Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants. Edward T. Hall. 1959. The Silent Language.
Hall’s famous sentence has often been quoted in the intercultural training field. But rarely has its relevance for language-based communication been accredited, although Hall invariably insisted on this.
- 1) Cultures = nations?
Quantitative culture frameworks (Hofstede, Trompenaars/ Hampden-Turner, Schwartz, GLOBE etc.) which have been highly influential since the 1980s, have raised serious doubts from the day they appeared. Many questions have been asked concerning their methods and conclusions. We particularly share the doubts concerning their underlying concept of ‘national cultures’, shown by nations listed according to psychological constructs like ‘Uncertainty Avoidance’, ‘Assertiveness’ or ‘Mastery’. We cannot accept the proposition that the culture of multi-ethnic nations (Switzerland, China, Russia, India, Hungary, USA, Brazil – in fact, which nation is not multi-ethnic?!) can or should be presented using statistical mean figures. We do not see how the knowledge of a country’s position on a scale of this sort can contribute significantly to preparation for effective communication with people from the country in question. Neither do we see how statistics collected from responses of corporate staff to self-answer questionnaires of any sort can be extrapolated to make statements about ‘national cultures’. We prefer to uphold the view that nation states are dynamic systems of numerous macro-, sub- and micro-cultures, partially overlapping with other cultures and in a constant process of creation and re-creation through the everyday communication and interaction of groups of individuals
- 2) A feature of personality?
The training concepts in the second group from which we distinguish ourselves focus on aspects of personality and the development of this in training. Such concepts draw on a variety of theoretical frameworks such as Humanistic Psychology, Neuro-Linguistic Programming or what can be seen as Zen Buddhist traditions. The key concepts which have dominated the training market in periodic waves have used terms like Sensitivity, Empathy, Emotional Intelligence, Resilience, Polycentrism, Mindfulness etc. It is worth mentioning that all of these terms lack clear definitions and only enjoy to an extremely limited extent the support of relevant sectors of the scientific community. Naturally, tolerance of ambiguity, behavioural flexibility, respect for otherness, empathy etc. are excellent features of character and worthy of possession. In fact, they are important for effective communication in general, including intercultural communication. We are not sure, however, whether the underlying concept of personality does not divert the focus away from what really counts: practical communication. This is not the place for lengthy discussions, but if an individual’s personality is understood as belonging to him/her in a similar way as his/her parts of body, then unrevealed controversial schools of personality theory are presented as self-evident theoretical constructs. No mention is made of the fact that most contributors to personality theory consider personality as co-constructed within established contexts, i.e. through communication and interaction, not fixed, but variable from one context to another. To be more specific: even the most sensitive, empathetic and resilient person may falter in new environments. That person may, for instance, produce feelings of irritation and annoyance in colleagues or business partners by – unknowingly – applying communication strategies which are unsuitable for the situation.
- 3) Training intercultural competence:
In contrast to these approaches we believe that the training of the interculturally appropriate use of language should be a central aim of every intercultural training concept, rather than being treated as a desirable extra. Language, as we understand it here, includes the non-linguistic and para-linguistic aspects of human communication and treats it as a vital element of all the processes of co-constructing identities, roles and relationships in which we are involved every day.
- 4) Lastly:
Although it may be based on theoretical concepts, the training of intercultural communicative competence should be anything but theoretical. The curriculum and training materials for ICE – INTERCULTURAL COMPETENCE IN ENGLISH, therefore, focus on practical communication skills in a variety of intercultural contexts. How this works in practice is the subject of the ICE train-the-trainer courses. The next ICE train-the-trainer courses are in:
– FRANKFURT/MAIN Fri 12/Sat 13/Sun 14 February 2016
– FRANKFURT/MAIN Fri 1 / Sat 2 / Sun 3 July 2016
– BERGAMO Giovedì 7/Venerdì 8/Sabato 9 Luglio 2016