With all the talk of layoffs and company closings, it’s easy to forget that most work-force-ready Americans are not unemployed, however tenuous their jobs may seem. After all, the corollary to a 7 percent or 8 percent unemployment rate would have to be an employment rate in the 90s. That’s a lot of people who would like to keep their jobs, and Mary Beth Lamb, a Minneapolis-based consultant, believes she knows how they can do it. In two words: cultural competence.
Or global competence, if you prefer. Lamb, who has worked on five continents, says the key to future employment lies in developing a global mind-set. “We need to recognize that people from different cultures think differently,” she said. “There is a diversity of thought, language, style, behavior. Awareness is really the first step, and then acceptance and skill building are next” in the process of building such a mind-set.
Why should anyone go to this trouble when the United States has been the dominant force in business worldwide? The obvious answer is that dominance is not guaranteed; some would say that it is already waning. On the other hand, even a scenario where the United States maintains its leadership places us squarely in the world marketplace, where the need for cultural competence seems only to grow.
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What is Cultural Competence?
As a company involved in cultural awareness training, we are often asked for a definition of intercultural competence. In short, there is no one answer that can be given to this question. Intercultural competence is a term that can be applied by many different people for many different reasons. As a result the definitions change depending on the angle at which people are looking at it from.
In essence intercultural competence can be summed up as the ability to work well across cultures. Yet, many will not agree with such a simple definition. As a way of presenting all the different opinions on the matter, we scoured some sources to see how others define intercultural competence. Here are the results:
>> "..the overall capability of an individual to manage key challenging features of intercultural communication: namely, cultural differences and unfamiliarity, inter-group dynamics, and the tensions and conflicts that can accompany this process."
by staff at Universität des Saarlandes
>> Intercultural competence ".means that a student understands a variety of significant cultural experiences and/or achievements of individuals who are identified by ethnicity, race, religion, gender, physical/mental disability, or sexual orientation; the cultural history of various social groups within a society; the interrelations between dominant and non-dominant cultures, either in the United States or elsewhere, and the dynamics of difference."
By Penn State
>> "A simple definition, however, might be: the abilities to perform effectively and appropriately with members of another language-culture background on their terms."
By Alvino E. Fantini, Ph.D., School for International Training, Brattleboro, Vermont