The word ‘culture’ originates from the Latin word “colere”, translated as to build on, to cultivate, to foster. Many authors have attempted to define the meaning of the word, and there are many schools of thought regarding the term. Hofstede wrote one of the most cited explanations of culture in 1991 who refers to culture as the “collective programming of the mind.” 

 Intercultural Training Graphic 1Culture involves beliefs, attitudes, values, and traditions that are shared by a group of people. Culture also includes the psychological aspects of the communication context. From the choice of words (message), the meaning of the words (Pragmatism) to how you communicate (in person, or by email), to how you acknowledge understanding with a nod or a glance (nonverbal feedback).
 
With increased globalisation, fast-developing technology, and enhanced communication, the need for businesses to have high levels of intercultural communication skills has never been more critical. Intercultural communication takes place with people of different cultures discussing and communicating. Businesses intending to operate globally should invest in cross-cultural training for their staff to enjoy the immense benefits. Effective intercultural communication produces benefits such as employee productivity and teamwork.

Productivity and Proficiency

Enhanced Intercultural communication skills help employees from different ethnic backgrounds to communicate effectively with one another. It guides management to design policies that incorporate the diversity in the team, allowing team members to be productive, proficient and innovative. Innovation is a crucial enabler of competitive advantage and one that all companies seek to achieve. Similarly, misunderstandings and dissatisfaction can be avoided if policies and directives are created with a knowledge of the needs of all personnel irrespective of background, taken into consideration. This creates a harmonious satisfied and homogenous workforce while still maintaining the desired innovation competence.

Teamwork

Increased Intercultural communication greatly enhances teamwork in an organisation. It helps staff to understand each other’s cultural differences, and to communicate effectively without misunderstanding. With successful intercultural communication, employees understand the influence of culture on peoples' behaviour and communication tendencies. This enhances teamwork, as colleagues respect one another’s cultural background, unique talents and capabilities, which is key to the smooth running of a business. Since employees are aware of their colleagues’ cultural influences, intercultural communication eliminates stereotyping -- a danger to effective communication and teamwork.

The Global Business Advantage

Successful intercultural communication gives an organisation a significant global business advantage. By providing employees with cross-cultural communication training, an organisation can build strong negotiation skills in the global market of diverse cultures. By understanding how people from different parts of the world use words, gestures and communication to convey messages, an organisation that has acquired intercultural communication skills can confidently build relationships, take advantage of global business opportunities, and employ workers with diverse backgrounds. A company that understands the importance of intercultural communication has advantages in launching its business globally over a company that has not invested in it.

 Effective Leadership

Intercultural communication also fosters effective leadership in an organisation. Modern organisations are composed of diverse people, and managers are expected to lead their teams by creating an understanding of the company’s policies while accommodating the different views of his team. A company that equips its leadership team in intercultural training enables them to motivate their teams, regardless of their cultural background. Cross-cultural training builds effective communication, which is a step toward effective leadership.

How to Understand Intercultural Communication

Image of Edward T HallThe American anthropologist Edward T. Hall is often cited as a pioneer in the field of intercultural communication. Born in 1914, Hall spent much of his early adulthood in the multicultural setting of the American Southwest, where Native Americans, Spanish-speakers, and descendants of pioneers came together from diverse cultural perspectives. He then travelled the globe during World War II and later served as a U.S. State Department official. 

Where anthropologists had once viewed culture as a single, distinct way of living, Hall saw how the perspective of the individual influences interaction. By focusing on interactions rather than cultures as separate from individuals, he asked people to evaluate the many cultures they belong to or are influenced by, as well as those with whom they interacted. While his view makes the study of intercultural communication far more complex, it also brings a healthy dose of reality to the discussion.

Hall is generally credited with eight contributions to the study of intercultural communication as follows:

  1. Compare cultures. Focus on the interactions versus general observations of culture.
  2. Shift to a local perspective. Local-level versus global perspective.
  3. You don’t have to know everything to know something. Time, space, gestures, and gender roles can be studied, even if we lack a broader understanding of the entire culture.
  4. There are rules we can learn. People create rules for themselves in each community that we can learn from, compare, and contrast.
  5. Experience counts. Personal experience has value in addition to more comprehensive studies of interaction and culture.
  6. Perspectives can differ. Descriptive linguistics serves as a model to understand cultures.
  7. Intercultural communication can be applied to international business. U.S. Foreign Service training yielded applications for trade and commerce and became a point of study for business majors.
  8. It integrates the disciplines. Culture and communication are intertwined and bring together many academic disciplines.

Intercultural training provides staff with the skills to not only navigate the complex and diverse nature of the modern work space, but to embrace the benefits that a multi-cultural workforce provides, this adding significant competitive advantage.