In a world where unexpected events and major changes are becoming the norm and unpredictability is a reality, being culturally aware and having the ability to work effectively across various cultures is essential and even vital. Why so? Because a lack of intercultural skills or more specifically of “cultural awareness” can lead to tensions, misunderstandings or worse in the work environment as well as in society. Of course, this is not a new theme since it is more and more common to welcome colleagues coming from all over the world in businesses. As a result, Diversity is here the key word in dealing with newcomers or when looking for other markets to conquer and win over. On the contrary, society seems to be relatively open but not totally aware of the different positive points and advantages of acquiring intercultural and multicultural skills. Therefore, it would be interesting to look at different levels to compare and evaluate their capacity in absorbing new concepts related to intercultural skills and to understand how they are facing the issues or tensions this inevitably provokes and what can lie below intercultural skills for such growing multicultural environments. To do this, we not only have to take into account public frameworks and private companies but also schools, youth movements, international organizations or even NGOs.
Firstly, what are we really calling ‘intercultural skills’ ? They are indeed often referred as an “ability to share information across different cultural and social groups that comprise various religious, social, ethnical and educational backgrounds”. Furthermore, they can also be seen as a matter of flexibility, competency and ability to adapt one’s skills with tact, empathy and humanity which are all values deeply needed, especially after the COVID-19 crisis and in the post-epidemic setting that is looming. Moreover, it encompasses the ability to further develop good interpersonal and communication skills in order to work effectively within multicultural teams and develop partnerships based abroad. In the United Nations’ system, having excellent intercultural competencies is a must in every application and intercultural diplomacy tends to become a main discipline and practice in professional trainings. For example, diplomats should think in the way of their foreign partners in order to achieve peace agreements. As for the NGOs, it is in their nature to be well-adapted to intercultural issues. Generally speaking, the concept of “intercultural skills” gathers a fairly vast area which requires a global spirit of “getting to know the people” and implies a strong cross-cultural leadership, too.
Besides, it is also interesting to know how these intercultural skills can be fostered in such multicultural environments. Indeed, further developing intercultural skills in multicultural settings demands a holistic approach that can only be done through specific trainings and awareness workshops. Those trainings have to be focused on tolerance and inclusion as we are tackling different ways of life, working habits or ways of thinking. Hence, intercultural and cross-cultural awareness both require willingness to accept different ideas and point of views, adapt to them and at the end of the day embrace diversity. These qualities are directly in touch with the personality of the people. For instance, a good team leader can do well with his business but may totally miss something if he does not address the diversity of his surroundings whereas another one can be able to involve everyone in the success process and achievements, building confidence and open ties. But while the benefits of global ideas are essential, keeping the spirit of a cross-cultural team can be tricky. According to lots of experts, intercultural communication has a growing role in the lives of companies, youth movements, organizations or government bodies. In addition, professionals must have advanced cross-cultural background experience to deal with fast-paced and changing multicultural environments. On the other hand, cultural awareness and intercultural skills have an impact on productivity, morale and legal issues. That is why it is highly important for business owners, schools and various organizations to understand the newly globalized environment and develop sorts of diversity and inclusion programs.
As to schools and youth movements, youth can act as a real bridge between cultures and serve as key agents in promoting peace and cultural understanding at the image of Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future with regard to climate change. While intercultural education discusses the possibilities and conditions to empower citizens and create ‘world citizens’, it also prepares future leaders and global citizens through intercultural dialogue, exchanges and studying abroad, enabling the development of new intercultural skills. Since intercultural communication has a growing role in companies, organizations and society, it seems to be relevant to look at what has already been done or is currently at stake. The focus here should not be on acquiring new knowledge but rather on how to use and apply what people have already learned and acquired, thus being able to enhance basic skills and transform them into multifaceted skills.
In this transition cycle, we not only have to adapt to a serious health and economic crisis as well as uncertain times but also to different multicultural environments. Thus, cultural diversity and understanding is a requirement worldwide. Intercultural skills help defuse tensions that can arise on sensitive issues and young generations can really act as change-makers, building bridges between different cultures and serving as “awakeners” for a strongly needed intercultural understanding in this post COVID-19 world.
Anne Marrillet holds a Master in History as well as a Master in European Studies from the European Institute of the University of Geneva. After working as Project Officer at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, she focuses on International Security and Human Rights and is also strongly interested in inter-disciplinary topics.