Q: Why is culture important?
Culture is the lens through which we view our world, every moment of every day. Culture influences our life in a variety of ways; including values, norms, customs, status, relationships, fears, and worries. In addition, belonging to a culture (cultural group) provides people with a sense of identity, purpose and belonging.
Q: Can inter-cultural competency be learned?
Yes. Cultural competence can be learned just like any other skills (language, sports etc…) can be learned. As with all skills, it is important for cultural competencies to be practiced, updated, and evaluated. Many intercultural skills will serve you well in any global environment, while others will need to be specifically learned and adapted based on target cultures. Cultural competence is a lifelong project. Competence with one group doesn't mean you're competent with another. So, you have to keep finding ways to expand your learning.
Q: What is the best way to start building inter-cultural competencies?
The first step would be to begin thinking about your own culture; to examine your personal, national or organisational preferences before beginning the process of looking at the other cultures with which you are interacting so that you can effectively pinpoint any relevant gaps in knowledge or skills. It’s also useful to familiarise yourself with what cultural competency looks like and the aspects that tend to differentiate cultures. This can be accomplished on your own through observation, reading, and cultural self-assessment tools.
Q: What is the difference between cultural sensitivity, cross-cultural, inter-cultural and diversity training?
Cultural sensitivity: the emphasis is on awareness building in order to dispel racial bias and stereotypes.
Cross-cultural: focuses on communication effectiveness and productivity enhancement, increasing awareness about two or more cultures, e.g. where the trainee is moving from one culture to another and the training will focus on home and host cultures.
Inter-cultural: focuses is on increasing awareness and learning skills to interact more effectively between a number of different cultures, perhaps where the trainee will be managing a culturally varied group.
Diversity training is more often used where the different cultures are present working together in the same workplace or represented among the client base and focuses on increasing awareness and value of the other cultures.
Q: For relocation / international assignments - when is the best time for inter-cultural training - prior to departure or on arrival?
The ideal answer is both, as there are advantages to be gained from training at each stage. Training in home country prior to departure prepares the relocatee for the demands of the first stages of adaptation. It calms initial fears, provides confidence and reassurance as well as evaluating and reviewing unrealistic expectations.
Training which uses research on value differences can discuss differences before the emotional context that may be attached when those differences have been experienced. Use of a cultural mentor who is experienced in the host country is important to add validity to the pre-departure training.
Training in the host country can ideally be in the form of follow-up to the earlier training and provide on-the-spot explanations of aspects or situations the relocates have found confusing. While the relocatee is immersed in the culture the trainer can provide support and encouragement in the behaviour and attitude changes needed to adapt well to working in the new location.
Q: Why provide training for family members?
The most common reason for early return from overseas assignment is partner or family dissatisfaction. In asking your employee to relocate overseas they are committing to a major change for the whole family whether they choose to relocate or commute. Making the adaptation easier for the whole family means your employee is more able to focus on the new work environment and more likely to perform to the level of productivity you are seeking.
Q: Is training really necessary for moving from one English speaking country to another?
Moving to an area of low cultural distance, where the amount of perceived similarity between the cultures (including language) is high is somewhat easier than a move that involves high cultural distance. Many expats report a period of depression or anxiety as they go through the change adjustment cycle. Many also hold on to stereotypes, prejudices or values that impact on their ability to relate well to workmates or employees.
Training can ease the change process, speed the adaptation and mark the employer who is aware of the needs and acts to anticipate and prevent problems rather than responding later when damage has been done.
Q: What is coaching and why it works?
The International Coach Federation defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. (ICF website)
Expatriate Executive Coaching can be very effective for two main reasons: (1) It helps to better integrate and balance the business and personal aspects: the expatriate may be coached on behaviours, emotions, family issues while keeping the focus on the strategic and business objectives of the assignment. (2) It assists the company and the expatriate executive before, during and after the assignment, as shown in the picture below.
The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
The Cultural Intelligence Difference by David Livermore
Global Dexterity by Andrew Molinsky
The Handbook of Cultural Intelligence edited by Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne
Cultures and Organisations - Software of the Mind by Geert Hofstede
Fish Can't See Water by Lewis & Hammerich
Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonable Cheap Book About Cross-Cultural Management by Jasmin Mahadevan
Third Culture Kids - Growing Up Amongst Worlds by Davi C. Pollock and Ruth E. van Reken
The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille
The Shadow of the Sun - My African Lifeby Ryszard Kapuscinski
Good Morning Mr Mandela by Zelda la Grange
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
July’s People by Nadine Gordimer
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela