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Improving Cross-Cultural Competence

Cross-cultural competence refers to the capability to communicate proficiently with people from various cultural communities. Even though the actual explanation may differ, the foundation of cross-cultural competence can be a mix of knowledge, understanding, skill, and attitude (Jane Suderman, Understanding Intercultural Communication).

At the company level, cross-cultural competence refers to a set of values, concepts, behaviors, attitudes, and guidelines that make it possible for a workplace system to function effectively cross-culturally (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989). Generally there are a couple key points to look at in understanding cross-cultural competence:

  • Cross-cultural competence is a continuous learning process.
  • Cross-cultural competence stresses effectiveness.


The primary rewards for a business include: Staff feel highly valued. The company is inviting to more diverse skill. Cross-cultural competence aids the business reach a lot more diverse markets.

Four Building Blocks Four vital building blocks can certainly assist one achieve cross-cultural competence: knowledge, cultural relativism, mindful observation, and empathy (concept based on Jane Suderman, Understanding Intercultural Communication).

(1) Cultural knowledge is not just concerned with learning about different cultures; it also calls for a good evaluation of one’s personal values and upbringings. This leads to an understanding of cultural differences.

In the workplace, understanding variations in cultural beliefs and communication styles will help engender better choices. If a staff new to Canada delays until the “last minute” to tell his manager that he can’t complete the assignment on time, he might possibly be thought of as being dishonest or derelict in his work. The true reason may be that the new employee is afraid of “losing face”. Many people from China, India, and Mexico put a lot more “value” on “face”. There is a Chinese saying, “do not ever hit a person in the face”. Harmony is usually more valued in these ethnicities than in North America; to refuse a request by saying “no” could also be difficult. Knowing the distinction, a skillful manager may possibly help a staff to communicate any issues as soon as possible, providing clear expectations, and follow up with the employee on a regular basis.

(2) Cultural relativism. Cultural relativism holds that cultures are “different but equal”; they exist because of their relevance to the individuals of their cultural group. Cultural relativism counterbalances ethnocentrism.

Confusion happens any time specific cultural routines are clashing with mainstream Canadian values. Some sense that being culturally sensitive may possibly need us to give up ethical principles. This is often a misconception. The reason is that: we might not agree, but we need to be aware that there are other sets of ethical or moral principles (Jane Suderman, Understanding Intercultural Communication).

A line should be drawn between cultural relativism and extreme cultural relativism. The latter may allow violent behaviors that are illegal under Canadian law and would certainly be condemned in Canadian society.

(3) Organization leaders and HR specialists are well-positioned to study, develop, and implement long term cross-cultural competence strategies, guidelines, practices, and education. As communication is two way, cross-cultural training of both employers and staff is important.

(4) Cross-cultural competence can find its ideal building ground in shared respect, understanding, and inclusiveness. The principle of justice and fairness should be applied to everyone. There must also be a balance between diversity and unity. Five fingers are different but equal elements of a hand; yet one finger can’t lift a pebble (Hopi Indian Proverb).

The full article was originally prepared for Financial Post, “Executive HR”, and was published on July 28, 2010.

Cross Cultural Training Toronto is a leading company in cross-cultural training and consulting. We are specialized in cross-cultural business solutions and how to do business in China.

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