Communicating across cultures, communities, counties and countries -- Part 1

Intercultural Competence and communication: Why is this important?

Three main reasons why Intercultural Competence is important for any person, community, business, or organization in the 21st century is simply because the world is getting smaller, everything is constantly changing, and interaction across cultures is becoming as common as email. The Institute for the Future’s 2011 report has identified “cross-cultural competency” as one of the 10 most important work force skills of the future. This is simply because we are now a global economy, with interactions and exchanges between countries and cultures occurring more frequently and more easily than ever before.

People are travelling globally for both leisure and professional reasons and when travel isn’t an option people turn to technology to allow for easier interactions around the globe. Communicating across cultures and countries, however, just doesn’t mean interacting with someone with a different passport than yours or with an individual behind the check-in counter at the international airport. It also means interacting with people of a different demographic in your hometown, from another state, or of diverse political views.

Within Michigan there are several cultures that exist due to geographic location and/or access to resources, such as coastal, farming, and/or urban cultures. Most of us native to the Great Lakes state can identify immediately with one of two cultures that divide the state geographically – the upper and lower peninsulas, for example. Once in the lower half of the state residents begin to identify with a west coast or east coast culture, depending where they reside and/or come from. Communities are known to go so far as to focus on differences rather than similarities between their county and the counties they share a boarder with, which ultimately can reduce the success of building healthy and resilient communities.

Recognizing identities and working across communities, counties, and countries isn’t always easy. A set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills must be learned. Within these skill sets are a number of sub-skills worth exploring and adopting when working across cultures, communities, counties, and countries. Michigan State University Extension will address these areas specifically in future articles (read part 2 in this series here).

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