Communicating across cultures, communities, counties and countries -- Part 2

Intercultural Competencies and communication skills: What are they?

Part 1 of this series dealt specifically with why Intercultural Communication is important. It addressed the increasing interaction between cultures and nationalities due to our global economy, ease of travel, advanced technology, and the importance of this field for working with and between communities, counties, and countries.

The skill set groups that make up intercultural communication – cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills – have been identified by the Intercultural Communication Institute’s Janet Bennett, and are designed to support effective communication in a variety of cultural contexts at local, national, and international levels.

Cognitive skills

  • Cultural self-awareness
  • Culture-general knowledge
  • Culture-specific knowledge
  • Interaction analysis

Cognitive skills, once learned and adopted, allow for individuals to recognize differences  and similarities between cultures, and construct a process for further exploration by adopting additional intercultural communication skills. Cognitive skills also encourage individuals to look introspectively at their own culture and how it influences their thoughts and actions, and everyday environment.

Affective skills

  • Curiosity
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Motivation
  • Open-mindedness

Affective skills can be described as an inquisitive approach to being aware and understanding different, similar, or near identical cultures; where the individual recognizes (cognitive skills) and then curiously explores through different strategies, such as observation(s) and conversation which, by nature, demonstrates curiosity, flexibility, and to certain degrees open-mindedness. Being flexible in this skill set doesn’t necessarily mean one is accepting of everything cultural, but more so acknowledgement of traits, values, and/or beliefs that define an individual, community, and/or country for that matter.

Behavioral skills

  • Relationship building skills
  • Behavioral skills: listening, problem solving
  • Empathy
  • Information gathering skills

Behavioral skills would then be the final skills set to employ if relationships are needed to be built, intended action is to be taken or, further information is needed. This skill set is geared towards more interaction between communities or specific audiences intending to interact with or persuade, for example. Cognitive and acceptance skills are more intrapersonal.

For example, in a hypothetical community dialogue, an individual with a staunch opinion favoring coastline conservation may feel strongly about that topic simply because he/she may be living on or near such a location and has family/historical routes in the area. Strong ties to such a location may not be well understood by community members or participants from different geographic locations where other resources and/or environments may be more favorable (i.e. urban environments). Participants, opposing his/her stance on the subject matter, in favor of economic development projects along the coastline may not recognize/accept preserving an area they feel could have significant economic benefits say for a community, county, and/or country. However, by cognitively recognizing “why” either party is opposing the other each can learn of the differences, values, and beliefs. Taking it a step further, using acceptance skills, such as curiosity, flexibility, and, very importantly, open-mindedness, opposing viewpoints can be broken down into similarities and the root(s) of their motivation. The challenge though ultimately lies in adopting appropriate behavioral skills because this is where intercultural competence becomes imperative to ensure further progress can be achieved.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are valuable resources available in our communities that can assist in navigating this process. 


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