Developing Cross-Cultural Effectiveness

cross cultural diversity communicationWe live in a global environment and as such, encounter many different types of people and cultures on a regular basis.  As Americans we’re use to our way of life, norms, behaviors, and assumptions that can rub other cultures the wrong way.

According to Cross-cultural competence refers to your ability to understand people from different cultures and engage with them effectively. And not just people from the one culture that you’ve studied for years. Having cross-cultural competence means you can be effective in your interactions with people from most any culture.

Being able to communicate and work with people across cultures is becoming more important all the time. People are traveling, reaching out, and mixing with different others like never before. They do it for fun, but they also do it for work. In all cases, success requires developing a relationship. And doing this means bridging a cultural divide.

Rasmussen, Sieck, and their colleagues identified 12 core aspects of cross-cultural competence. These competencies were frequently found in the thought process of the experts. They are listed here as a set of principles that can help you be more effective on your next sojourn:

  1. Stay focused on your goals: If you’re overseas for work, then building intercultural relationships is not just for fun. Building relationships will help you get your work done.
  2. Understand the culture within yourself: Keep aware of the fact that you see the world in a particular way because of your own background, personal history, and culture.
  3. Manage your attitudes towards the culture: You don’t always have to love the culture. But you do have to keep check on your reactions to values and customs that are different from your own. The first two principles can also help you manage your attitudes.
  4. Direct your learning of the culture: Don’t expect a book or training course to hand you the answers. Try to make sense of the culture for yourself, using the information you come across as clues.
  5. Develop reliable information sources: Find two or three locals to get answers from about the culture. Build the relationships so you feel comfortable asking about most anything. Check with more than one and compare their answers in your head.
  6. Learn about the new culture efficiently: You can’t learn everything about the culture before your trip. It’s unrealistic. Focus on learning a few things that fit your interests, and use those to make connections and learn more while you are abroad.
  7. Cope with cultural surprises: No matter how much you prepare in advance, you will find yourself faced with people acting in ways that you find puzzling. When you do, try to find out why. Doing so will often lead to new insights.
  8. Formulate cultural explanations of behavior: Routinely try to explain to yourself why people act as they do in this culture, differently from your own. Using things you know about the culture to explain behavior will help you build a deeper understanding of the culture overall.
  9. Take a cultural perspective: Try to see things from the point of view of the people from the other culture. By taking a cultural perspective, you may create a whole new understanding of what’s going on around you.
  10. Plan cross-cultural communication: Think ahead of time about what you have to say and how you want the other person to perceive you. Use what you know about the culture to figure out the best way to get that across.
  11. Control how you present yourself: Be deliberate about how you present and express yourself. Sometimes you’ll be most effective if you’re just yourself. Other times you have to adapt how you present yourself to the culture you are in to be most effective.
  12. Reflect and seek feedback: Continue to reflect on and learn from your interactions and experiences after they occur. After an interaction you can think about whether you got the messages across you intended. You can even ask a local how they think you did.

These twelve principles give you some pointers about how to think about the experiences you have in new cultures. They are essential to cross-cultural competence.

Want to study this topic deeper?  Check out this handy book (Understanding Cross-Cultural Management) which is sure to make you at least sound worldly as you B.S. your way through that snooty dinner party you’ve been dreading.

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