Should they try to fit in and adapt to the culture surrounding them, or should they hold on to their native culture and try to avoid interacting with the culture surrounding them? This issue is increasingly common today. Globalization has caused immigration rates to rise sharply for most developed and developing countries. In a country that is strange to them, immigrants are surrounded by a culture that does not belong to them.
International students also face this issue: they have a choice of modifying their cultural boundaries and adapting to the culture around them or holding on to their native culture and surrounding themselves with people from their own country. The students who decide to hold on to their native culture are those who experience the most problems in their university life and who encounter frequent culture shocks. But international students who adapt themselves to the culture surrounding them (and who interact more with domestic students) will increase their knowledge of the domestic culture, which may help them to "blend in" more. Such individuals may be said to have adopted bicultural identities.
Cultural characteristics can be measured along several dimensions. The ability to perceive them and to cope with them is fundamental for intercultural competence. These characteristics include:
- Collectivism and individualism
- Masculine and feminine cultures
- Uncertainty avoidance
- Power distance
- Chronemics: monochrone (time-fixed, "one after the other") and polychrone (many things at the same time, "multitasking"). This is also called "long-term orientation."
- Structural characteristics: basic personality, values, the experience of time and space, selective perception, nonverbal communication, and patterns of behavior
- Christianity and Confucianism
The assessment of cross-cultural competence is another field that is rife with controversy. One survey identified 86 assessment instruments for 3C. A United States Army Research Institute study narrowed the list down to ten quantitative instruments that were suitable for further exploration of their reliability and validity.
The following characteristics are tested and observed for the assessment of intercultural competence as an existing ability or as the potential to develop it: ambiguity tolerance, openness to contacts, flexibility in behavior, emotional stability, motivation to perform, empathy, metacommunicative competence, and polycentrism.
Quantitative assessment instruments
Three examples of quantitative assessment instruments are:
- the Inter-cultural Development Inventory
- the Cultural Intelligence Scale
- the Multi-cultural Personality Questionnaire
Qualitative assessment instruments
Research in the area of 3C assessment, while thin, points to the value of qualitative assessment instruments in concert with quantitative ones. Qualitative instruments, such as scenario-based assessments, are useful for gaining insight into intercultural competence.
Intercultural coaching frameworks, such as the ICCA™ (Intercultural Communication and Collaboration Appraisal), do not attempt an assessment; they provide guidance for personal improvement based upon the identification of personal traits, strengths, and weaknesses.
It is important that cross-cultural competence training and skills does not break down into the application of stereotypes. Although its goal is to promote understanding between groups of individuals that, as a whole, think differently, it may fail to recognize specific differences between individuals of any given group. Such differences can be more significant than the differences between groups, especially in the case of heterogeneous populations and value systems.
Madison (2006) has criticized the tendency of 3C training for its tendency to simplify migration and cross-cultural processes into stages and phases. Madison's article offers an outline of the original research.
See also a recent article by Witte summarizing objections to cultural theories used in business and social life.
- Messner, W., & Schäfer, N. (2012) The ICCA Facilitator's Manual. Intercultural Communication and Collaboration Appraisal. London: GloBus Research, p. 41 (also see: http://icca.globusresearch.com); Spitzberg, B. H. (2000). A Model of Intercultural Communication Competence. In L. A. Samovar, & R. E. Porter, Intercultural Communication - A Reader (pp. 375-87). Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.
- 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.
- "Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions". ClearlyCultural.com.
- Fantini, A.E. (2006). 87 Assessment tools of intercultural competence [Electronic version]. Brattleboro, VT: School for International Training. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from http://www.sit.edu/publications/docs/feil_appendix_f.pdf
- 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.
- Lessard-Clouston, M. (1997). "Towards an understanding of culture in L2/FL education". Ronko: K.G. studies in English 25: 131–150.
- 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. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.88.3.476. PMID 12814296.
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- Messner, W. & Schäfer, N. (2012). The ICCA™ Facilitator's Manual London: Createspace.
- "What is The ICCA?". Intercultural Communication and Collaboration Appraisal. GloBus Research Ltd. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- Rathje, S. (2007). Intercultural Competence: The Status and Future of a Controversial Concept. Journal for Language and Intercultural Communication, 7(4), 254–266
- Madison, Greg (2006). "Existential Migration". Existential Analysis 17 (2): 238–60.
- Witte, A. "Making the Case for a Post-National Cultural Analysis of Organizations," Journal of Management Inquiry (2012) 21:141. Originally published online 13 September 2011.