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Does Globalisation Improve Intercultural Competence?

by | Jul 19, 2020 | Collaborations Across Cultures

Globalisation started when man left their homelands in search for economic gains in 3000 BC. Today, the globalisation is ubiquitous. Seasonal foods are now available off season. Newly launched fashion in Europe is readily available in stores the next day in Asia. Companies are able to access talent and clients across the world  just by the click of the mouse. 

Economic development and political exchange requires the global mobility of people and gives rise to diplomats, expatriates and economic migrants. With an increase in cross-border mobility, research has shown that individuals who have spent as little as 3 months abroad have seen an increase in their Intercultural Competence. The most significant improvement in the Intercultural Competence is the individual’s reflection on their cultural identity in comparison to their host culture, which subsequently increases self awareness.

Globalisation brought about massive shifts in our way of life. As such, it has become a necessity to engage with people from other cultures. To effectively engage, collaborate and relate with people from different cultures, we need the necessary intercultural skills, one of which is Intercultural Competence. Intercultural Competence was once viewed as an essential skill only for international relations. However, for organisations to expand beyond their locality, most everyone, from the leaders to employees, need intercultural competence to thrive.

With information that is easily accessible through our mobile devices, is it still necessary to travel and live abroad to improve our intercultural competence? What does it mean to have an increased Intercultural Competence and how does it help in engaging, collaborating and relating to others? To answer these questions, we will delve deeper in understanding Intercultural Competence framework and how globalisation plays a part in shaping this competence within the individual. 

Intercultural Competence and Globalisation 1 by Culture Spark Global

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Globalisation: Past vs Present

Globalisation is the interaction and integration between people, organisations, businesses and governments brought by trade, investments, and cultural exchange. Globalisation has rapidly increased in the past two decades. This can be seen by the ubiquitous brick and mortar brands of McDonald’s and Starbucks available in every city block and suburb, the ecommerce brands of Amazon and Alibaba as bookmarks on our browsers as well as the devices in our pockets of Apple, Samsung or Huawei. 

Since humanity started leaving their homelands in search for economic gains, the world has experienced globalisation. Historians believe that the first long distance trade occurred around 3000BC between Mesopotamia and Indus Valley in Pakistan. They traded luxury goods such as textile, spices and metals. Not long after, civilisations with an abundance of commodities established trading routes that gave them riches to expand their cities. 

We must ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world’s people share the benefits of globalisation.

Kofi Annan

Fast forward centuries later, globalisation had seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. Brands that were once available within a country are now established across the world. Supplies for the production of goods that were once locally sourced are now globally sourced at competitive prices. For example, fast fashion companies may have sourced their cotton in Kazakhstan, dyes from India, assembled in Cambodia, before distributing to regional warehouses across the world. This allows fast fashion brands to keep their prices low. 

With the (almost) free flow of information on the internet, some may say that travel is no longer necessary to learn and experience other cultures. We have access to movies, music, tv shows and various content via could and streaming services for a minimal fee or for free. This begs the question… Can we develop Intercultural Competence in the comfort of our homes and still collaborate and work effectively with people from other parts of the world?

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How does Intercultural Competence Help?

Academics and researchers have proposed and attempted to define Intercultural Competence. Generally, the Intercultural Competence consists of the individual’s knowledge, behaviours and attitudes that enables them to effectively communicate, interact and relate with people from other cultures to accomplish their goals.

People with Intercultural Competence are able to navigate cultural complexities by 

  • attaining cultural knowledge as well as reflecting upon one’s own culture
  • having the right attitude in engaging and interacting with others to achieve the best outcome for everyone
  • recognising and considering cultural nuances and group dynamics in their interactions
  • adjusting their speech and behaviours to suit the other cultures’ expectations

One common myth of people with Intercultural Competence is that they will forgo their own cultural values, norms and beliefs to adopt another. On the contrary, research has shown that when interacting with people from another culture, one becomes more aware of their own cultural values, norms and beliefs. With the increased awareness, individuals will be able to decide the level of adjustment and compromise that is most comfortable for them. 

If you are an organisation or a business that wishes to expand beyond your borders, having Intercultural Competence will clearly be advantageous for accessing new markets and tapping into the global talent pool. Venturing into new markets without having cultural knowledge, without understanding cultural nuances and without having the right attitude or behaviour adjustment can be risky to your business. For example, Starbucks ventured into Vietnam, the coffee capital of Southeast Asia but struggled to gain traction with Vietnamese, unlike in other Southeast Asian nations.

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While Starbucks’ struggle is a combination of many factors, having Intercultural Competence early on may help the company to prepare for and reduce their risk in expanding to new markets. As companies search for greater growth through foreign markets, will our highly interconnected world and abundance of accessible knowledge be sufficient to improve Intercultural Competence?

Can Globalisation Improve Intercultural Competence?

There are certain aspects of the development of Intercultural Competence which can be aided by globalisation, though not entirely.  Intercultural Competences consist of 3 basic elements which are Attitudes, Knowledge and Skills.

Attitude

Attitudes is a combination of emotions and beliefs an individual has towards an object, person, event or issue. Prior to the intercultural encounter, it is possible for individuals to have the right attitudes that can be advantageous. Attitudes such as respect, openness, curiosity can help one to be effective without having prior knowledge or adopting the other’s cultural behaviours. 

Though generally, psychologists have long known that attitudes are difficult to change, which also implies that the development of Intercultural Competence may not be suitable for everyone.

    Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor E. Frankl

    Knowledge 

    Cultural knowledge is wide ranging and can encompass knowledge such as customs, history, political, economic, language and many more. With access to an abundance of knowledge on the internet, one can easily find information about another culture. Expatriate groups, bloggers, media companies, governments, academics and many more have published online and in books. They willingly share anecdotes, observations and research of various global cultures. Here are a couple of fantastic resources to start with:

    With the abundance of knowledge that is easily accessible, it is possible that one can develop the knowledge element of intercultural competence and with limited experiences. However, one needs to bear in mind that cultural experiences are personal and relative. The experiences between a Taiwanese and an Australian business person can greatly differ when negotiating with a Chinese company. Knowledge obtained through study should be kept as a guide and not treated as the Bible. The real development of Intercultural Competence is still through experience. 

    Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is more intellectual play.

    Immanuel Kant

    Skills

    Skills is the individual’s ability to  practically apply knowledge in various contexts to achieve their desired outcome. For Intercultural Competence, the skills refer to the flexibility of an individual in adapting verbal and non-verbal communication to be understood and engage with the other culture. Other skills related to Intercultural Competence is empathy, the ability to take another’s perspective and decipher unspoken rules of the other culture. 

    These skills, while one can read books and watch videos, can only be improved with practice and the accumulation of experiences. Globalisation has made cities into a cultural melting pot. Cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, London, Sydney, New York and many others contain pockets of the world’s cultures. If you live in a multicultural city, seeking out multicultural experiences and ensuring you have a diverse network will help you gain the practice and experience required. However, if you’re living in a homogenous society, the opportunities to gain intercultural experiences and opportunities to practice behaviours will be limited. 

    Does Globalisation Improve Intercultural Competence?

    Nearly every corner of the earth is touched by globalisation and it plays an important role in the expansion of businesses and the development of Intercultural Competence within individuals. However, we must bear in mind that Intercultural Competence is not a status or a certificate to be obtained. Rather it’s a lifelong process of learning and personal development. 

    When one has developed Intercultural Competence for a culture, it does not mean you’ll be successful in another. With every new culture, you’ll need to relearn different ways of communicating, acquiring new knowledge and adapting one’s behaviours. Paying attention to the “how” of acquiring knowledge, attitudes and skills can greatly improve the process of developing one’s Intercultural Competence, for you to succeed in our globalised world.

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    Ling Ling, Tai

    Ling Ling is a seasoned Learning and Development Professional with a passion for supporting leaders and teams in leveraging diversity, increasing intercultural awareness, and cultivating inclusive workplaces. Her lifelong work spans across 21 countries and across various industries such as manufacturing, technology, travel and non-profit. Having lived and worked in 6 countries, she believes that openness, compassion and inclusion creates  thriving and engaging workplaces.

    Globalization has changed us into a company that searches the world, not just to sell or to source, but to find intellectual capital – the world’s best talents and greatest ideas.

    Jack Welch