Do's and don'ts in Japan

Intercultural Communication – more than Do‘s and Don’ts

By Dr. Ulrike Chanana

Weltkugel interkulturelle Kommunikation intermediär

In today’s working world intercultural competence has become a buzzword; for some it has become a fad. Being taught and learned compactly, it is often understood as an additional qualification and career advantage. But it is much more than that. Intercultural competence goes far beyond sticking to greeting formulas, table manners and the avoidance of “faux pas”.

Dr. Ulrike Chanana Blog

Dr. Ulrike Chanana

In our globalized world, encounters between different cultures are part of everyday life: whether in the technical field, in educational institutions, in finance or simply in the circle of friends and acquaintances. Accordingly, intercultural competence is needed more than ever.

Taking a look at job offers, it is always either required or at least “desired”. However, intercultural competence is frequently regarded as an appendage to the actual qualifications. It is mentioned in the same breath as flexibility, teamwork or confident demeanor – words associated with what can broadly be understood as “social skills”.

Everyday professional life often centers on achieving efficient solutionsto problems and the functioning of international business relationships. This leaves little time to delve deeper into the cultural background of one’s counterpart. That is understandable, but also raises two questions. What role do we attach in today’s working world to the qualification of being able to act and communicate interculturally? In addition, how much room do we give to those specialists who consider their intercultural competence not as an appendage but as an actual qualification?

Important in intercultural communication is certainly the knowledge of specific rules of behavior, taboos or dietary requirements. However, intercultural competence also means entering into a genuine dialogue with those from another culture. This requires experience, openness, and sensitivity. Cross-cultural relationships depend on the understanding of the complex interconnections of values, language, ways of thinking and acting. What one understands by “culture” and how one perceives something alien and familiar substantially influences one’s own ability to succeed at intercultural communication.

The importance of such communication skills in professional life is already evident in everyday situations, such as arranging appointments, but also in the longer-term establishment of relationships. Deeper knowledge is needed here about how a “yes” of the interlocutor has to be assessed within his or her specific cultural context, which hierarchical structures prevail and how the other person deals with emotionality or criticism. What counts in critical moments of decision is often the right sense of judgment, for instance whether the focus of the business partner is on the matter of negotiation itself or rather on building trustful and personal relationships. This is precisely where the subtle nuances of intercultural communication which evade the mere observance of “Dos and Don’ts” are revealed.

The exciting thing about intercultural relationships is that they often go beyond maximizing efficiency, merely functioning, or the rigid observance of rules. They concern human coexistence, which naturally requires careful consideration of the processes by which different cultures understand each other. For this reason, intercultural competence should be given sufficient space and independence in the present working world.

In addition, intercultural communication sometimes involves situations in which rapid solutions are impossible and differences must coexist. Particularly here, great potential remains for discovering completely new ways of communication. Experts of intercultural competence can thus contribute significantly to the success and efficiency of many different professional fields.

About the author:

Dr. Ulrike Chanana conducts research at the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main on intercultural and interreligious forms of communication at the present time. Her focus is on new approaches within modern Judaism to the possibility and shape of religious pluralism.

Frankfurt interkulturelle Kommunikation
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