January 20th 2017 inauguration day brought a flat if not negative feeling among all the people who find the new president an interculturally incompetent individual. Acquiring an intercultural competency can never be stressed enough in our daily lives in every human profession, unless you work on an island in total seclusion. Since election day, I have set myself the task of writing blogs on the subject. This is the last and third part of ‘why intercultural competency is important’ in this series.
American culture has many embedded cultures in it. The external perspective is often based on products of television and film. From an insider’s point of view and coming from an intercultural background, having lived here for a year now, it strikes me as an intercultural melting pot, even when I traveled to the south. Regardless of what the media conveys, and ignoring its presence, I see all shades of colors, food, costumes and accents. What is the truth about who we are as ‘Americans’? who does the name represent? The media focused culture? Or the corporate culture? Or the high-street culture? Or all of the above?
In retrospect, the assumption around a dominant culture in one organization fades in the face of these questions, making an intercultural competency that enables interaction and communication between individuals from different cultures, a must. When a coach speaks about an organizational culture as being dominant and rests in the knowledge that he can deal with what s/he knows, is not that being too idealistic? My argument is that assumptions that simplify and generalize will certainly blind an individual from seeing the full picture. The question is, is there a dominant culture? Which culture, the country or the collective organization? Is there really a specific country culture? My invitation is to consider the multi-layers of cultures that exist and their relation to all these variables. My invitation is to be prepared.
Another assumption is the claim of a wrong or a right culture. Using which cultural standards can we judge a culture to be wrong or right? Is there a universal culture? Universal standards in several cultures? If we don’t think intercultural competency is a necessity, how can we find that standard? An example in the work place would be of a Muslim taking a prayer break and asking that the meeting time be adjusted so they won’t miss their prayer. What’s wrong and what’s right here? What if that individual was the manager of a branch and their presence is important in the meeting? What if the individual was a woman and she wanted to keep wearing her Hijab, would the organizational culture accommodate her presence in the media publicly? What is right or wrong? What is the role of intercultural competency here?
That leads to a third assumption around culture. The assumption that if someone is from a certain nationality, educational background or belongs to an interest group in a certain culture, that they represent that culture. The scholarly work on culture was mostly formed to inform cross cultural management, expatriate assignments, and the management of diversity in the workplace. Little or no research emerged concerning intercultural coaching because coaching focused on individuals rather than organizations dealing with intercultural issues (Kate Gilbert and Philippe Rosinski 2008). Not only that culture is a collective identity and we deal with individuals that exist in this collective identity, but these clients may not be representative of it and they certainly may not agree with it. The challenge is to know the culture and be curious about the individual. This applies to every professional. Similarly, to assume that persons who identify or show a trace of a different culture are from that culture or representative of it. This assumption leads to judging people by looks or clothing or social and religious rituals which prevents us from interacting and communicating with them. The intercultural competency allows you to examine these issues with care, and to avoid generalizations.
Finally, I would like to mention the role of communities of practice in enforcing a culture. Individuals who belong to certain groups in the work or social places tend to develop specific cultures in these communities. This is true even though individuals who belong to them come from across the globe. Knowing and dealing with these cultures is also part of the intercultural competency a coach or a professional needs to develop. I hope I have addressed all kind of assumptions and arguments for and against intercultural competency for professionals and for coaches specifically which will invite my reader to consider training and accessing knowledge to build their own competencies.
Kate Gilbert and Philippe Rosinski. 2008. “Accessing cultural oreintations: online cultural oreintation assesstment as a tool for coaching.” An international Journal for theory, research and practice. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17521880701878018.