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Cross-cultural competence

Cross-cultural competence (3C), another term for inter-cultural competence, has generated its own share of contradictory and confusing definitions, due to the wide variety of academic approaches and professional fields attempting to achieve it for their own ends. One author identified no fewer than eleven different terms with some equivalence to 3C: cultural savvy, astuteness, appreciation, literacy or fluency, adaptability, terrain, expertise, competency, awareness, intelligence, and understanding (Selmeski, 2007).

Organizations from fields as diverse as business, health care, government security and developmental aid agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations have all sought to leverage 3C in one guise or another, often with poor results due to a lack of rigorous study of the phenomenon and reliance on “common sense” approaches based on the culture developing the 3C models in the first place (Selmeski, 2007).

The U.S. Army Research Institute, which is currently engaged in a study of the phenomenon, defines 3C as: “A set of cognitive, behavioral, and affective/motivational components that enable individuals to adapt effectively in intercultural environments” (Abbe et al., 2007). Cross-cultural competence does not operate in a vacuum, however. One theoretical construct posits that 3C, language proficiency, and regional knowledge are distinct skills that are inextricably linked, but to varying degrees depending on the context in which they are employed. In educational settings, Bloom’s affective and cognitive taxonomies (Bloom, 1956; Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1973) serve as an effective framework to describe the overlap area between the three disciplines: at the receiving and knowledge levels 3C can operate with near independence from language proficiency or regional knowledge, but as one approaches the internalizing and evaluation levels the required overlap area approaches totality.

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