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All You Need To Know About Intercultural Competence For Your Workplace

by College Life
Updated on July 18, 2023

In our interconnected world, it is essential for all organisations and companies to understand and incorporate intercultural competence. In the workplace, intercultural competence can lead to improved communication, collaboration, and innovation among diverse teams. (Inter)cultural competence is the ability to communicate and interact effectively and appropriately with people from different cultural backgrounds. 

The four key components that form the base of intercultural competence include understanding and respecting cultural differences, being aware of one's cultural biases, and possessing the fundamental skills to navigate intercultural situations. Below we break down each of these components, their importance, and ways in which you can promote their development.

Components of Intercultural Competence

Intercultural competence's four main components are Attitudes, Knowledge, Awareness, and Skills. To perfect this ability, you need to develop all four components. Most importantly, these components are dependent on each other. For example, you should begin with the right attitude to develop more concrete intercultural skills.


Attitude refers to an individual's disposition toward people from different cultural backgrounds. A positive attitude involves being open-minded, curious, and non-judgmental toward other cultures. For example, an individual with a positive attitude towards cultural differences may be more likely to engage in intercultural communication and collaboration. On the other hand, a negative attitude towards cultural differences can result in misunderstandings, stereotypes, and discrimination.

In a workplace setting, having a positive attitude towards cultural differences could mean being open to feedback from colleagues with different cultural backgrounds. For example, if a team member from a collectivistic culture suggests a group-oriented approach to a project, a team member from a more individualistic culture could refrain from dismissing the idea outright and instead engage in a discussion to understand the suggestion better. By doing so, the team can work towards a solution that respects both cultural perspectives.


Knowledge involves understanding the values, beliefs, and customs of different cultures. You gain knowledge through education, exposure, and interaction with people from different cultural backgrounds. It is necessary to recognize that cultural differences exist and that these differences can shape how people think, behave, and communicate. By understanding these differences, individuals can develop empathy and respect for other cultures, leading to more effective communication and collaboration. Intercultural knowledge can affect someone's attitude towards another culture, and their attitude can affect how willing they are to go out and seek that knowledge.

In a marketing context, knowing different cultural norms could positively influence the design of advertisements to be more inclusive. For instance, a company looking to expand into a new market could research the cultural significance of colours and avoid using colours associated with negative connotations in that culture. By doing so, the company can demonstrate cultural sensitivity and potentially increase its appeal to consumers in that market.


Awareness refers to being aware of one's own cultural biases and assumptions. It is important to recognise that everyone has cultural biases which can influence how we perceive and interact with people from different cultures. By being aware of our biases, we can avoid making assumptions and generalisations about other cultures and become more open to learning about and embracing cultural differences. This awareness can only come after you've been exposed enough to various cultures and you've come to understand your own culture is not the default. The right attitude and adequate knowledge are necessary to understand your own biases and cultural differences concerning others.

In a workplace setting, being aware of cultural biases could mean recognising when a colleague's cultural background influences their behaviour or communication style. For example, one colleague might come from a culture that prefers an indirect or nuanced way of communicating, which could get misinterpreted by a colleague from a more direct culture as ambiguity or lack of clarity. By being aware of this difference, the colleague can seek clarification and avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.


Intercultural competence's fourth component covers the necessary skills to navigate intercultural situations. These skills include effective communication, adaptability, and managing cultural differences. 

Effective communication refers to expressing yourself clearly and understanding others' messages. Adaptability means adjusting one's behaviour and communication style to fit the cultural context. The ability to manage cultural differences denotes being able to identify and reconcile cultural differences and conflicts.

In a customer service context, possessing the necessary skills to manage cultural differences could mean adapting communication styles to fit the cultural context of the customer. For example, a customer service representative may need to adjust their tone and language to be more formal when interacting with a customer from a culture that values hierarchy and respect for authority. By doing so, the representative can build rapport with the customer and potentially improve the customer's satisfaction with the service.

Benefits of Intercultural Competence for Teams

Developing intercultural competence among team members can significantly impact the success of a team and the organisation as a whole. Here are some of the principal benefits of promoting intercultural competence in your team:

  • Improved Communication and Collaboration. When team members can communicate and work together effectively despite cultural differences, they can more easily achieve their goals and solve problems. This synergy sharing could increase productivity, better decision-making, and a more positive work environment.
  • Increased Innovation and Creativity. Diverse teams with different perspectives and approaches can lead to more innovative and creative solutions. Intercultural competence enables individuals to recognise and appreciate cultural differences, gain exposure to a broader range of ideas and perspectives and can facilitate creative solutions.
  • Expanded Global Reach. Organisations with interculturally competent teams can better expand into new markets and work with partners from different regions of the world. These teams can understand and navigate cultural differences better, which is essential for building relationships with clients, customers, and partners from different cultural backgrounds.
  • Enhanced Reputation. Different stakeholders, including customers, employees, and investors, view interculturally competent teams more favourably. By promoting intercultural competence among team members, organisations can create a more inclusive and welcoming workplace culture, which could enhance their reputation as an employer of choice.
  • Better Problem-Solving. Intercultural competence can also lead to better problem-solving skills. When team members with different cultural backgrounds can work together, they can bring unique perspectives and ideas. Different viewpoints can cover more blindspots and give the team a holistic view of a problem.
  • Improved Customer Satisfaction. Interculturally competent teams can improve customer satisfaction by understanding and respecting different cultural norms and customs. Team members can provide more personalised and effective service to customers from diverse backgrounds. Such service leads to the customer perceiving the organisation as closer to their culture.

In conclusion, promoting intercultural competence among team members can have a range of benefits for both the team and the organisation as a whole. By recognising and valuing cultural differences, organizations can create a more inclusive workplace culture, leading to improved communication and collaboration, increased innovation and creativity, expanded global reach, better problem-solving, and increased customer satisfaction.

How to Develop Intercultural Competence in Your Team

Hopefully, you've understood the importance and benefits of intercultural competence, but how can you develop this in your team? Developing intercultural competence among team members requires deliberate effort and a supportive environment. Here are some ways to promote its development:

  • Training and Education is an effective way to promote intercultural competence among team members. Workshops, seminars, and online courses on cultural awareness, communication, and conflict resolution could encompass most components of intercultural competence. Different online resources and professional institutions can help provide these training programs specifically designed for your workplace.
  • Exposure to Different Cultures is probably the most organic way to promote intercultural competence. Exposure can include opportunities for team members to travel to different parts of the world, attend cultural events, or participate in cross-cultural exchanges within the office. By exposing team members to other cultures, they can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for cultural differences from first-hand, hands-on experience.
  • Mentoring and Coaching is another effective way to promote intercultural competence. For example, pairing team members with mentors or coaches from different cultural backgrounds can be especially beneficial when moving your operations to a different cultural setting. This approach can help team members develop the attitude, knowledge, awareness, and skills necessary to work effectively in a new cultural setting.
  • Creating a Supportive Environment is essential for promoting intercultural competence. Fostering open communication, encouraging teamwork, and recognising and valuing cultural differences already present in your team are some ways to achieve this. By creating a workplace culture that values intercultural competence, organisations can promote collaboration, innovation, and growth among existing team members while helping colleagues learn from each other.

By following these steps, organisations can promote the development of intercultural competence to reap the benefits of a more inclusive and effective workplace.


In today's interconnected world, intercultural competence is vital for organisations and companies. It enables them to effectively communicate and collaborate with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, improving productivity, innovation, and a more positive work environment.

Organisations can promote intercultural competence through different methods that develop all four components of this crucial skill. By promoting intercultural competence among team members, companies can create a workplace culture that values diversity and encourages innovation. Adopting this approach will benefit their employees and contribute to a more connected and harmonious global community.

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