As businesses throughout the United States realize the importance of establishing presence and influence beyond national borders to include foreign markets, they are beginning to recognize that language barriers are not the only challenge facing global communications. With rapid advances in technology, businesses are no longer hindered by the constraints of geographical borders. As a result, they are increasingly building business relationships and human resources teams that worldwide. Intercultural communication, sometimes called “cross cultural communication,” is one of the major concepts in international business that seeks to identify, understand and adapt to communication disparities across different cultures.
Challenges and Solutions to Communicating Across Cultural and Linguistic Barriers
Issues in cross cultural communications typically exist on two levels: inter-business communications and business-to-business communications. Companies that hire employees from several different countries are often confronted by the misunderstandings that arise from interactions between workers whose professional behaviors are inherently shaped by their cultural roots.
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A recent article found in Financial Times entitled “Cross-Cultural Conversations” attempts to describe an instance of this inter-business conflict during company meetings. Here, author Michiyo Nakamoto explains: “In the western context, even a comment that is not quite to the point is contributing to the discussion. In contrast, Japanese people are less comfortable thinking out loud and feel that if they are going to speak up in a meeting they need to say something significant.”
Business-to-business communications can also be negatively affected by ignoring the diverse cultural upbringings of business clients and partners. Companies that do not invest time, energy and money into learning the political, ethical, religious, social, moral and even educational systems that are unique to a given culture’s way of personal and professional correspondence are more likely to experience communication breakdowns in international business transactions. Consequently, individual companies may forfeit lucrative opportunities in foreign markets and therefore potential profits.
By promoting and implementing a commitment toward intercultural communications, businesses can gain the information necessary to identify external and internal problems that stem from cultural origins and create successful solutions to eradicate them. Companies are encouraged to take advantage of intercultural consulting firms and research resources to gain insight on how cultural factors are expressed through an individual’s beliefs, attitudes, mannerisms, perceptions, and communicating styles.
The Tools of Intercultural Communications
Thankfully there are several specific training, assessment, evaluation and inventory tools available to businesses that need assistance in establishing stronger intercultural communication awareness. These tools and services are mainly provided by professional associations and cross cultural communication consulting firms.
According to the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI), some of the most commonly used intercultural tools include:
- Global Competencies Inventory (GCI)
- Cross Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI)
- Diagnosing Organizational Culture
- Discovering Diversity Profile
- Diversity Awareness Profile (DAP)
- Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory (ICS)
- Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI)
- International Mobility Assessment (IMA)
- Intercultural Readiness Check (IRC)
- Intercultural Sensitivity Inventory (ICSI)
- Learning Styles Inventory (LSI)
- Overseas Assignment Inventory (OAI)
- Intercultural Candidate Evaluation (ICE)
These intercultural communications tools are typically checklists and questionnaires that companies, groups and/or individuals use to evaluate their intercultural orientation, adaptability and sensitivity.
- Global Competencies Inventory (GCI) helps to determine an individual’s perception management, self-management and relationship management which are three major factors in intercultural adaptability.
- Cross Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI) is a self-assessment tool that measures an individual’s capacity to adjust to cultural unfamiliar environments.
- Diagnosing Organizational Culture is used by companies that want to discovery their current cultural orientation and possibly find ways to improve it.
- Discovering Diversity Profile assists employees by revealing their feelings concerning cultural knowledge, understanding, acceptance and behavior.
- Diversity Awareness Profile (DAP) is used by individuals as a guide to how their direct and indirect actions are interpreted by people of diverse backgrounds.
- Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory (ICS) is a list of paired statements offering different ways of reacting to conflict. After participating in the ICS, individuals learn their approach toward cultural conflict whether it be direct, indirect, expressive or restrained.
- Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) was inspired by the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) to aid in the intercultural training of a group or individual. The IDI uses a fifty-point guide to indicate the cultural development of the participant(s).
- International Mobility Assessment (IMA) is a self-assessment tool that companies may give to employees that are considering relocating abroad for a job position or assignment. Results gathered by the IMA may indicate whether or not an employee is culturally equipped for international travel.
- Intercultural Readiness Check (IRC) is a popular questionnaire used by companies worldwide to determine their level of intercultural competence.
- Intercultural Sensitivity Inventory (ICSI) is a self-report that consists of forty-six items meant to help an individual discover their cultural identity by examining their perceptions of cultural constructs.
- Learning Styles Inventory (LSI)is widely used in intercultural training to reveal an individual’s preferred method of learning.
- Overseas Assignment Inventory (OAI) is a self-assessment instrument that is frequently used in corporate international training to measure cross cultural adaptability.
- Intercultural Candidate Evaluation (ICE) is often used to supplement the OAI for those in managerial positions.
Degrees and Certification Options in Intercultural Communications
Not surprisingly, professionals that work in the field of intercultural or cross cultural communications need a strong educational background in cultural and communication studies. Although many academic paths can lead to careers under this occupational umbrella, there are degree and certificate programs specific to intercultural communications throughout the United States.
The Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications with a concentration in Culture and Communications provides a very targeted education in cross cultural communications and can stand alone or lay the groundwork for a graduate degree and/or certificate in intercultural communications.
Those that enroll in a Master of Arts in Intercultural Relations or similar program will have the benefit of learning about a wide-variety of topics in cross cultural communications by completing courses that include:
- Orientation and Personal Leadership
- Concepts of Intercultural Relations
- Ethnicity and Intergroup Relations
- Advanced Intercultural Communication Theory
- Process of Change
- Change Agentry
- Leadership and Adult Learning
- Culture in the Organizational Context
On the other hand, students that prefer to earn a certificate in intercultural studies can pick from three different programs that establishes their particular level of expertise. Presently, the ICI offers an Intercultural Foundations Certificate, Intercultural Practitioner Certificate and an Intercultural Professional Certificate. Of course post-secondary education in intercultural communication studies is not solely intended for students. Professionals working in areas of business, human resources, education, social services, personnel training and consulting are also encouraged to supplement their knowledge with intercultural education.
Professionals that have completed a certificate or degree program but still want continuing education in intercultural communications should become members of a professional association like the International Communication Association, the National Communication Association or the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR). These organizations help to keep members up-to-date about news, research, employment opportunities and educational developments in intercultural communications through seminars, conferences, regional meetings, workshops, publications, networking events and job boards.
Career Opportunities in Intercultural and Multi-linguistic Communications
Graduates of formal academic degree program in cross-cultural communications often qualify for positions in several diverse careers. Examples of intercultural communications professions include, but are not limited to:
- Foreign correspondents
- Foreign relation and service officers
- Intercultural and diversity trainers
- Travel industry representatives
- International corporate representatives
- Social and human service providers
- International advisors
Intercultural communications development and consulting firms are also great places to find job opportunities for cross cultural communications program graduates. Prominent firms like Executive Diversity Services, Inc., the Kozai Group, Inc., and Aperian Global, employ workers with intercultural communications backgrounds to service companies and businesses that need assistance in training, consulting, coaching, retreat and meeting facilitation, conflict management, as well as global leadership identification and development across cultural boundaries.