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TCPI News Vol. 3, No. 9

August 12, 2004

In this issue:

  1. The Importance of Understanding Intercultural Communication
  2. What is Cultural Intelligence

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1. The Importance of Understanding Intercultural Communication

A manager is told that he is being sent to the company's Japanese office to introduce the sales staff to new products and have a teambuilding session. He has never traveled outside of the United States and speaks no foreign languages. The company has provided him with a crash course in basic Japanese and the technical aspects of the new product line. He arrives in Tokyo and is taken immediately to a dinner to meet the sales staff. He is frustrated that no one wants to discuss the products. He has only allotted a short period of time to accomplish the goals and was ready to get right into business in order not to waste any time.

With the expansion of many companies internationally, one might assume that members of the same company in different countries would share a common way of doing things. On the contrary, many internationally active companies remain naively unaware of how profoundly cultural difference affect business communication and cooperation.

How do Companies Show Cultural Insensitivity?

In some cases depending on the severity of the cultural faux pas, business deals can be ruined.

Our U.S. manager in the story has made grave mistakes.. He will not receive the respect and cooperation that he desires from the Japanese staff because he has insulted them unintentionally with his actions. If the manager had a higher level of cultural intelligence, he would know that for Japanese, sharing a meal and drinks is important before any talk of business is to occur. Japanese do not rush business and tend to look unfavorably at the American concept of time. Relationships are important to cultivate for mutual trust and understanding. According to David Thomas in his book, "Cultural Intelligence", the manager was working in a state of "auto-pilot" and not altering his cultural scripts that weren't telling him that Japanese may approach business in a different manner. The Japanese staff also may not have taken into account that their American guest is unfamiliar with their ways.

Cross-cultural skills are extremely important because managers are often faced with interacting with employees and colleagues of varying backgrounds. Multiculturalism in the workplace has also increased. A global manager is no longer one who is a seasoned expatriate. Even managers that never leave the United States operate on a global level and interact with people from many different cultures. The issue of cultural intelligence affects everyone regardless of whether or not they travel outside the country.

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2. What is Cultural Intelligence?

CQ: Knowledge, Mindfulness, Behavioral Skills
Components of cultural Intelligence
(Thomas, D. Cultural Intelligence)

Cultural Intelligence is the ability to interact effectively across cultures. It involves understanding the basis of intercultural interaction, developing a mindful approach to intercultural interactions, and building skills and behaviors that one can apply in different situations. Looking at the diagram  three characteristics;

form the basis of cultural intelligence. Each characteristic works in cooperation with the others. According to Thomas, balance is all that is needed to be truly culturally intelligent.

Culture is defined buy the Cambridge Dictionary as, "the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs of a particular group of people at a particular time."

Some cultures may be seen as:

These types of differentiation can play an important role in conducting business with a foreign entity. Decision making, negotiation, relation to authority and competitiveness are shaped by the type of culture.

Having cultural intelligence is not as simple as just knowing facts about a county or the language. Even the concept of culture in not clearly defined. Here are some characteristics that David Thomas has come up with that are supportive of cultural intelligence. Individuals may already possess some of these traits and can develop them further in order to increase their CQ.

If one can develop these three characteristics while working towards becoming culturally intelligent, they will pass through several steps during this learning process.

  1. Reactivity to external stimuli.
    • At this stage people will say things like, "I don't see differences, I treat everyone the same."
  2. Recognition of other cultural norms and motivation learn more about them.
    • Curiosity is aroused, individuals want to learn more about other cultures.
    • Searching for simple rules to guide behavior.
  3. Accommodation of other cultural norms and rules in one's own mind.
    • Reliance on absolutes declines and a deeper understanding of cultural differences begin to develop.
    • One begins to recognize appropriate behavioral responses to different cultural situations.
    • People know what to say and do in different situations but adaptive behavior is not natural and requires effort.
  4. Assimilation of diverse cultural norms into alternative behaviors.
    • A repertoire of behaviors is developed from which one can choose depending on the situation.
    • One can function in a number of different cultures almost effortlessly and with little stress.
  5. Proactivity in cultural behavior based on recognition of changing cues that others do not perceive.
    • One is very attuned to nuances of intercultural interactions and can automatically adjust their behavior to anticipate these changes and facilitate better intercultural interaction among others.
    • One can see past the stereotypes and a connection between the culture and its context, history and value orientations.
How Do We Increase Cultural Intelligence?

There are several final steps to keep in mind when trying to increase your cultural intelligence. These are:

Complete cultural intelligence is almost impossible to achieve, but working towards reaching the final step on the journey will be beneficial in any intercultural interaction.

Thomas, D. (2004) Cultural Intelligence. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

More information on TCPI’s custom programs.

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Intercultural Series

TCPI is embarking on a series of newsletters relating to intercultural communication. During this time you may receive more newsletters than we typically send out. Throughout this series, we will look at different aspects of intercultural communication and how this affects the manager, consultant and employee. This is a very exciting topic and we look forward to your comments. We would also like to hear any of your positive and negative intercultural experiences. Please email them to:

Test your Cultural Intelligence about The United States

Answer each question with True or False.

1. American Business culture stresses achievement over individual initiative.____

2. The concept "time is money" is taken very seriously in America._____

3. Status, protocol and saving face are bigger issues than money for American Business professionals.______

4.The United States is the most litigious society in the world._____

5. American Business people tend to be direct and will not hesitate to disagree with you._____

For answers please click here.

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