A Key To Face Cultural Differences Cultural Studies Essay

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To avoid cultural shocks and that managers come back to their native country before the end of their mission, they have to follow trainings or have an experience abroad to acquire the intercultural competence. As told in the introduction, intercultural competence is something we learn, we don't born with; to remain the definition it is the capacity to successfully interact with people from different cultures and it's a learning work and a continuous one. The world does not stop changing, global managers have always to adapt, but let us see what an intercultural competence really is.

Gertsen's Dimensions of Intercultural Competence Many scholars give a definition of the intercultural competence and try to explain it, what does not seem very easy to do. Nevertheless, from the Gertsen's model (1992) to the ABC model (developed by Varhegyi and Nann in 2011), we can found the same basis. They agree to say that there are three components in the intercultural competence: the cognitive capabilities, the emotional abilities and the behavioral/social skills.

In this model, communicative dimension refers to behavioral skills, affective dimension to emotional abilities and cognitive dimension to cognitive abilities.

We can find again in the model below the three components, and the author adds the identity notion which is in the middle. That shows that our identity has an impact on the way we acquire intercultural competence's abilities.

The ABC model of intercultural competence

Since there are interactions between these three dimensions, it is difficult to begin with one of them. We will start with the cognitive dimension as Gertsen did.

The cognitive capabilities

The cognitive capabilities or cognitive dimension, if we refer to Gertsen's theory, is "related to knowledge and the notion of culture, one's own culture and comprehension of the other's culture". When we work abroad or with people from different nationalities, we have to be ready to discover cultures. To understand what culture notion means, people should be aware that every country, or even a cultural group, has its own culture.

But what is really "culture"? To understand it is very important; it's probably the beginning to acquire the Intercultural Competence. Nevertheless, give a definition of culture is not an easy thing. Indeed, approximately 154 definitions have been recorded in 1954. To sum up, as we mentioned in the first part, culture is a set of signification, values, believes and norms that members of a same group have in common. Our culture comes from our socialization. Institutions such as family, school and friends made us growing up respecting traditions -which are beliefs, rituals or thing passed from generation to generation-, norms (what we can do or not), value (what is right or wrong). Culture always changes. Even though a company culture is created, individual's culture always will be more important than company's culture. Nevertheless it is not impossible to make people more tolerant and change their attitudes and behaviors when they work with people from different nationalities within the same company.

"Culture comes in layers, like an onion"According to Frond Trompenaars & Charles Hamden-Turner, "culture comes in layers, like an onion. To understand it you have to unpeel it layer by layer". Indeed, we see before behaviour of people who are in front of us, we see their reactions, then their attitude (which are influenced by values) they have during the meeting, and then we understand norms and finally values. These last one (norms and values) are something we are able to remark at first glance. As an Iceberg, 90% of culture is invisible. For this part of the culture, managers have to double up efforts to understand and discover other nationalities. To take an example of the deep culture (invisible one), we can talk about the way people use to work, and relation they have with hierarchy (power distance according to Hofstede, cf. part I). To discover the whole culture, managers or people who are going abroad or working with foreigners, have to make some researches; nobody can guess it at the first glance.

Besides, knowledge level of specific cultures is the first thing we can change, is the easiest thing to change. People have just to find some information about other cultures and in different steps to acquire intercultural competence is maybe the thing that takes less time. Then arrive attitudes and individual behavior to build a team culture.

The emotional abilities

Then, we can deal with emotional abilities or affective dimension if we continue to refer to Gertsen's model. This second component of intercultural competence concerns the way people accept differences. In other words, it is the sensitivity and the comprehension of the others' culture. Among abilities that are in this dimension, we can find empathy, openness to experience, willingness to learn, tolerance and so on. J. Bennet in 1986 developed the Development of Intercultural Sensitivity Model. He explains different steps to pass from ethnocentrism (unfortunately, people are less or more ethnocentric because we integrate them in a culture from the earliest age) to ethnorelativism.

As concerns the ethnocentric stages, people pass through different stages:

Denial: it seems impossible to understand cultural difference, people do not want to see the world around them is different, they are in their bubble.

Defense: Here, there is recognition of difference but people feel threatened. In this step, there are different situations. We can think that our culture is superior to other or on the contrary be afraid of other culture seen as superior as ours. With this step, negative stereotypes are created. We can illustrate this step with a quote of the philosophe B. Pascal which says « Vérité en deça des pyrennées, erreurs en délà ».

Minimization: Finally, people see that human beings are not different, everybody has the same needs. Wherever people live, they have the same physical needs, and differences come from past and they are superficial.

Then, people move into the ethnorelative stages, they are more and more open-minded, and less reluctant to accept other cultures:

Acceptance: As the name implies, people arrive in a stage where they accept differences, cultural differences become recognized and respected. They understand that there is no better culture than other. They are also aware of cultural dynamism; values are not fixed and can change.

Adaptation: People are going further, they accept differences, and can shift their frame of reference. They don not forget their home culture. Nevertheless, they can become "bicultural": that is to say when they go abroad, they can see world through local values.

Integration: To finish, people arrive to the final step which is integration. They became "multicultural" person. They feel comfortable as well with another culture as with their own culture. Once in this stage, it is possible to say that a manager acquired the emotional competence. It may enable them to internalize different worldviews and to manage complexity in a multicultural team.

Yet, to move into a state of relativism, we will ask another culture experience. A research conducted by S.Penbek, D. Yurdakul and A.G. Cérit, in two universities of Turkey showed that the sensitivity development of people depends on their education. These two universities suggest their students to follow international courses, to take part to exchange programs and also do international business simulations. The more time students spend at school, the more they accept other cultures. They are more tolerant, more sensitive to differences, what help them to acquire the last competence of intercultural competence.

Behavior component

The third dimension of intercultural competence is the behavior component. It concerns verbal and non-verbal communication. Indeed, each culture has its own way to communicate and when we are in a multicultural situation, that is to say when we are in touch with people from different nationalities, our way of communication can blame other.

If we attend to a meeting of a multicultural team where the manager and other members are not aware of differences, we may see some mistakes which risk to install a bad atmosphere in the team. Indeed, the way we communicate can set some barriers and problems. First, there are of course problems caused by the language barrier. When we go abroad for more than few days, it is important to learn the language, but we can use the international language: English. Nevertheless, we have to be careful because even if we speak the same language, misunderstandings can exist because of different accents, jargons, words meanings…Even though between an American and a British, there are differences as concerns words meaning. Besides, some words can be untranslatable. Then, we do not have to forget that between 65 to 90% (according to Knapp) of what we communicate is nonverbal. People have to be careful with the body language (posture, gesture, eyes contact or facial expression), vocal qualities, space around you (some cultures use to speak with people with a closer attitude than other, differences between Latinos people and the British enable to illustrate that) and greeting behaviors. This last one gives the first impression about someone; therefore to inform about the way people greet is not useless. Verbal and nonverbal communication concern face to face meeting; however communication does not stop here, people has to keep contact, and there are also efforts to do. The message structure, the channel and the format are also influenced by cultural norms. Some cultures are direct in their business message, whereas that can be considered as rude in other culture. Sometimes oral agreement is enough to conclude a contract whereas in a low context culture (cf. part I) a written agreement is necessary. The choice of the channel is not to put aside. People have to see what technology is available, compatible and acceptable in another culture, if they prefer to receive a phone call, or just an email.

Lots of things have to be taken into account to hope appealing the audience and do not make them feeling threatened. The behavioral component is a way to see if people acquired other competences. For example if a multicultural team manager understood differences there are between different nationalities, as concern the place that the work takes in their life (huge place in Japanese's life and low in Latino countries), they will adapt their way of work. They will probably have to take time to speak about other subjects around coffee with people for whom work is just a part of their life. Some authors agreed to say that it is the key for a manager to reach their objectives. In 2000, Barmayer calls this component the "Conative dimension" and it is the "doing-dimension", that is to say that once a person has affective and cognitive competence, he/she is willing to communicate well.

Barmayer's intercultural competence dimensions

Intercultural competence enables to avoid misunderstandings and to make a work in good conditions. Each dimension has a link with others, all of them are important. This acquisition asks a hard learning, and we do not have to forget that there are so many different cultures and it is a continuous change. A manager, or just a person who goes abroad, such as students, with the intercultural competence will be understood, respected and supported if we refer to Ting-Toomey's mindful intercultural communication model:

Ting-Toomey's mindfulness intercultural communication model