Done and dusted in a day?

    Business Spotlight 4/2021
    Von Professor Peter Franklin

    Corona to disrupt sth.etw. stören, grundlegend veränderndisrupted the intercultural training market as it disrupted other markets the world over. Workshops were cancelled as organizations moved to increase social distancing and cut costs.

    Providers and freelance trainers to embark on sth.sich auf etw. einlassenembarked on a steep learning curve to improve their ability to deliver their services online — and with some success. Virtual methods and tools offer genuineechtgenuine value addedMehrwertvalue added that goes some way towards making up for the loss of the immediacy and other socio-emotional benefits of in personpersönlich, hier: nicht virtuellin-person interventions.

    But for all the unexpected upsidepositiver Aspektupsides, a fundamental and naggingquälendnagging question about corporate intercultural training remains. What difference does a day make? What difference can a day make? Because that may well be the only time made available in a packedvoll(gepackt)packed work TagebuchTerminkalenderdiary.

    Does such a constraintBeschränkungconstraint really allow much learning and development to take place? The capacity to understand, handle and, in the best of cases, to leverage sth.sich etw. zunutze machenleverage cultural diversity and complexity involves multifacetedvielschichtigmultifaceted competencies. By their very nature, these demand more than a day to develop. Mastering cultural diversity is different from mastering a new piece of tech.

    What are these competencies? The shorthandstenografisch; hier: kurzgefasstshorthand answer of trainers and learning-and-development (L&D) specialists to this question is the intercultural ABC competencies: affectivegefühlsbedingt, affektivaffective, behavioural and cognitive. But this to mask sth.etw. überlagern, verbergenmasks the complexity of the matter.

    Let’s start with the “C”. Cognitive competencies relate to knowledge and the understanding that results from acquiring new knowledge. This includes knowledge about the contexts and cultures of the participants and of those they are working with, and knowledge about the nature of intercultural interaction. Knowledge can, indeed, be passed on and understanding achieved in a relatively short period of time. It therefore to feature largeeinen hohen Stellenwert habenfeatures large in standard intercultural trainings. But is this the most sensible use of the time available when knowledge can be acquired through reading or asynchronousasynchron, zeitversetztasynchronous e-learning?

    The development of “B” competencies — the behaviours and skills that contribute to overarching(all)umfassendoverarching intercultural competence — requires not only understanding the why and how of such skills. It also requires the opportunity to acquire them through practice and to receive feedback on the success or otherwise of their use. This all takes time. Role plays in simulated or authentically diverse settings offer room for such practice but put pressure on time budgets.

    Making people aware of intercultural sensitivity is easy. Developing such a competence may take much longer

    The “A” (affective) competencies — or intercultural sensitivity — concern the capacity to understand and deal with the feelings, attitudes, evaluations and reactions that we and others may experience in intercultural interactions. affectEmotionAffect influences our view of a culturally diverse world. It has an impact on our interactions and behaviours, and it may influence cognitive processes such as decision-making as well as our tendency to be to be biased by sth.durch etw. befangen seinbiased by our stereotypes.

    Making people aware of the significance of intercultural sensitivity is quick and easy. Developing such a competence may take much longer. Indeed, it may be something that develops of its own of its own accordvon selbstaccord as a result of long experience of interculturality and reflection. Schools and universities are thus, in principle, better equipped than companies to develop A and B competencies because of the longer time frameZeitrahmentime frames they can work with.

    My long-held and increasingly practised conviction — now, perhaps, made more acceptable as a result of corona-inducedverursacht, herbeigeführtinduced disruption — is that intercultural interventions should be spread over longer periods of time. They should certainly involve a kick-offAnstoßkick-off, an in-person workshop where possible. But they should be supported by virtual follow-up sessionFolgesitzungfollow-up sessions — individual or group — for further development and reflection. A day is simply not enough to make a difference.

    Intercultural ABC competencies 

    The ABC of intercultural competencies has a long history in intercultural scholarshipWissenschaftscholarship and training. scholarWissenschaftler(in) (der Sozial/Geisteswissenschaften)Scholars Guo-Ming Chen and William J. Starosta to conceive of sth. as sth.etw. als etw. auffassenconceived of intercultural communication as consisting of three processes, each needing different capacities. These are the affectivegefühlsbedingt, affektivaffective process, mastered by intercultural sensitivity; the behavioural process, which requires intercultural adroitnessGeschickadroitness; and the cognitive process, which demands intercultural awareness. Each competence can be divided into sub-competencies. Intercultural trainers and HR professionals have found this ABC to be useful as a reminder of the complexity of intercultural competence. It also acts as a counterbalanceGegengewichtcounterbalance to the frequent overemphasisübermäßige Betonung/Akzentsetzungoveremphasis on knowledge and understanding in intercultural training. 


    PETER FRANKLIN is professor of intercultural management at Konstanz University of Applied Sciences. His work in HR development helps people and organizations to understand, handle and leverage cultural diversity. Contact: 

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