Communication Between Cultures

(Sean Pound) #1

Developing Intercultural Competence

We continue with the theme of cultural differences here at the end of this chapter
by offering some advice on how you can develop the skills necessary to improve
your intercultural competency. Beforeadvancing our suggestions, we call your
attention to some difficulties you might experience when trying to improve your
intercultural skills. First, as we have explained throughout this chapter, much of
what we call culture occurs early in life—often prior to age four. Because the“les-
sons”of culture are learned so early, they become a basic part of the perceptions,
thinking, and actions of the child. In this sense, a person’s reaction to his or her
social environment is often automatic and second nature. Thus, when attempting
to develop new communication skills, you bring to the endeavor a lifetime of
ingrained habits and unconscious responses. For example, if you are from the cul-
ture of the United States, where informality is valued and good manners are not
highly esteemed, you might have a difficult time when interacting with Germans.
In that culture,“Good manners are part of a child’supbringing”and stressed in
everything from family relationships to the business environment.^93
Second, as Lynch reminds us,“Long-standing behavior patterns are typically used
to express one’s deepest values.”^94 Hence, cultural habits, responses, perceptions,
behaviors, and such are hard to change. That they are difficult to change does not
mean that they are impossible to change.
We are now ready to answer the significant question: What is intercultural
competence? According to Spitzberg, intercultural communication competence is
“behavior that is appropriate and effective in a given context.”^95 Kim offers a
more detailed definition when she notes that intercultural communication compe-
tence is“the overall internal capability of an individual to manage key challeng-
ing features of intercultural communication: namely, cultural differences and
unfamiliarity, inter-group posture,
and the accompanying experience
of stress.”^96 These two definitions,
one general and one specific, sug-
gest that being an interculturally
competent communicator means
analyzing the situation and select-
ing the correct mode of behavior.

The Basic Components of Intercultural Communication Competence

Most of the research in the area of intercultural communication competence includes
(1)being motivated, (2)having a fund of knowledge to draw on, and (3)possessing certain
communication skills.


Motivation, as it relates to intercultural competence, means that as a communicator,
you want to be part of a successful intercultural encounter. You know from personal
experience that being motivated and having a positive attitude usually bring forth


What are the advantages of the“culture-general”approach to the
study of intercultural communication over the“culture-specific”

The Basic Components of Intercultural Communication Competence 61

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