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Overview of Intercultural Competencies

 a. Knowledge and ideas
When working across cultures, there are special challenges to drawing the right conclusions about the behaviours, ideas and perspectives we see around us. We tend to see the world through our own cultural filters, particularly when working from our home culture with little opportunity to immerse ourselves in other realities. When working with international partners, we can quickly misevaluate what we see, allowing negative stereotypes of others’ behaviour to replace the need for positive, flexible thinking.
To achieve a greater ability to understand our international partners, we require a range of qualities. We need to be open to new ideas and ready to challenge our assumptions (new thinking) as well as avoiding jumping to quick opinions about the behaviour we encounter. In terms of our own behaviour we need to be interested in how others’ project goals may be different from our own, and thus seek to explore and take them into account (goal orientation). In specific national cultural contexts, we also need to be more pro-active in researching the values and behaviours of the people we encounter (information gathering). In multi-cultural groups we need to share and surface the different perspectives people have about a problem as a source of problem-solving and creativity (synergistic solutions). more>>
  b. Communication
One of the key resources we bring to building trust and mutual understanding with our international partners is the quality of our communication skills. We may have come to some useful initial conclusions about what they want and how they operate, but unless we can build on this through effective and appropriate communication strategies and skills the potential for building shared meaning will be lost. Often international partnerships can be beset by misunderstandings based on problems in overcoming the language barrier as well as a failure to draw on the right mix of listening, speaking and perceptiveness skills to read, explore and negotiate meaning. Often people underestimate the amount of background information that is required to be shared up-front to create a platform for mutual understanding, as well as the different styles they need to bring to influencing their international partners.
To achieve greater ability to communicate with our international partners, we require a range of qualities. We need to be attentive to the choice of working language and communication protocols (communication management) as well as being willing to learn and use the language of our international partner (language learning). In terms of our own communication skills we need to adapt our language to the proficiency level of our partner (language adjustment) as well as be more active and attentive listeners (active listening). We also need to become more skilled in observing indirect signals and interpreting them in the context of different cultural contexts (attuning). In the context of building and developing partnerships we need to disclose and elicit information up-front that is needed for mutual understanding and meaningful negotiation (building of shared knowledge). We also need to influence our partners appropriately and flexibly by drawing from a range of styles to get our message across (stylistic flexibility). more>>
  c. Relationships
When working internationally trust can often be fragile and differences in cultural assumptions around key issues such as teamwork and hierarchy can often be a source of divisiveness rather than creativity. Research indicates that a lack of cohesion between people is one of the key factors that makes multi-cultural teams less effective. Thus an explicit focus on gluing people together becomes a need-to-have rather than a nice-to-have, and a focus on task needs to be embedded in a pro-active approach to relationship-building.
To build relationships effectively we need to not only focus on the energy we put into relationship-building with specific partners, but also on the knowledge we have of the organisational and cultural context in which they operate and the attitudes we reveal in responding to the different behaviours they exhibit. We need to be pro-active in breaking the ice with new people (welcoming strangers) but then need to work hard to build and sustain the relationships we have created (rapport building). We also need to nurture relationships by being sensitive to the social as well as professional role that international partners have within groups, and prevent them losing face (interpersonal attentiveness). We need to understand the hierarchical and power relationships they have back in their own working context (sensitivity to context). more>>
  d. Personal qualities/dispositions
Working internationally also demands a range of personal qualities linked to emotional strength, sense of direction and adaptability. These qualities may be deeper-lying and slower to build, but they remain essential for pushing forward in unfamiliar settings while making others feel comfortable around us.
We need to have the motivation to seek out variety and change (spirit of adventure) while having a strong internal sense of where we are going (inner purpose). Emotionally we need to possess well-developed methods of dealing with stress (coping) as well as remaining positive when things go wrong (resilience). We also need to be conscious that are own behaviour, while normal for us, may be considered strange in another cultural context (self-awareness) and positively accept different behaviours that may immediately seem to go against our sense of what is normal and appropriate (acceptance). We thus need to be willing to adapt our behaviour to suit other cultural contexts, and to sustain trust with key partners. more>>