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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 2

Like the terms culture and communication, identity is widely used in everyday, mundane conversations. We can talk about it without knowing an academic definition, but in order to use the term to analyse and evaluate intercultural interpersonal communication, a bit more clarity is crucial.

It is important to note that the idea of an identity is fairly new, and scientists are not necessarily in agreement on how identity is formed and how it can be researched. The opposing ideas of a fixed, observable identity versus a socially constructed and fluid identity is similar to the contrasting views on culture that you were introduced to in Week 1. In this course, identity is seen as an interlocutor’s complex and dynamic sense of self: People have multiple identity types, and they can all change and don’t always matter in every context. People have an avowed and ascribed identity, and usually strive to be seen by others in a way that affirms their own understanding of themselves. This desire is also referred to as face.

This week set a clear emphasis on national identity – not because it inherently outshines other identity types, but because it has been ascribed a special role in politics, sports, the media, and many more areas in the public sphere. When talking about culture, one’s identity and culture are often equated with one’s nationality. Tasks in this week (and across this course, for that matter) aimed to show you that this is a very simplistic and often misleading assumption. People who are supposed to be part of the same ‘imagined community’ often do not agree on what their national identity stands for, or what their national values are. National myths and local languages are crucial in creating a sense of togetherness, but they don’t create identical people.

Lastly, identity and culture are about groupness: This means that certain categorisations make us feel like we know who is one of ‘us’. This usually also means that they are others, who are not ‘like us’. Othering refers to the tendency to view those who are not part of one’s group as inferior, or incompatible. It leads to stereotyping and self-fulfilling prophecies.

While John A. Powell explains the negative consequences of othering as well as solutions to this major obstacle to intercultural communication with ease, it is very challenging to shake certain biases off, especially when they are unconscious. This course seeks to lend you a hand with this through reflection and authentic examples from various workplaces.

We hope that you’ll continue your studies with the Open University on our short course:

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Or continue your learning adventure on OpenLearn with our free courses in our Language and cultures hub.