Grounds Of Intercultural Competences Need Education Essay

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Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected said Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Indeed, the world we live in nowadays is interconnected by many things, and as we could think that globalization made all of us the same - the same way to dress, the same things we eat, the same movies we watch… - we are actually still very different. What has really changed is that we now are all in contact with each other. What we used to do on our owns before is now shared by people all around the world. And this is the real difficulty we have to cope with, the real challenge we have to face is to communicate, to make yourself understand and understand the other and consequently to work together. This is the true problem as firms extend internationally, their workers have to collaborate and to deal with cultures they do not necessarily know nor understand which can sometimes lead to big issues and prevent a project from being realized.

What is exactly the impact of globalization on the multicultural relations? What has it changed? Can we learn how to manage an international team and in that case, what is it? Or on the contrary what keeps us from cooperating with other nationalities?

We will try to answer those questions in this paper. We will first explain how the need for intercultural management appeared, then we will see that there is what is called intercultural competence (this notion will be defined in the dedicated part), after we will discover how to develop such competences and finally we will examine how to assess the cultural competence ?

Grounds of intercultural competence's need

Cross cultural differences

Managers in multicultural firms often have to face cultural differences, which can slow down the successful completion of projects within the company. Hofstede and Trompenaars suggest a set of cultural values that could affect people's way of thinking, feeling, and acting and thus organizations' and institutions' way of acting in the global world and by the way explains in which way cultures are different or similar dealing with some particular issues.


Hofstede's approach highlights various grounds of similarity and difference between cultures. These axes are the degree of masculinity or feminity , the degree of uncertainty avoidance , the proximity towards individualism and collectivism , the distance to power , the long term or short term orientation and a sixth one has been added : the trend to indulgence or restraint

Masculinity versus feminity

According to Hofstede cultures can be gathered together depending on their degree of masculinity and feminity. A culture in which the dominant values are material success that's to say the search of money, material possessions, competition but also stress on equity and performance is a masculine one. In this kind of society managers are expected to be decisive and confident. On the contrary, cultures said to be feminine ones emphasize on values such as solidarity, equality of the work life and more generally speaking in people's whole life. In this kind of society managers use intuition and are looking for coming to an agreement.

Uncertainty avoidance

This concept could be seen as the extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous circumstances and have created beliefs and institutions to avoid it. Countries avoiding uncertainty have many rules but also a low level of tolerance of uncommon ideas and a high level of resistance to changes. On the contrary, countries with a low score of uncertainty avoidance promote innovative ideas and have few rules but a higher level of tolerance of outstanding ideas than the previous category.

Proximity towards individualism or collectivism

Hofstede also points out the difference between individualistic and collectivistic societies .In an individualistic society people only trust on themselves and bonds between every person are very weak. Everyone is expected to look after their own well-being and nothing more. On the contrary, collectivistic societies foster people to build strong, cohesive bonds with other citizens .In a high individualistic society task prevails over relationships whereas in high collectivistic societies relationships prevail over tasks

Distance to power

This notion corresponds to the way that the less powerful part of the society accepts that power is unequally distributed. In a society where there is a low power distance, managers should be democratic whereas in a society with high power distance the manager should be a benevolent autocrat. This distance may be easily assessed by observing hierarchy in firms.

Long-term versus short-term orientation

Short-term oriented societies generally strongly aim at establishing the absolute truth. They respect traditions and aim at achieving quick results. In long-term orientation societies, people believe that truth depends on the situation, the context and the era. For this reason, they adapt traditions to their moving environment.

Indulgence versus restraint

An indulgent society is a society that allows gratification of l human needs related to enjoying life and having fun.  A restraint society is a society that avoids gratification of needs and regulates it by setting up strict social norms.

Concrete examples







Hierarchical order :

Everybody has a place

Inequalities, centralization

Subordinate want to be told what to do

Acceptable Inequalities

No defense against power abuse

Accepted inequalities

Need hierarchy but is not existential.

Privileged superiors

Centralized power

Formal attitude towards managers

Hierarchical. information flow

"Liberty and justice for all."

Equal rights

Accessible superiors

Frequently shared information

Informal , direct and participative communication


Collectivistic society

Loyalty is central element and overrides other societal rules and regulations.

Strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for team members

Highly collectivistic

Group interests

Low commitment but cooperative relations with colleagues

Personal relationships prevail over task and company.

Individual opinions

Take care of themselves and immediate family

Contract-based relation with work: focus on tasks and autonomy.

Direct communication

Highly individualistic

Interest on themselves and their family.


Independent employees taking initiatives.

Decisions based on merit or capacities


Masculine society :

Live to work

Managers are expected to be decisive and confident

Equity, competition performance

Masculine society

Success oriented

Feminine society

Care for quality of life

Work in order to live

Competition amongst colleagues is not favored

Supportive management


Masculine society:

Strive to be the best they can be

Free talk about success

Work to earn more and reach higher status

Individual conflicts resolution

Goal is to win.


Avoiding uncertainty :

Rigid codes of belief and behavior

Need for rules , time is money

Inner urge to be busy and work hard

Precision, punctuality

Resistance to innovation

Security is important

Low uncertainty avoidance.


Adapt laws and rules to the situation

Academic work to reach the truth

Rules and security

Lack of rules creates stress.

Importance of planning

Uncertainty accepting.

Importance of innovations

Willingness to try something new or different

Freedom of expression.

Less emotionally expressive


Highly long term oriented

Persistence and perseverance

Short term oriented

Tradition, norms and truth.

Quick results

Self-reliance, personal achievement, hard work

Short-term oriented

Traditions, social obligations, performance on the short-term

Quick results

Search of the "absolute truth"

Trompenaars' model

In their model Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner try to explain cultural differences in organizations and to show in what way managing these differences in a multicultural business environment is a major challenge for managers, who have to deal with this issue. They outlined seven points that distinguish every cultures one another.

Universalism or pluralism

The difference between the two types of society is linked to the importance given to laws or personal relationships. In a universalistic culture, people believe that general rules, codes, values and standards are more important than friends and other relationships. In a pluralistic culture, on the contrary, people see culture in terms of friendship and intimate relationships. Indeed rules also exist in a pluralistic society but they merely codify relations among people.

Individualism or communitarianism

This question is represented by the degree to which people see themselves as a unique person or as a community member. An individualistic culture is composed by persons who place themselves before the community. This means that their own happiness, accomplishment and wellbeing prevail .Moreover, in that kind of society people take their own initiatives and only take care of themselves. On the contrary in a principally communitarian culture, people place the community before the individual. For this reason, every person has to act in a way that has to be useful for their society and thus ensures their own achievement.

Specific or diffuse

This topic can be determined by the degree to which people's responsibilities are specifically assigned or are generally accepted. In a specific culture, every person analyses first and then the whole team puts their first analyses together. Thus the whole can be seen as an addition of all its components. Interactions between every community member are clearly defined. On the contrary, a diffusely oriented culture emphasizes on relationships between its members rather than on its members themselves.

Affectivity or neutrality

This issue corresponds to the degree to which individuals express their feelings. In an affective culture, people don't hide their feelings, while in a neutral culture, people are taught to keep their feelings for themselves .Thus, only few feelings are showed to others even they are felt. There is a higher notion of control of people's feelings.

Inner directed or outer directed

In an inner-directed culture, people have a mechanistic vision of the world and the nature. Even she might look as something complex it might be controlled and dominated thanks to knowledge. In an outer-directed culture, people see the nature as a changing element. People should live in harmony with their environment and hence adapt themselves.

Achieved status or attributed status

In a culture with achieved status, people deserve their status according to what they have accomplished. Status can be seen as a reward for the time and all the efforts spent to achieve a goal. On the contrary, in a culture with attributed status, people get their status thanks to birth, age, gender or wealth that's to say according to personal characteristics.

Sequential time or synchronic time

In a sequential time culture, people do one thing after another whereas in a synchronic time culture, people do several things at the same time. Then Trompenaars divides this notion into three subparts:

The first type of subculture is a past-oriented culture, which sees the future as a repetition of previous events and experiences. People in that type of society are respectful for ancestors and historical events.

The second type of subculture is a present-oriented culture, which emphasizes on present facts and doesn't attribute to much importance to the past or the future.

Finally the third type of subculture is a future-oriented culture, which focuses on future plans.

In a nutshell, both works of Hofsteede and Trompenaars aim at helping managers to improve their comprehension of intercultural differences when they have to cope with international projects .Indeed, a better understanding of team member's culture is a first step to reduce the risks of cultural driven misunderstandings and conflicts but also to understand how consumers in different countries might response to a product.

Benefits and challenges from the current global world

Nowadays governments, organizations and companies are actors of a global story which takes place in many countries located on every continent with actors from multicultural backgrounds. This multicultural environment can benefit to the company but also be a source of difficulties that have to be overcome.


Cases where there is a positive impact of combining two opposite values

Western Cultural Values

Non-Western Cultural Values









Respect for results

Respect for status

First it has been proved that working in a globalized economy like ours has a positive impact on individuals and companies. Indeed, people are forced to think outside their own person and thus are urged to develop greater interpersonal skills, their creativity and learn news ways to do things that increase their productivity

Moreover, hiring an intercultural team is an interesting choice for the company because it can seek on every continent the right people, who will be the most competent for the job. For this reason, using international teams and not only local teams is a way for companies to improve their skills and productivity .

Furthermore, researches indicate that, once teams break through conflicts linked to diversity problems, the benefit of new thoughts and discoveries often help to increase innovation.

Finally every member of the team can be seen as a representative and as a first rate expert in their international market. Thus he can embody a huge help to communicate with his country


Cases where there is a negative impact of combining two opposite values

Western Cultural Values

Non-Western Cultural Values



Respect for competence

Respect for elders

Time is money

Time is life















First of all, projects may be affected by personality conflicts. Cultural differences among project's team members may create additional misunderstanding throughout the project life cycle. The impact of cultural factors such as language barriers, time differences, and socio-economic, political, and religious diversity may be sources of misunderstandings, conflicts or slowing down of the project's completion.

Moreover difficulties of interpretation in communication's field could happen due to accents, colloquialisms, or nonverbal habits differences such as head nodding which can mean "yes" or "no" depending on the culture.

Finally every culture has its own way of thinking, interpreting and looking the world. That's why something that can be simple or logical for someone may not be for another. This could lead to incomprehension, frustrations or other problems. The question of the time and punctuality may show how important this issue can be.

In a nutshell, cultural differences can be useful for the company but also a barrier to success. For this reason, managers have to be aware of these differences and learn to cope with them.

II) The solution: intercultural competence

A try to find a single definition

This new concept is used in the literacy since two decades. But what is really intercultural competence?

It refers to the condition that an individual holds as a capacity to interact with people from different cultures. Furthermore, it can't be denied that intercultural competence is a required skill or qualification that managers need to acquire and develop to be able to deal with different cultural situations within the organization in an international context. Many authors tried to define what is " intercultural competence" however it is a multi-edged concepts that's why it's not easy to reach an agreement on one single definition that could be recognized as the real official one . Moreover the neighborhood of the word with the word " culture " , which is itself difficult to define without moving away from its original signification emboldens the seek for a single definition .

In short, the concept of intercultural competence has many definitions but some key points extracted from the various authors' definitions reveal aspects of intercultural competence. Indeed, "intercultural competence "gathers together four notions.

Firstly the notion of ability which is mentioned by Fantini underlines the fact that intercultural competence implies being able to perform effectively with persons with different cultural background. People should communicate as easy in other cultures as they can in their own one so that culture doesn't embody a barrier towards understanding and communication.

Secondly, the notion of knowledge developed by Deardoff as a capability to interact with other persons in an international context. This notion refers to the capability to interpret people, discover who they are, interact with them, asses their values and beliefs. This capability is the conclusion of a learning process, which enables its improvement.

Thirdly intercultural competence is recognized as a capability for effectiveness that's to say as the capability to communicate effectively and in a way that is acceptable for every team member for example when there is a need of negotiating meanings or rules.

Finally intercultural competence is the result of a learning process .Indeed, a part of this competence has been inherited and other part has to be acquired through learning or experimenting intercultural experiences.

In 2003, Stier adds another approach to the concept by dividing it in four different competencies:

First , the content competencies , which are composed by the knowledge discovery of values , norms , traditions , habits of our own culture but also of the other's one .

Secondly, the processual competencies, which can be considered as the "know how" of intercultural competence and which is linked to content competencies.

Thirdly the intrapersonal competencies, which need cognitive and emotional skills to be able to see the world through the other's eyes. Indeed, this implies to forget for one moment our own way of thinking to understand what the others can feel due to their own culture .This competence embodies the background for cultural empathy.

Finally the interpersonal competencies correspond to the social and behavioral component. Communication, conversations for example are fully involved in these competencies. Chen and Starosta subdivide the theme in three main dimensions ,which are the cognitive dimension which deals with the knowledge discovery and the intercultural awareness , the affective one ,which includes attitudes and other personality traits and the behavioral one which involves skills and communications but also adaptability .

More generally speaking, authors agree on three main components of intercultural competence that will be developed in the following parts:

cognitive capabilities

emotional abilities

behavioral and social skills

The components of the intercultural competence

Cognitive competence

Emotional competence

Gertsen gives a first definition about what he calls « the affective dimensions », he describes it as "everything concerning sensitivity and comprehension of the other's culture". Indeed to manage intercultural teams you have to be able to understand the cultural differences, but that is not an easy part. It depends on many factors and some of them are linked to the personality and attitudes of the people. But those are competences you cannot really learn about; it belongs to what you are, it is innate and stable, it is something you have or do not have and that will neither appear nor disappear with time, contrarily to other competences that you cannot acquire. Even if Matveev and Milter declare that the three components can be learned "systematically".

Some authors even put the emotional competence on the first place; it is the case of Gudykunst for instance as we can see on the diagram below:

He refers to the affective dimension as "motivation" which is described as "the individual's desire to relate with strangers through the need of predictability, anxiety avoidance, self-conceptions sustainability and approach avoidance tendencies".

Besides, when we talk about emotional abilities, it also concerns the emotional and psychological dimension, with skills and capabilities such as empathy which is often quoted among the authors. Empathy is the "capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by other people"; and this is crucial to understand the others' cultures. Other skills and capabilities concerned are agreeableness, sympathy, open-mindedness, tolerance, humor, flexibility, adaptation, awareness of own self or also curiosity to learn or willingness to learn which we could believe should belong to cognitive capabilities but does not as it is an inherent quality. This quality is essential because you cannot understand other cultures if you do not know them first. Moreover you have to know yourself first to be able to meet and understand someone else culture. As Danny Martin, Director of ICRE (International Communities for the Renewal of the Earth) said: "Knowing yourself is not so much about introspection and interaction. To know yourself is to realize that you are more than the little self that has been given to you by your history - the pattern that others made - that your true self is, in truth, much larger and includes other people, other cultures, and other species even. That life is less about being and more about interbeing. We come to know ourselves, then, through coming to know each other. And the deeper that knowledge, the richer and more creative the world we build together ".

Furthermore to manage intercultural teams Deardorff exposes what he calls "requisite attitudes", namely: respect, openness, curiosity and discovery. We can find similarities with Hamilton's model formed of:

Awareness: meaning that you are aware of the divergence existing but you do not judge and think your values are better; this looks like respect

Understanding: you open yourself to someone culturally different, with no discrimination, no ethnocentric assumption, no prejudice or stereotype; this could be seen like openness

Appreciation: you should go meet people from different cultures even if it is a risk you take - the willingness to accept risk is a capability we find among several authors because going towards something you do not know can be frightening; it goes along with the tolerance for ambiguity (accepting not to understand and master everything) and with the stress resistance which can be generated by such a situation; this is close to curiosity and discovery.

With all those qualities, one should be able to overcome cultural differences, to adapt himself so that the collaboration between the multicultural co-workers goes great.

Other authors (Ting-Toomey and Kurogi) refer to the emotional abilities as the "mindfulness dimension" and add a fourth competence to cognitive capabilities, emotional abilities and behavioral/social skills which is "facework competence criteria" as we can see on the following diagram:

Thus the emotional competence is a set of attitudes, feelings and values.

All the components influence one another in a positive way; for example Kim explains that "cognitive development is directly linked to the affective development". But Spitzberg is the one who introduced the first the notion of interaction between the components. It has then been reused by numerous authors, bringing out for instance that values and motivation can serve as a link between the cognitive and the behavioral level (Bücker and Poutsma); or even that with the cognitive process, "the values and motivation act as permanent driving forces".

We can conclude that thanks to the emotional abilities you have better adaptation capabilities to cope with different cultures but then also with different situations, you are not afraid to take risks and you forget anxiety; this means that you are more ready for change. Besides all those qualities are as relevant in managing intercultural teams as in having to deal with a change within your organization.

Behavioral/Social skills

We can divide the behavioral/ social skills in two parts which are both very important.

First, there are the NON visible behavioral/social skills also called the personal capacities. They are personal and the only way to acquire them is a personal work in order to improve one's own behavior.

For example, the non-visible social skills can be the capabilities to listen, to tolerate the differences between each culture, to empathize, to understand and analyze the different behaviors or the different points of view.

It is a deep willingness to understand the others and to open your mind. And even if, a lot of these competences can be innate, it is also a real and personal work.

The second part is the VISIBLE behavioral/social skills also called the communication capacities. These competences are the application of the non-visible social skills and a part of knowledge. Indeed, the foreign language knowledge and the tolerance are the only way to communicate cross culturally. Moreover, analyzing and understanding the differences permit to express clearly the goals.

To conclude, the aim of the behavioral/ social skills is to adapt communication thanks to a combination of communication and personal capabilities. Managing to do this permits to create a trust climate and a collaborative dialogue without major conflicts.

III) Development and barriers of intercultural competence

The Bennett scale : from isolation to intercultural competence

In order to develop intercultural competence, it is really important to understand where an individual is situated in front of cultural differences.

It is the only way to know how teaching him to be intercultural competent. We can use the Bennett scale to understand where he is.

This tool is divided in two parts: the three ethnocentric stages (the individual see the world by his own culture) and the three ethno relative stages (the individual see the world like a mix of different cultures).


Ethnocentric steps: the superiority of one's own culture

Denial: When an individual is in the denial stage, he doesn't accept the existence of other cultures. He considers that only his own behaviors, customs or values can be real and true. He establishes some barriers, which can be psychological or physical, to create two distinct parts: his culture, which is the only one, and the rest of the world.

Defense: When an individual is in the defense stage, he recognizes the existence of other cultures but for him, they are a threat. He denigrates them in order to express the superiority of his own culture.

Minimization: When an individual is in the minimization stage, he considers that there are not differences between each culture.

Ethno relative stages: one's own culture equal to the other

Acceptance: When an individual is in the acceptance stage, he knows the differences between each culture and he respects them.

Adaptation: When an individual is in the adaptation stage, as he has overtaken the acceptance stage, he is able to understand and respect the cultural differences but also to change his own behavior to adapt them when he is confronted to other cultures.

Integration: When an individual is in the integration stage, he has perfectly assimilates the cultural differences. He is able to have different worldviews because he has incorporated a lot of different values and behaviors according the culture of one country.

How can I develop my intercultural competence?

Personal pre-requisites

Learning to be intercultural competent is impossible if an individual have not the deep willingness to improve his own behavior and to be ready to understand the cultural differences.

For instance, if an individual is "stuck" in the three ethnocentric stages of the Bennett scale (model presented here above), making progress toward intercultural competence depends on him. If he does not want to improve his attitude and his vision of world, he never becomes intercultural competent.

So, before beginning intercultural competence training, somebody must be sure that he is ready to change the following characteristics thanks to a personal work:

Willingness to learn foreign languages.

Willingness to understand of sensitivity and respect.

Willingness to be confronted to other cultures.

Willingness to be open-minding, culture aware, people oriented and tolerant.

Intercultural competence training

As soon as the individual has overtaken the ethnocentric stages, the intercultural competence training can begin. It is better when this learning process begins early in the individual's life. Indeed, it is easier to change your mind when you are young.

Different tools permit to make progress in order to reach the integration stage.

â-ª Learning intercultural competence by school education: theoretical teaching

The first step of intercultural competence begins thanks to studies. The different school subjects permit them to improve their knowledge about other cultures: foreign language course or history for example.

Students learn the cultural differences thanks to their professors in their own country. But this first teaching stays theoretical (because, most of the time, they are surround by people who have the same culture) and there is not a real role-playing.

â-ª Erasmus or youth exchange: the confrontation with other cultures

A lot of students who leave their own country to study abroad become more intercultural competent. Indeed, they learn another language; they are confronted to unfamiliar situations; they are obliged to respect the values and the behaviors of their host country.

Moreover, during this kind of exchange, they work with foreigners: it is the application in real situation of their theoretical teaching.

Thanks to this experiment, they have to assimilate the cultural differences and work with them. It is a relevant advantage for their career. Indeed, in our current and globalized world, employers look for people who are able to work with foreigners and to be ready to move all around the world.

Barriers to communication

Even if an individual manage to develop his intercultural competence and reach the integration stage, some barriers can continue to obstruct the learning process.

These barriers are also present when two people have the same culture, so it is harder to overtake them when two people have cultural differences.

It is really important to know them in order to avoid stop communication.

Being confronted to these barriers does not mean that you are not intercultural competent but you have to take into account them. Indeed, they can block communication, which is the base of intercultural competence, even if you have all the capacities of it.

â-ªPhysical barrier: distance

It is harder to communicate cross-culturally with people when you are separated by kilometers. Indeed, the communication can be misrepresented when you are not in face to face. For example, your interlocutor can misunderstand what you said by mail because he cannot see your corporal behavior.

â-ªPsychological barrier: Your personal feelings like anxiety, stress or sadness can create misunderstandings.

â-ª Gender: Men and women have not the same way to think and to speak. They have different approaches when there are confronted to a problem: a man used to go directly to the point whereas a woman prefers details. They often do not take the same decision.

â-ª Generational: Every generation has its own way of communication. It is necessary to understand the differences created by the age of the person otherwise communication can be quickly stopped.



To conclude we saw that globalization has created a need for intercultural competences; as we are more and more in situations where different cultures meet and need to work together, we have to be aware of the fact that managing an intercultural team can be learned, even if it is not easy and also depends from innate qualities. Those skills are then as useful for such a purpose as for being ready to confront all kinds of changes at work but also in your personal life.


The sage handbook of intercultural competence published by Darla K. Deardorff