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What is Intercultural Competence and Why is it Important?

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Simply put, intercultural competence is the set of knowledge, skills, abilities and communication attitudes that allow us to communicate and interact with people with different cultures and languages from our own. Intercultural competence, also known as intercultural fluency or cross-cultural competence (or even cultural competence) is a journey rather than a destination, a dedicated process of not only learning about other cultures, habits, rituals, behaviours and world views, but also, importantly, learning about and reflecting upon those of our own.

Globalization, spurred by various technologies including the Internet and social media, have led to the integration of the world’s economies and marketplaces. Businesses, from large, multinational corporations to nimble startups, are increasingly operating across national boundaries. Moreover, workers from around the world compete for various job opportunities, either by working remotely for an employer located elsewhere, or by uprooting themselves from their home and culture and migrating somewhere else.

In such a context, with people, businesses, markets, cultures, and ideas on the move, the ability to be aware of, understand, negotiate and build bridges across cultural differences is a valuable asset. Such an asset is certainly useful for the keen individual who has the curiosity, flexibility, adaptability and self-reflexivity to build intercultural competence and expand career opportunities. Equally, intercultural competence is highly salient for businesses, governments, and organizations of all stripes who seek to thrive and prosper in a globalized, culturally mobile world.

Here’s a brief but effective summary of the value of intercultural competence as a part of vital skillset in a globalized business world. It delineates the skills, attitudes, cultural awareness and communication skills that makes up intercultural competence and it also identifies the necessity of global citizenship to think and act in an interconnected world:

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