A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Teaching Cross-Cultural Communication

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Abstract The ability of managers to interact with individuals from cultures other than their own, requires a concerted effort on the part of business educators and academics to ‘train’ and ‘educate’ today’s students and tomorrow’s managers in the area cross-cultural communication. This is not necessarily an easy task. Teaching cross-cultural communication requires a multidisciplinary approach, which goes beyond what is traditionally offered by trainers and educators. It requires the educator to design a course that includes not only culture-general but also culture-specific information that incorporates the study of history, religion, politics business, communication, and other social sciences. This paper includes discussion of material and methods from the author’s own experience in incorporating a multidisciplinary approach in the conduct of a cross-cultural communication class. Paper presented at the 11th Learning Conference, Havana Cuba, 27-30 June 2004

This paper is a work in progress. Material in the paper cannot be used without permission of the author.

A MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH TO TEACHING CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNICATION The interconnectedness and interaction of culturally diverse citizens, business and governments is arguably more evident today than at any time in history. The globalization of markets, the international movement of people and the increase in culturally diverse work places has meant an increasing requirement to be able to deal competently and effectively with people of differing cultural backgrounds. In international business there is a growing need for people to receive cross-cultural training (Black & Medenhall, 1990; Brislin & Yoshida, 1994; Tung, 1981). Barlett and Ghoshal (1989) argued that the only way transnational organizations can deal effectively with the complexities involved in cross border business is if they developed managers who have a global perspective. In 1995, Professor Karpin in his report on Australian Leadership and Management Skills pointed out that Australian managers were not globally ‘savvy’. An introspective domestic view and a limited international outlook was a criticism leveled at the Australian manager in the 1990s (Karpin, 1995). According to Karpin (1995) in order to succeed in the 21st century, Australians needed to develop a greater international focus. He called upon business educators to provide the country’s future managers with the education and training to enable them to engage as world-class leaders. If managers in the future are to interact and develop an awareness of people from diverse cultures, an intensive effort on the part of business educators is required to ‘train’ and ‘educate’ students in cross-cultural communication. Consequently, it is in this context that business schools have heeded the call and are educating their students to become effective cross-cultural communicators. In the U.S., business schools have introduced courses in cross-cultural business communication (Cheney, 2001; Varner, 2001). The situation is similarly replicated in Australia, where business schools are offering their students studies in cross-cultural communication and international management. THE NEED FOR CROSS CULTURAL TRAINING AND EDUCATION In the international business environment, the growing importance in understanding culture and its impact upon cross-cultural competency cannot be underestimated. International sojourners need a number of skills if they are to attain cross-cultural competency. These include: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. the capacity to communicate respect the capacity to be non-judgmental the capacity to accept the relativity of one’s own knowledge and perceptions the capacity to display empathy the capacity to be flexible the capacity to allow everyone to have their...
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