The term cross-cultural understanding covers a wide scope in the aspect of culture with a focus on the business field. It involves concepts such as cross-cultural awareness and knowledge, cross-cultural sensitivity, and cross-cultural competence. These terms have significant impacts in learning the concept of cross-cultural understanding within the business aspect.
Cross-cultural understanding pertains to the ability of individuals in recognizing, interpreting, and reacting appropriately to people and situations that are open to possible conflicts and misunderstandings due to differences in cultures.
In most businesses, especially those that recognize the increasing importance of cross-cultural interaction with clients and partners globally, invest in cross-cultural trainings in order for the employees and management to achieve cross-cultural understanding.
These training programs and work experiences become one of the significant aids and means of the company and the employees to appreciate diversities in culture even better. These appreciations are through cross-cultural knowledge, cross-cultural awareness, cross-cultural sensitivity, and cross-cultural competence. They may correlate with each other but they have certain distinctions in their approach and in the generality of the concept itself.
One of the basic steps to cultural appreciation which is also crucial to cross-cultural understanding is cross-cultural knowledge. This pertains to a basic understanding and familiarization with the various cultural values, beliefs, and other characteristics. Although we can never learn everything about all cultures, at least there is an effort to learn the things we basically need to know about another culture.
Cross-cultural awareness comes next after acquiring cross-cultural knowledge. This time, it requires more than mere understanding and familiarization of other cultures but acknowledging the importance of diversity. An individual or a cultural group may start assessing their own cultural beliefs in comparison to other cultures. With being aware, you can now try to understand how other cultures perceive their own cultural orientation apart from reflecting on your own group’s culture.
This next step to culture appreciation is a natural result or outcome of cross-cultural awareness. Being sensitive means possessing the skill to analyze situations, contexts, and behaviors.
There are six developmental stages of cross-cultural sensitivity according to Milton Bennett. The first phase is denial in which individuals are not aware of cultural differences that exist in the society. Next stage is to recognize and be more tolerable of cultural differences especially with ethnic minorities. For this to be demonstrated effectively, people need to avoid stereotypes and must learn instead to appreciate cultural and linguistic differences.
This process is actually the third stage which is called minimization. With this step, we are encouraged to learn more about our own culture and not try to follow or allow prejudices to happen. The fourth step in the process is called acceptance. This part allows people to have a change of perspective but keeping the cultural values. It helps us understand that one behavioral pattern may be interpreted differently in other cultures.
The fifth stage is adaptation where various cultural perspectives are not only entertained but also take in, meaning individuals are able to function effectively within another culture. The last stage requires in-depth knowledge of your own culture and that of another and a natural way of shifting from one cultural frame of reference to another. Integration is the sixth and last stage in cross-cultural sensitivity.
The final phase and the completion of all the stages in cross-cultural understanding is through cross-cultural competence for global employees. International businesses must have employees with the much needed cross-cultural competencies in dealing with, and negotiating with, global business partners, clients, customers, and even with fellow colleagues in order to become successful in the global market.
Cross-cultural competence is more than the knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity that individuals will acquire. It is the integration and the application of all the abilities and information gathered through these stages of cultural appreciation.
It is the very weapon of global businesses in reaching for success and efficiency in the management of business. Such competence is hard-earned effort; it is not something one easily picks up along the road. So it also requires a long-term commitment and dedication on the part of the individuals.
You can only say that you have complete cross-cultural understanding when all these aspects are fulfilled and manifested in whatever field you are in.