The Limitations of Intercultural Training

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2003

33 Pages, Grade: 1,6 (A)


Table of Contents



1. Intercultural Training – an Important Factor in the Modern Business World

2. The Theory of Intercultural Training

3. Environmental Limitations
3.1. Culture as Learned and Deep Culture
3.2. Complexity
3.2.1. Cultures
3.2.2. Cultural Dimensions
3.2.3. Intercultural Competence
3.2.4. Communication Barriers The Process of Communication Language Non-verbal Communication Low and High Context Cultures Effects on Intercultural Training

4. Limitations Created by Management
4.1. Lack of Time Availability
4.2. Restricted Money Resources
4.3. Lack of Integration
4.3.1. Management Acceptance
4.3.2. Insufficient Allocation of Intercultural Training
4.3.3. Consequences of Inappropriate Allocation of Training Sessions

5. Individual Factors Limiting Intercultural Training

6. Expatriates’ Limitations of Intercultural Training
6.1. The Specialty of Expatriates in Intercultural Training
6.2. Interrelations
6.3. Major Problems of Expatriates
6.4. Culture Shock
6.5. Limitations of Intercultural Training in Regard to Expatriates’ Success

7. Limitations Due to Training
7.1. Training Methods
7.2. Teachers and Participants

8. Which Developments Might Overcome Limitations?




Figure 1 Levels of Culture (The Iceberg Model)

Figure 2 Cross-Cultural Communication Process


Table 1 International Competencies

Table 2 Structure of Intercultural Competence

Table 4 Types of Intercultural Trainings

Table 5 Art und Häufigkeit der Probleme von entsandten Führungskräften differenziert nach Schweregrad

1. Intercultural Training – an Important Factor in the Modern Business World

Businesses in the 21st century are faced with many challenges. The most significant is the increasing globalization of economic transactions. Due to advances of information technology and traveling, as well as trade agreements, this process was promoted tremendously. The result is a very complex, worldwide business environment influenced by economic, legal, political, and cultural elements (Thomas 2002:4).

All business units are affected by globalization. Some examples are that the supply and demand sides enclose suppliers and customers originating from all parts of the globe, research and development departments have to reflect on international principles, and bookkeeping is forced to apply international accounting standards (Blom 2002:2). Consequently it is essential to be aware of the arising problems. Especially the cultural aspect has to be taken seriously as it affects all the other elements of one global world. Company employees have to deal with dissimilar behaviors resulting from a diverse programming of the mind of specific groups (Hofstede 1991) every day. Contact with cultural multiplicity does not imply traveling. Even “out-of-the-office” it is common to get in touch with partners belonging to another cultural group (Thomas 2002:3). Furthermore, the structure of the workforce in home countries nowadays consists of people belonging to different cultural backgrounds. Inter-cultural-contacts often lead to misunderstandings based on different values, attitudes and beliefs (Daniels 2001:46), which can even lead to business failure. Some differences that might cause misunderstandings are e.g. the way names are used and persons are addressed, variations in working, business and communication styles, and an unequal handing of criticism (Blom 2002:196).

To be successful in an international working surrounding cultural conflicts have to be avoided. To manage variety, new skills are required – the skill of intercultural competence. Although some business students already absolve intercultural training during their studies, the need for further education has risen in the last decades. Especially when regarding the share of the elderly workforce or those without a university degree who have never been educated in culture, but who have to manage the effects daily. Another indicator reflecting the need for an increase in intercultural training is an expatriate failure rate of 30 – 70% (Kühlmann 1995:10-19). Human capital influences business success more and more, especially when regarding the increase in the service sector (Götz 2003:11). As a consequence business managers are asked to provide their staff with intercultural trainings programs. In the last decades a movement towards an increase of intercultural training took place. Yet, the amount of training provided still is not sufficient. But regardless the hours of training provided, the efficiency and success of trainings depend on many factors. Managers planning to invest in human resource education have a variety of possible training methods. But not all of those do lead to the expected improvements of international relations. To gain profit from investments, it is necessary to consider the factors influencing the outcome.

This essay has the intention to describe the most important factors that can hinder the efficiency and the positive effects of intercultural training. Considering the limitations of intercultural training makes it possible to choose the suitable training method leading to success. The importance of intercultural training will even grow in the next years, as economists represent the opinion that business growth will be the only key to meeting the challenges of internationalization and that only the largest companies will be able to stay competitive in the long-term (Bloom/Meier 2002:4).

2. The Theory of Intercultural Training

Intercultural training is described differently in literature. Summarized, the main objective of intercultural training can be explained as teaching the participants cultural competence based on cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity (Blom 2002:198; Podsiadlowski 1999:322). This includes making international active people conscious that their behavior and thinking is driven by their own culture as well as other people’s is determined by their cultures (Götz 2003:34).

Basically cultural competence includes four factors (Karmasin 1997:194): knowledge (language, history, legal and political system, etc.), skills (communication, conflict management, etc.), experience (biographical background, expatriate experience, etc.), and attitude (to deal with cultural strange habits, self-reflection, cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, tolerance, etc.). A more detailed description of international competence attributes is given in Table 1.

Table 1 International Competencies

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Source: Marx 1999:196)

Götz describes the requirements a participant should fulfill after having absolved an intercultural training as the identification and understanding of cultures in order to handle culturally-driven problems and to be possible to adapt to different cultural environments (2003:34). To reach the goal, several training methods are available, which will be described more detailed in chapter seven.

3. Environmental Limitations

3.1. Culture as Learned and Deep Culture

Culture is defined in more than 160 ways. Hofstede describes culture as the “collective programming of the mind, which distinguishes one human group from another” (1991). This indicates that a variety of cultures exist. Many definitions also refer to culture as learned and not innate. The personal culture is for this argument strongly influenced by the environmental surrounding of that specific person (Thomas 2002:28). The learning-process starts with the first cultural contact which takes place on delivery day as environment influences the personal development from that point onwards.

Figure 1 Levels of Culture (The Iceberg Model)

Source: Schein (1985)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Experts agree on the assumption that conscious and unconscious as well as visible and invisible aspects of culture exist. However, the detailed explanation varies from author to author. Since all of them basically mean the same, Schein’s most commonly used “iceberg” model shall be explained here (1985). Schein uses three levels of culture: artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions. “Artifacts” are the visible aspects of culture, including language, clothing, manners, food, etc. (Thomas 2002:30) and is the only component above sea level. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner describe these manifestations of the explicit level of culture as the “observable reality of culture” which are the “symbols of a deeper level of culture” (1997:21). The “Espoused Values” are those values of a cultural group which are not visible, but conscious to the members of the group. They lie directly below the artifacts and are closely related to them (Thomas 2002:30). This section is referred to as “middle layer” by Trompenaars (1997:22). The bottom part of the iceberg is called “Basic Underlying Assumptions”. These are invisible and unconscious beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings shared by members of one culture (Thomas 2002:30). Trompenaars explains this layer as “the core”, meaning basic assumptions which are the implicit part of culture. He illustrates the unconsciousness by referring to the human need to breathe every 30 seconds and doing so without actively thinking about it (1997:23). Accordingly people use beliefs, values, etc. every day without considering their existence. The invisible values and assumptions are summarized meant by the term of “deep culture” (Guirdham, 1999:59).

In the context of intercultural training, culture as a learned trait of human nature has a positive and a negative side. On the one hand it supports the theory that a foreign culture is likely to be learned (Thomas 2002:29). But on the other hand, as the cultural background is created since delivery, we need to ask whether it is achievable to learn an unknown culture to an extent that culture can be lived as native persons live their culture. To find a suitable answer, other influences need to be considered additionally, e.g. the degree to which one’s own culture and the foreign culture are similar or the age when a new culture shall be adapted.

Assuming that an adaptation is possible, it is still not clarified whether adjustment is reachable frequently. Combining the aspect of culture as learned with deep culture the answer is likely to be “no” because culture is too complex to be learned perfectly numerous times. The unconscious component constituting the biggest part of culture makes an adjustment even more difficult. Literature does not offer an answer. But in the modern world as described above, an adaptation of many cultures is required. At that point, intercultural training reaches its limitations. It might be possible to learn a few cultures in depth, but it will be impossible to learn many. Especially for managers working with multi-cultural subordinates it is unattainable to be familiar with all the cultural backgrounds of the staff and to avoid cultural conflicts completely.

Another barrier given by deep culture is that it requires cultural experience or living of the culture to acquire it. Intercultural training in general shall prepare for intercultural contact. When deep culture is teachable, it is out of the question that an intercultural training will not be sufficient to learn it.

3.2. Complexity

3.2.1. Cultures

A limitation for intercultural training definitely is the complexity of cultures. This implies that a national culture, which is meant when talking about “the culture” of a specific country, includes many subcultures. Thiel and Schwämmle (2001:36) talk about national, company, leadership, professional, and field cultures as cultural subsystems of the working environment. This is even more complex when including e.g. family, area, and club cultures. Consequently a description of “the specific culture of a nation” is hard to give. Additionally behavior of people within a country cannot be predetermined as different circumstances are affecting it.

As a result of this situation it is not attainable to provide a perfect intercultural training enabling a trainee to deal with a faultless manual that can be applied in all situations.

3.2.2. Cultural Dimensions

As national culture can be defined only approximately, intercultural training is based on different cultural dimensions. Especially Hofstede and Trompenaars established widely appreciated concepts of culture. As an explanation of these dimensions would fill the volume of this essay, they shall not be described here. Instead the effects of cultural dimensions as the pillars of cultural studying shall be evaluated.

The approaches of cultural dimensions are very helpful when talking about cultural diversity and differences in behavior based on cultural backgrounds. Nevertheless, many experts criticize the generalization of cultures. Guirdham lists different judgments of experts. All of them see negative aspects in cultural dimension: the methodology is “oversimplified, static and lacking a basis for determining whether two cultures are different” (1999:58-59).

Most of the already mentioned driving factors of globalization do support developments in cultures. Especially Americanism is imported in many nations as the USA are trendsetters in various fields. Their movies are shown all around the world. Their McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants are famous globally. Other reasons like modernization and changes in the environment lead to a transformation of cultures. Another indicator is that the values and attitudes of our grandparents strongly differ from the ones that we have. Consequently, culture transforms slowly but surely while the established cultural dimensions are fixed and not adjusted. Today, this might not be a very big problem as the methodology of cultural dimensions is still young. However it might become an essential difficulty in some decades when intercultural training is still based on the inflexible dimensions used today.

Another negative consequence might be the creation or support of stereotypes and prejudices. Stereotypes are defined as “a stable set of beliefs or pre-conceived ideas which the members of a group share about the characteristics of other groups” (Guirdham 1999:161). A prejudice in contrast, “is a thoughtless derogatory attitude or set of attitudes towards all or most of the members of a group” (Guirdham 1999:166). The main distinction between stereotypes and prejudices is the negative correlation a prejudice does contain.

The effects of intercultural training might be hindered by dimensions, stereotypes and prejudices. All of them do categorize a group of people and connect them with special expectations. These might be right or wrong assumptions in general. Even if the idea mainly fits the groups` behavior, the individual might be overlooked (Guirdham 1999:163).

Intercultural training on the one hand tries to open the participants´ minds to the necessity of categorization. For some dimensions, stereotypes, and even prejudices might give assistance when interacting with different cultures. But to some it might be a constraining factor for being successful in an intercultural context. The surprise of a behavior not fitting the assumptions might have restrictive effects. Consequences might be the loss of the belief in intercultural training, an increase of uncertainty, and a rise in the fear of intercultural contact. Intercultural training then had an opposite outcome than anticipated.

3.2.3. Intercultural Competence

The meaning of intercultural competence was already defined in a former chapter (see point 2). In this context, intercultural competence shall be explained more detailed in regard to its importance for intercultural training. Experts have different detailed interpretations which skills are included in intercultural competence, but most agree in the distinction between affective, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions created by Gertsen (Bolten 2003:67). According to the author intercultural competence has the following structure:


Excerpt out of 33 pages


The Limitations of Intercultural Training
University of Cooperative Education Mannheim  (BWL/International Business Administration)
1,6 (A)
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ISBN (eBook)
File size
510 KB
Limitations, Intercultural, Training
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Bettina Bohnert (Author), 2003, The Limitations of Intercultural Training, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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