About attaining intercultural competence

Intercultural competence is more than awareness. It takes more than „keeping it simple“.

I reflect on my learning curve in working and living in environments that are different, new, strange and unfamiliar to me. Situations go from unknown to known. Let me share some of my observations of my personal learning process.

Today I love the situations in which I need to awaken all my bearings to navigate and be present. Those moments when unfamiliar and familiar blend. That may be a coaching session with a special unit police officer or teaching a multi-national group of students in FHNW or doing a project assessment workshop in Bangladesh. The unfamiliar, multi-cultural and multi-lingual prompts me to open my senses, to sharpen my communication skills and to be a vivid observer. Assuming doesn’t do justice to reality and so precise communication (questions, para-phrasing, confirming etc.) is necessary.

Being competent is the moment when I have options of response. I notice a response, an email, a shout, a touch, an escalation or a body gesture and before assuming and interpreting and reacting I reflect on possible meanings. This moment of reflection to observe and then to choose a response is a prerequisite to “being competent”. Choosing an appropriate response.

Cultural intelligence (to use the other term) is “the capability to function effectively across a variety of cultural contexts, such as ethnic, generational and organizational cultures."
(David Livermore Ph.D, The Cultural Intelligence Difference, 2011)

Intelligence research focuses on learned capabilities rather than on personality traits and it integrates a wide range of findings from both psychology and sociology. Our intercultural relationships are shaped by both our individual personality and sociocultural background.

Intelligence frameworks emphasise the capability to reformulate one’s concept of self and other rather than just learn about cultural thinking and behaviour.

In most of our business (and personal) world operating with a mono-cultural lens is no longer sufficient. And so we need to learn to see in a new way. We need to empower ourselves by changing lenses. Many think that intercultural competence is about “liking or disliking” this new multicultural world. It’s not. It about learning to be in the presence of familiar and unfamiliar and to develop response patterns that are linked to my mandate, objective and to my values and personality.