Reading the literature, websites or promotional material many ask ‘what is the difference between 'intercultural' and 'cross cultural'? What is 'cross cultural awareness' as opposed to 'cross cultural knowledge' or, are 'cultural sensitivity' and 'cultural competence' the same thing?
With a view to clarifying some of the above mentioned terminology, this article will examine terms used in relation to building cross cultural understanding within the business world.
Cross cultural understanding simply refers to the basic ability of people within business to recognise, interpret and correctly react to people, incidences or situations that are open to misunderstanding due to cultural differences. The fundamental intention of cross cultural training is to equip the learner(s) with the appropriate skills to attain cross cultural understanding.
Once the foundations of cross cultural understanding have been laid, the learner(s), either through continued training or experiences within the workplace, gradually attains a more acute appreciation of cultural differences. The different types of appreciation are cross cultural knowledge, cross cultural awareness, cross cultural sensitivity and cross cultural competence. Although all the terms may appear similar in meaning, subtle differences exist between them.
Cross Cultural Knowledge is critical to basic cross cultural understanding. Without it cross cultural appreciation cannot take place. It refers to a surface level familiarization with cultural characteristics, values, beliefs and behaviours.
Cross Cultural Awareness develops from cross cultural knowledge as the learner understands and appreciates a culture internally. This may also be accompanied by changes within the learner's behaviour and attitudes such as a greater flexibility and openness.
Cross Cultural Sensitivity is a natural by-product of awareness and refers to an ability to read into situations, contexts and behaviours that are culturally rooted and be able to react to them appropriately. An suitable response necessitates that the actor no longer carries his/her own culturally determined interpretations of the situation or behaviour (i.e. good/bad, right/wrong) which can only be nurtured through both cross cultural knowledge and awareness.
Cross Cultural Competence is and should be the aim of all those dealing with multicultural clients, customers or colleagues. 'Competence' is the final stage of cross cultural understanding and signifies the actor's ability to work effectively across cultures. Cross cultural competency is beyond knowledge, awareness and sensitivity in that it is the digestion, integration and transformation of all the skills and information acquired through them, applied to create cultural synergy within the workplace.
Cultural competency is a term used to describe the ability to work, communicate and live across cultures and cultural boundaries. One achieves this through an instilled understanding of cultures on a general level as well as an informed one about specific cultures on a more detailed level. As well as knowledge it has to work in tandem with behavioural and attitudinal changes.
Cultural competency is important in this day and age for exactly the reasons cited in this article. We, as citizens of planet earth, are no longer confined to our national and cultural borders. We mix with people from different cultures, ethnicities, religions and colours on a daily basis. In order to make this intercultural experience work on all levels from education to business to government, people have to develop basic skills in intercultural communication and understanding.
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