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An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace
An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace

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Summary of Week 1

This first week introduced you to different ways in which we can understand the term ‘culture’, as well as different nuances to the term ‘communication’: Throughout the open university short course [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] you would build on this and continue to critically evaluate notions of culture that rely on a presupposition of existence, and you would study how you can apply the approach of ‘culture as verb’ to interactions at work.

So how does culture in fact influence how you talk and think? Culture encompasses our beliefs, values and attitudes. These influence what we pay attention to, how we interpret the world around us, and how we behave. If a society values harmony highly for example, then an individual who is a member of that society might prefer an indirect communication style in order to ensure that others are not feeling offended or humiliated. Culture also has an impact on how we expect speech acts like apologies or complaints to be designed and structured.

We all tend to assume that the way we do things is the norm, and that is why a ‘life in the global village’ requires reflection on your own behaviour and perspective, as well as curiosity and open-mindedness for those who do or see things differently from you. The two units of this taster course focus on interpersonal communication.

Intercultural competence goes beyond deep cultural knowledge – it also encompasses attitudes like open-mindedness, respect and curiosity, as well as skills like sociolinguistic and cultural self-awareness. Cultural self-awareness is important - you cannot try to see the world through someone else’s eyes if you don’t know where your own views and values stem from. Next week you’ll do activities which let you discover what makes up your own identity, and then you’ll explore identity types that elicit a sense of belonging (and ‘othering’!), like national identity.

To shift our level of awareness from the ethnocentric to the geocentric, we must challenge ourselves to leave our comfort zone. Whatever narrow identity we were born into, it is time to step out of it and into the larger world. We can still cherish our own heritage, lineage, and culture, but we must liberate ourselves from the illusion that they are separate from everyone else’s.

(Gerzon, 2010)

Now go to Week 2.